Now I can say it: I never thought Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was as nefarious -- ahem! -- as accused by Democrats of a more liberal stripe.
I never thought Manchin was dealing in bad faith on President Joe Biden's stuck congressional agenda. The centrist took grief with good grace after Biden's major "Build Back Better" package failed. He stood almost alone against the bill, among Democrats.
"I got the ire of everybody," Manchin told reporters, of a year as the man in the middle. It's important to literally know where he's coming from: West Virginia coal country.
When July's fiery sun set, Manchin burst out as party hero, not the goat. As colleagues gave up hope of delivering real change to voters, Manchin turned up as co-author of a whopping $700 billion package on climate, Medicare, tax reform and even deficit reduction.
Remember: Manchin is a Southern Democrat, a rare breed to be handled with care. He is the last old-school Southern Democrat in the entire chamber. In fairness, he did not change since he was elected in 2010, while House progressives moved leftward.
Since last summer, Manchin's been the big man on the Senate campus, surrounded by reporters and cameras. He was maddening, to be sure, because Democratic leaders could not always count his nose in a 50-50 Senate. He was raked over the coals, so to speak.
The West Virginian's financial ties to coal were cause for despair and suspicion that he'd never give ground on climate.
The truth is that Manchin had a fine line to walk, coming from a poor Appalachian state, in supporting Biden's far-reaching climate policies.
Walk it he did.
Critics, give him this. Manchin showed he cared about being a Democrat, even if he invited Republicans to his houseboat parties.
Senators old and young who felt Manchin was a stumbling block to their lofty plans reached for smelling salts. Republicans were just as stunned as joyous Democrats.
In a long time coming, America could fund clean energy goals to make other nations reduce fossil fuels. The record $370 billion is real money on the table.
Next, the government could negotiate with drug companies on prescription prices. Finally, taxing the uber-wealthy was in sight. And more.
(Stay tuned, as the breakthrough deal takes a series of floor votes this week.)
Timing is all in politics, comedy and love.
In top-secret negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Manchin's pivot on the climate crisis came in a scorching summer, just as the midterm elections heat up.
The handshake deal could not come at a better time to boost team morale and bridge House and Senate Democrats. Manchin, a former quarterback, seemed to sense the time for a big play was now.
The relieved White House knew Biden playing defense on inflation was getting old. The president needs to change the subject to lift his low approval ratings.
One astute politician in the House never joined the chorus against Manchin: the speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi. Instead, the liberal praised him, remarking he noted a figure of a coal miner in her office.
When I saw a recent photo of them walking arm in arm from the Rotunda, it seemed a good sign, that lines of communication were unbroken.
Manchin extracted a concession for a gas pipeline in his state.
But let me tell you, Senate Democrats are lucky to have a popular former governor on their side, a different cup of tea as he may be. As frustrating as the process was, it's borne fruit.
The only other Southern Democrats in the Senate are from Atlanta, the bustling big city of the New South. Georgia's Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are Jewish and Black, each elected to their seats on Jan. 5, 2021.
Manchin took the seat of the late Robert C. Byrd, a masterly figure in Senate history. Byrd started off badly, and he said so many times, filibustering against the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s.
No senator ever changed more than Byrd on the job. Siding with liberals, he gave thundering floor speeches against the Iraq War.
The capacity for change is a gift in a scorching summer.
Jamie Stiehm may be reached at JamieStiehm.com. Follow her on Twitter @JamieStiehm. To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit Creators.com
----Copyright 2022 Creators Syndicate, Inc.