Beyond Right and Wrong

Interview with Senator Joe Manchin

Senator Joe Manchin
Rowan Davenport-Smith

In response to a question on bi-partisanship, Senator Joe Manchin said, “Washington has become tribal.” Senator Manchin commented on how you’re forced to pick a side, red or blue, and that his only answer to that can be that he is red, white, and blue, an American citizen. It’s a hard job walking the line between Republican and Democrat and yet, for the Senator, it seems to be the only way to go about things. From what we’ve gotten to see in our short time with him, I’ve come to learn that he is not someone to be messed with. Senator Manchin has a strong set of beliefs and is steadfast in not letting others sway his decisions, even those from his own political party. He showed a great passion for helping and getting the best for the people of West Virginia. He often brought us back to his core reasoning for the way he votes on certain decisions, and the premise for that is if he cannot explain the importance or reasoning behind the policy or program to his constituency with conviction then he cannot support it.

Senator Manchin’s strength in his beliefs and his ability to ask for compromise and advice was something that greatly inspired me and caused me to question how I’ve been living my life. I may not be making the large life changing decisions that senators make on a regular basis, but I’d still like to go about my life with even half of the confidence in my decisions that Senator Joe Manchin displayed to us today.

Zoom meeting with Senator Manchin
Ronan Lee

Early this morning, half the students wary with drowsiness, the other half still in bed, we started to prepare for the day by going over questions, making sure we could pronounce certain words, and that our clothes were unwrinkled. Toward the end of this process, Senator Manchin showed up.

I found Senator Manchin to be a man with integrity, honor, and a spokesperson for his state. He was also a man who made jokes, told us stories, gave us helpful tips for the future, and answered our questions with a smile. Not knowing what to expect, I was thoroughly surprised by the positions of the senator.

Something I would say is very prominent within our nation is the belief that there is a definite right and the definite wrong answer to most issues. The nation is split in two, and there is no side that one can blame. We as humans are often closed off to opinions we deem as wrong. We have this pack mentality, where you are either with us or you are against us. Yet Senator Manchin is out there, not choosing a specific side, voting for what he believes is right. I found that truly honorable and inspiring.

Maverick Mettencourt

Today we interviewed a Senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin. My family has a personal connection to him, and that is how we got the interview with him this year. Right at the start of the interview, I got singled out to say hi to Senator Manchin. This allowed me to create a personal connection with him and I was able to ask the first question. I really liked interviewing Senator Manchin because of how bipartisan he is. I also liked how he defined bipartisanship. Senator Manchin spoke to us about how you need to vote for what you believe in, not for your party. He strongly believes that if you truly think the other party is correct, and their ideas are right, vote for them.

He is also a man that cares about his constituents. He shared a story with us about a time when he was at McDonald’s during his Governorship and he met a woman that worked there. She asked him, “Hey aren’t you the governor?” She then went on to tell him that she had missing teeth and could not afford to have them replaced. In response he said, “You know what, let’s get you some new teeth.” He proceeded to call up a friend that was a dentist and he sent her over to get her teeth fixed for free. I think this really shows how much Senator Manchin wants to promote the common good.

Connor Murphy

It is always a good idea to speak with people who have different opinions from you. That’s a good rule of life and downright necessary for you to grow as a person. But many people think that people with different opinions from you tend to be well, wrong. It was with these conflicting thoughts that I entered the interview with Senator Joe Manchin.

Senator Manchin is a Democrat with a voting record that throws that idea into conflict with reality. I knew that we would be disagreeing on policy before the interview started, and as we all know if I disagree with someone they must be wrong and illogical. So, you can imagine my shock when he wasn’t; every opinion he put before us, whether I agreed with it or not was grounded in sound logic.

Group Zoom call

In the interview, we touched on a lot of themes that have been recurring on the journey so far. He spoke about the importance of listening to a multitude of opinions just like Laura Liswood had said, but here he took it a step further. Senator Manchin pointed out something that has never occurred to me: other people with other opinions have those opinions for a reason and when you listen to that reason, what they think might make sense. The one thing he said that stood out the most to me was, “Talk to people not through people.” All sarcasm aside, the world needs more of this. Too often people get sucked up into their side of the argument and everything else falls by the wayside. When what you know becomes more important than the conversation, you are no longer talking to people, you are talking through them. He highlighted the importance of speaking openly and honestly, and more importantly listening and making sure that people know you are listening.

The other thing Senator Manchin exemplified in this interview was his humility. He spoke about the test of character that he uses, which is just brilliant. The test is simple. When introducing himself he will say something like, “My name is Joe Manchin.” Then if the other person responds with something like, “I am Senator blank”, he can see that this person puts their job as more important than themselves. They have no humility; they see themselves as a role before a human.

Overall, I was struck by the air with which he carried himself. To me he represents the ideal that, “It’s not a vote for the Democratic party or Republican party. It’s a vote for West Virginia.”

Fiona Burgess

Our interview with Senator Joe Manchin is one that I have eagerly awaited. He is the only Senator we are interviewing this week and I was excited to hear everything he had to say. I was not disappointed. As he spoke it became clear how dedicated he is to his constituents and state. My admiration only grew as we learned that he doesn’t allow party affiliation to define his policy decisions. His respect for bipartisanship is inspiring. Personally, I find the slander that both parties throw towards each other to be one of the hardest things to witness. Senator Manchin’s commitment to people over party is a breath of fresh air from the current political polarization. 

One of my favorite parts of the interview was when Senator Manchin shared how his grandmother influenced his values. As he explained it, she was an extremely compassionate woman who always looked out for others. He described a distinct memory of his childhood during Christmas when his grandmother received three coats from his cousins and him. She loved the coats but told them immediately that she would have to give two of them away as others could use them and she only needed one. Senator Manchin has been molded by the lessons he learned from grandmother: attend to the needs of others, err on the side of generosity, and do not use more than you need. 

The influence of Senator Manchin’s family on his priorities was notable to me as I too have drawn a great deal of my values from my family, and in particular my grandfather. First a Republican and then a Democrat, my grandfather always voted in a non-partisan way for what he saw as best for his community and country. As a major figure in my life growing up, he taught me the importance of helping others and listening to others’ opinions even if I don’t agree.  In regard to the current party divide in the U.S., Senator Manchin said, “We as a society can come together, we must come together.” As a result of my own values and motivational leaders such as Senator Manchin, I remain hopeful that our country can become less divisive and more open to the exchange of ideas.