ESTRICH: Joe Manchin blinks

Last Wednesday, just as the bad news was coming on the economy, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin announced that he had reached an agreement with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on the president’s signature legislative package. Build Back Better has now become Stop Inflation Now, or some such name, but what it really is is America’s signature move to fight climate change. If the bill becomes law, according to the legislative summary, it will cut our greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 40% by 2030.

That is huge. It is, or will likely be, Joe Biden’s signature legislative accomplishment, his equivalent of Obamacare.

Will it save Democrats in November? Maybe not. Talk of a recession, much less the reality of one, is something the White House is fighting against, with mixed success. But calling it by another name — “banana” was the name in the Carter administration — doesn’t change the reality. The layoffs have already begun in tech, but they won’t stop there. Gas prices hit almost everyone’s pocketbook. Inflation means your dollar buys less; high interest rates and falling home prices mean your most valuable possession is worth less. Not the ideal recipe for a midterm.

But if the new legislation won’t save the Democrats, it could go a long way to saving the planet. It puts our country where it should be, which is in a leadership role in fighting a global threat. Whatever else they accomplish, the Biden/Schumer success in winning Manchin’s support — even with concessions for fossil fuels— is exactly the reason those two legislative maestros are in the positions they are.

The wild card for November, in many respects, is the abortion issue and, more broadly, the social agenda. In the past, the rule of thumb was that such issues galvanized the right more than the left, that it was the anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, pro-gun minority who voted social issues, who turned an obscure legal theory like critical race studies into a voting issue. But that could change, at least in key states like Pennsylvania, where pro-choice majorities could shift the balance. The conventional wisdom is that if the midterm turns into a nationalized election, with the economy as the dominant issue, the Democrats will get clobbered. But what if other factors, like social issues and what the law will be in your own state, come to play a bigger role?

And then, of course, there is the planet. Talk to young people today and the hopelessness comes through. They believe they are living at the end of a planetary cycle in which we — the baby boomers, the adults, the ones who were supposed to be trustees of our precious planet — have abdicated our responsibilities. Add this to the economic woes facing our kids: the fact that they, realistically, don’t expect to do better than we did. Heck, they don’t even expect to own their own homes, which most of us did. Such hopelessness can easily translate into the apathy that makes younger people much less likely than their parents or grandparents to vote. But that, too, could change. After all, if Manchin could change his mind, anything is possible.