One of the lasting traditions here at my website has been to name an American of the Year at the end of December. The honor has almost always been bestowed upon some well-known public figure. When someone from the political or media sphere was named, it has gone to a leading conservative of that time, reflecting my own political and social leaning.
There have been exceptions, but those have come when the honor goes to someone outside of politics. The very first winner, Pat Tillman in 2004, was a real American hero who had turned away from a career as a star in the NFL in order to join the military and then ultimately sacrifice his life in the fight against the forces of radical Islam.
In 2007, the honor went to Philadelphia police officer Chuck Cassidy, who had been killed in the line of duty that year. He was honored for his own sacrifice, but also as representative of the American law enforcement profession. Then in 2011 it was the members of Seal Team 6, who had finally rid the world of Osama bin Laden. That was followed in 2012 by American Olympic legend Michael Phelps.
Last year came the latest in the non-political winners when the third female in five years and first Black female was honored. Kizzmekia Corbett is a senior research fellow and the scientific lead for the coronavirus vaccines and immunopathogenesis team at the National Institutes of Health where she led the development of the Moderna vaccine in the battle against the COVID-19 virus.
This year it’s back to the political realm for the winner. However, we again have a first. The honor this year goes for the first time to a member of the Democratic Party. That honoree is United States Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
The 74-year-old Manchin was born in a small coal mining town to a family of shop owners who were also politicians. Both his grandfather and father had been the mayor of their town of Farmington and an uncle had served in West Virginia state politics.
A football player who lost out on that career due to an injury suffered in college, Manchin graduated from the University of West Virginia in 1970. Working at first in family business interests, he ultimately founded and grew his own energy company into a multi-million-dollar enterprise.
Manchin first moved into politics in the early 1980’s, following in his uncle’s footsteps as a West Virginia state congressman and senator. Losing a race for the Democratic Party nomination for Governor in 1996, he bounced back with a win in 2000 as the Secretary of State. Then in 2004, Manchin rolled to a big win in the West Virginia gubernatorial election. He was then easily re-elected as Governor of West Virginia in 2008.
Following the death of longtime U.S. Senator Robert Byrd in 2010, Manchin ran to fill that seat on an interim basis and won. He then won the election for a full term in 2012 and was re-elected in 2018. When Jay Rockefeller, the state’s other U.S. Senator, retired in 2015, Manchin gained his current status as senior U.S. Senator from West Virginia.
That’s a brief snapshot of Manchin’s career. But what gained him selection as the 2021 American of the Year you might be asking?
There is one word to describe the American political and social world of the 21st century: divisiveness. Most are on the right or left sides of issues, the conservative or liberal. Both politicians and the citizenry have become increasingly entrenched on those sides, moving slowly but inevitably away from the middle.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard and read Americans complain about the seeming inability of our politicians at all levels to come together and find compromise. To find that middle in which we can all find something to be happy about while understanding that we won’t get everything we want.
In 2021, Joe Manchin stepped forward in a dramatic way to demonstrate what has actually been his longtime ability to cross the political aisle and represent the best interests of all Americans. He did this by standing publicly against President Joe Biden‘s proposed “Build Back Better Act“, a boondoggle of more than $2 trillion dollars in spending that would dramatically alter the nation’s social and climate change policies and programs.
Manchin pulled his support over what amounts to a half-trillion dollars. He had envisioned the cost, which in its original format had a $3.5 trillion price tag, to come in at around the $1.75 trillion mark. Still a huge program to be sure but eliminating many of what he saw as wasteful expenditures.
His support is necessary due to the even split in the U.S. Senate, with the act requiring all 50 Democratic senators to pass via reconciliation. Manchin has been the lone holdout. Leading Democrats have attacked him for his failure to tow the party line and vote in support of this massive program.
“They figured surely to God we can move one person. We surely can badger and beat one person up. Surely we can get enough protesters to make that person uncomfortable enough that they’ll just say, ‘OK I’ll vote for anything,’” he said in a local radio interview per Jordain Carney at The Hill.
“Well, guess what? I’m from West Virginia. I’m not from where they’re from and they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they’ll be submissive, period,” Manchin added. He further bemoaned the fact that most of his fellow Democratic Party members of the Senate were willing to blindly sign on to the initial massive package.
“There are only two out of 50 Democrats. Forty-eight Democrats would have signed onto $3.5 trillion. … I want social reforms to the point that has responsibility and accountability,” Manchin said.
This isn’t the first time that Manchin has been willing to cross the aisle. He voted with President Donald Trump‘s positions an estimated 50.4% of the time during the four years that were as politically polarized as any in United States history. That is the very definition of being a moderate who was willing to cross the aisle.
He voted to convict Trump in both of the politically motivated impeachment votes. However, he also voted to support the President’s nominees to the Supreme Court of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, voting against Amy Coney Barrett only because of the closeness of the 2020 presidential elections.
I know that there will be many entrenched conservatives who would criticize this selection, given the history of this site in recognizing right-leaning individuals. There will also be liberals who decry the selection of a centrist in finally honoring a Democrat. In no way am I politically supporting Joe Manchin. I remain a conservative Republican by any standard of evaluation. I would absolutely support a Republican who would run against him in West Virginia.
However, that isn’t what we are dealing with here in 2021. The selection of Joe Manchin as the American of the Year is my personal statement that the divisiveness in American politics has gone too far. Here is a man who has demonstrated that he is willing to stand up against his party, make public pronouncements against their positions, and not surrender his vote as a rubber-stamp.
It remains possible that Manchin will ultimately vote for Build Back Better when it comes up for an actual vote in January. After all, he has thus far voted to support Biden’s agenda more than 97% of the time. That doesn’t negate his deservedness for this honor.
“My concerns (about the cost of the bill) have only increased as the pandemic surges on, inflation rises and geopolitical uncertainty increases around the world,” Manchin said per James Politi at the Financial Times. “I have always said: ‘If I can’t go back home (to West Virginia) and explain it, I can’t vote for it’.”
In a time where Americans are divided as never before, Manchin has demonstrated the leadership qualities required to make difficult decisions to do the right thing in the face of unprecedented partisan political and media pressure. For this philosophical approach, Joe Manchin is named as the 2021 American of the Year.
PREVIOUS AMERICANS OF THE YEAR
- 2004 – Pat Tillman
- 2005 – Bill O’Reilly
- 2006 – Billy Graham
- 2007 – Chuck Cassidy
- 2008 – George W. Bush
- 2009 – Glenn Beck
- 2010 – Ron Paul
- 2011 – Seal Team 6
- 2012 – Michael Phelps
- 2013 – Ted Cruz
- 2014 – (none named)
- 2015 – (none named)
- 2016 – Kellyanne Conway
- 2017 – Donald Trump
- 2018 – Nikki Haley
- 2019 – Matthew Albence
- 2020 – Kizzmekia Corbett