For those of you who have been reading this column long enough, you may remember a fun set of columns (Part 1 and Part 2) I wrote last year, giving my picks for the annual tongue-in-cheek awards handed out by the McLaughlin Group television show.
Because I had so much fun doing it last year, I present for your amusement, agreement, and/or rage my selections for this year's awards. This is a two-week event, so check back here next Friday for Part 2.
As always when this column hands out awards, our eminent jury consists of me, my wife, and our cat (who breaks ties with her vote). So I wouldn't take it too seriously.
Biggest Winner of 2007
I'm going to begin by interpreting this category rather literally. Because there's really only one candidate for "biggest winner" of 2007 -- Albert Arnold Gore, Junior. With his documentary film An Inconvenient Truth, his foray into television Current TV, and his "Live Earth" concert series (which held musical events on every continent on the planet, complete with a ragtag band rocking out in Antarctica), Al Gore was seemingly everywhere last year. And the awards flowed in.
Gore actually won too many awards in 2007 to easily list here. The big three: winning an Emmy award for Current TV, his documentary film winning an Oscar, and (of course) finishing the year out by winning possibly the most prestigious award our planet has to offer -- the Nobel Peace Prize.
Congratulations Al, for being the Biggest Winner of 2007 -- nobody else even came close in this category!
Biggest Loser of 2007
There are many places worldwide where the entire population deserves this award, for various stupid moves by their leaders -- Burma, Pakistan, and Darfur spring immediately to mind. Closer to home, the award could easily have gone to "the American people" for the inaction emanating in somnolent waves from Washington, D.C.
But the Biggest Loser of 2007 just has to go to the Democrats in Congress. While there are a whole slew of reasons for this, there's only one which even needs mentioning to justify this year's award -- failing to end the war in Iraq.
With the public overwhelmingly on their side, and President Bush's approval ratings dipping consistently throughout the year into the twenties (the proper term for this is "Nixonian levels"), Democrats just couldn't seem to get it together -- or even convincingly and consistently make their case to the public -- all year long.
Better luck next year, guys.
While this one's not going to make me any friends in the comment section, this year's Best Politician goes to George Walker Bush, President of the United States.
While some would vote for Ron Paul or Mike Huckabee or Barack Obama, none of them can hold a candle to this year's performance by President Bush. I could be wrong, but I don't think his approval rating has been above forty percent all year long, and it's been as low as the mid-twenties at times. Think about that for a moment. In the entire year, six-to-seven Americans out of ten disapproved of the job he's doing.
While enduring this massive rejection of him and his policies, Bush has nonetheless successfully pushed through an escalation in troops in an extremely unpopular war, gotten permission from a Democratic Congress for his illegal wiretapping (which he openly admitted -- the first time in history a president has told America that he broke the law and doesn't give a damn, which in normal times would be considered an impeachable offense), gotten a new Attorney General confirmed, blatantly and illegally ignored all attempts by Congress to exercise even a shred of oversight into any of his activities, and gotten pretty much everything he demanded on the budget this year by veto threats.
You may not like him, you may hate him, you may be disgusted by him -- but you've got to admit that's an impressive record for any politician to rack up in one year. So while I'm not saying he's my "favorite politician" of the year, I have to grudgingly give him Best Politician of 2007.
While there were plenty of American contenders for this title (way, way too many -- if truth be told), the Worst Politician award goes to... Nouri Kamel Mohammed Hassan al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq.
Now it can be argued that he's actually doing what he's doing on purpose, to strengthen his hand in what some see as the inevitable power struggle (or civil war) which will happen when American forces leave Iraq -- but when it comes to getting absolutely nothing done, there is just no competition.
The pressure from Washington must be intense for Maliki to pull off some sort of positive legislative "benchmark" achievement, even one that is essentially meaningless window-dressing, on such issues as oil revenue-sharing or de-Ba'athification -- but Maliki has resisted all such entreaties.
Can anyone name a single thing the Iraqi government did last year? Positive or negative?
I didn't think so.
Which makes Maliki the hands-down winner of Worst Politician of 2007.
Most Defining Political Moment
This award also had only one nomination, because it absolutely defined politics in America all year long -- President Bush announcing that he was ignoring everybody's advice and doubling down on his Iraq war.
When Bush gave his speech almost a year ago and announced the "surge" policy, it stunned the country. When he vetoed the best attempt Congress made at stopping his "surge," he again succeeded. From this point on, frustrated congressional Democrats have tried time and time again to try to thwart Bush... to no avail.
Think what you want about the "surge" and its success or failure, you have to admit that it did indeed define politics for 2007. So the Most Defining Political Moment has to go to Bush and his "surge" speech.
Turncoat of the Year
I lobbied strongly for Dianne Feinstein for Turncoat of the Year, both for her vote in favor of our new Attorney General Michael Mukasey and for sponsoring (shudder) "Ronald Reagan Day" in the Senate. Alas, I was overruled by the jury (I now consider my own cat a turncoat, as she had assured me she'd vote with me on this one).
But, aside from my vote, it was unanimous. For the second straight year, and surprising almost no one, Turncoat of the Year goes to Senator Joe Lieberman.
While he actually did his turncoat act last year, moving from the Democratic Party to the "I'm Joe Lieberman, Dammit" Party, this year he outdid himself by coming out before the primaries have even started and endorsing a Republican candidate for president.
Way to go, Joe!
Every Democrat alive is now hoping we'll pick up a few seats in the Senate in 2008, which will leave Lieberman free to join the Republican Party, which he so obviously really wants to do.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Reid's demeanor is about as exciting as watching paint dry. He is so Caspar Milquetoast in every television interview... that... um... that he's... (yawn!)... he's the... Most Boring... of... anyone....
[Snerk... what? awards?... umph, yeah... ahem...]
Sorry, I seemed to have dropped off there. It won't happen again, I promise!
You could make an argument for Bill Clinton, out on his wife's campaign trail, but I'm going to give the Most Charismatic award this year to Barack Obama. Whether he wins or loses in the primaries, Obama has done more to excite people (especially young people) about the presidential race than anyone else.
OK, to be fair, that should read "than anyone else except Ron Paul," but Ron's exciting people with his ideas. Even his most fervent supporters (of which, online, they are legion) would have to admit that Ron Paul is not exactly J.F.K. when he speaks. Obama, however, isn't just exciting people with his issues, he's an actual presence onstage. So Obama wins, for the second year in a row!
While he has given up the chance of being seen as a role model for kids ever again, San Francisco Giants player Barry Bonds gets the award for Bummest Rap, after the recent release of the Mitchell Report. Think what you want about Barry, but he has endured years of being the poster boy for the steroids-in-baseball scandal in the press.
Whether it is true or not that he knowingly took "performance-enhancing" substances, it has now become painfully obvious that far from being the only one doing so at the time, the practice was actually rampant -- leaving no team in professional baseball untouched.
So while he may have deserved all the vitriol thrown at him by the press and the public, there were a whole lot of other players who deserved the same sort of thing... but never had to face it. The entire decade deserves an asterisk next to it: "During this period, all records should be seen as suspect because of widespread use of steroids by many, many players -- how many we'll never know."
Michael Vick immediately springs to mind for this award, since what he did was so indefensible, but I have to look at the larger picture and get away from sports for this one.
The Fairest Rap award goes to... ex-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Manifestly unqualified to lead the Justice Department ("toady" and "lickspittle" are not actually job requirements) from the first day he walked in the door, watching his testimony before various congressional committees actually became painful -- even for Republicans.
He so obviously tried to turn the Justice Department into a wing of the Republican party, expanding on the work of his predecessor John Ashcroft, that he should have been fired for this alone. But his answers to the questions of when and how the U.S. Attorneys were fired was so fanciful ("I didn't sign off on them, I knew nothing about it, I haven't learned anything about it since... oh, but I'm positive nothing was done wrong") that the only truly amazing thing was that he held on to his position for so long.
There doesn't seem to be a category for "Worst Comeback," so I guess I don't get to give such an award to Britney Spears. Or Larry Craig, for that matter.
There were two candidates for Best Comeback who did flit through my mind -- John Edwards and Trent Lott. Edwards because after he lost the Vice Presidency in 2004, he practically moved to Iowa to begin his campaign for 2008, and has done an admirable job there so far. Trent Lott, even though he just suddenly resigned his Senate seat (suspiciously, only one year into his six-year term), has got to be acknowledged for his return to a leadership position in the Senate after his downfall (remember the remarks at Strom Thurmond's birthday party?). It takes a lot to come back from getting booted out of such a leadership position, and Lott did it in only 4 years, to retire as Minority Whip.
But the Best Comeback award this year has to go to Senator John McCain. After McCain came out in strong support for President Bush's "surge" plan for Iraq and his immigration plan, his poll numbers in the Republican race for the presidential nomination absolutely tanked. Plagued with money problems early this year (he spent millions, with almost no tangible result), he has now come back to being tied with Romney in the latest New Hampshire poll. While his nomination is still seen as a long shot by many, this stupendous comeback wins him this year's award.
Most Original Thinker
While Senator Joe Biden really should win some sort of award for his plan for Iraq (divide it in three), he actually came up with the plan last year, and it still hasn't been agreed to yet; so while I still believe that eventually everyone's going to come around to Biden's way of thinking on this, he unfortunately didn't qualify for the award this year.
This year's Most Original Thinker award goes to... General David Petraeus. [sounds of booing from audience] Hey, wait, I'm just the moderator! [random objects thrown at podium] Come on, people, give me a break! [mobs rush the stage]
[Later... from an undisclosed location] OK, I think I've got all the rotten tomatoes off my face... oh, are we live? Ahem. Yes, that architect of the "surge" wins this year's Most Original Thinker award not for the "surge" or for getting tens of thousands of extra troops for Iraq, but for actually changing the way we were operating there. What got lost in the politics of the situation, and the MoveOn.org "General BetrayUs" advertisement non-scandal, and all the rest of it, was that Petraeus actually tried to use the troops differently in Iraq.
Remember, Petraeus himself literally wrote the book on counter-insurgency. And rather than just throwing more troops at the situation when he took over, he began taking his own advice. Because this changed our tactics on the ground in multiple ways, he has completely changed the picture in Iraq.
Now, I'm no Petraeus supporter, personally, so don't get me wrong here. I still want to know what happened to the yet-unaccounted-for 200,000 weapons handed out to Iraqis under Petraeus' personal command -- before he even got the top job in Iraq. And I don't believe the people who say the "surge" has been so successful that everything is soccer games and open markets now in Iraq either. But I have to (again, begrudgingly) give him this year's Most Original Thinker, because I truly believe he deserves it.
Most Stagnant Thinker
You would think this would be Bush's for the taking.
But I'm going to give it to Karl Rove, as a "don't let the door hit your butt on the way out" award as he (hopefully) leaves the Washington corridors of power forever. Karl's thinking is about as stagnant as you can get.
Best Photo Op
Best Photo Op of 2007 has got to go to the shot of Dick Cheney sacrificing a goat under a full moon.
What? Nobody remembers that? Oh, yeah, that's right -- the Ministry of Truth sent that one down the memory hole and tested its Forget-O-Ray on the American public to erase all memory of it ever happening!
Good thing I had my tinfoil hat on that day....
Seriously, though, my favorite from last year was the one of Bush trying to get the kids to stop making peace signs... which really should win because it's the best "photo op" of the year.
But I'm going to give the award to an advertisement for a commercial product instead. This, in my thinking, is the defining image of 2007:
[You can still buy these handy countdown clock keychains, but time is running out! Only 13 more shopping months left!!]
There's always a crowded field for this award, possibly because I get annoyed at so many things in the American zeitgeist on a regular basis. But I will limit myself here to the world of politics, which means that Katie Couric ("Enough already!!") isn't even in the running.
President Musharraf of Pakistan? "Enough already!"
America torturing prisoners? "Enough already!"
Crappy mainstream media presidential campaign coverage? "Enough already!" [Oops, Katie Couric did manage to sneak in here....]
OK, with that out of my system, the real Enough Already! award for 2007 goes to... the push for war with Iran. Vice President Dick "Darth" Cheney was the biggest proponent of this insanity, with John McCain given points for originality for changing the lyrics to "Barbara Ann" into "Bomb Iran," but the award itself goes to the concept of pre-emptively striking Iran. This neo-con fantasy ("nightmare" for those not sanity-challenged) had a stake driven through its heart by the National Intelligence Estimate which stated that Iran was not, in fact, working on a nuclear weapon. The entire gasoline-buying planet heaved a sigh of relief that oil wasn't going to head to $250 a barrel within the next few months, after the NIE was released.
While recent revelations might cause you to think that this award would go to "anything Mitt Romney says," we'll have to leave his flip-flopitude aside for now. Maybe next year, Mitt -- keep trying!
Another good candidate from the campaign trail was Rudy Giuliani, for his wild statements about being at the World Trade Center cleanup site after 9/11 more than the emergency workers. Alas, not even this crude attempt at exploiting the dead from this national tragedy qualified Rudy for this year's award.
Because the Worst Lie of 2007 just has to go to President Bush for repeating over and over and over again "America does not torture" -- when it is becoming blatantly obvious to anyone on planet Earth that America has indeed tortured people whenever Bush felt like it, and may still be doing so even today. This disgusting lie, and the disgusting practice itself, do more to tarnish America's image in the world than pretty much anything else Bush has done.
For shame, Mr. Bush!
Capitalist of the Year
While the oil companies really should have won this award for their obscene profits last year, and a good case could be made for "the contractors in Iraq," this year's Capitalist of the Year award goes to... Communist China!
China has figured out how to beat capitalism at its own game, and for that they win the award. Manipulate your own currency on the world's markets, sell the Americans tainted dog food, toothpaste with that special antifreeze taste, and forty bazillion toys festooned with lead -- and wind up holding the note on the United States of America's debt because we crazy Americans just keep yelling "more! More! MORE!" Heck, we can't even come up with enough money to pay for inspectors to weed out all the dangerous things China sells us! Which is why China wins this award hands down this year... or maybe even "this decade."
Person of the Year
And it's a 49-way tie! The Person of the Year for 2007 -- remembering that this award is given not for "best person of the year" or "most favorite person of the year" but for "person(s) who defined the year by their presence" (at least as I define such things)... is... the Republican minority in Congress, also known as the "Roadblock Republicans."
In one short year, they have invoked cloture votes (commonly called "filibustering" even though it really isn't) more times than any other Senate has done in two full years!
Because of their rampant and unabashed obstructionism, dozens and dozens of laws that would have benefited America have died before even reaching the Senate floor. While nothing to be proud of, these 49 jokers have done more to define politics and thwart their opposition than anyone else in the Senate's history -- in only half the time!
While doing so, they have successfully framed the issue as "the do-nothing Democrat [sic] Congress," which the media laps up like a kitten on a saucer of milk.
But more about that next week... when we play round two of my choices for the McLaughlin Group awards. See you next week, and (as always) don't be shy about telling me where I got it wrong this week in your comments!
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post
-- Chris Weigant