OK, here we go with Part 2 of my annual McLaughlin Awards. Last week's column covered the first half of these awards.
Unfortunately (as of this writing) the transcript for last week's McLaughlin Group is not yet available on their website, so you'll have to check it later to compare how I did with the actual McLaughlin Group themselves.
Onward to this week's awards:
Destined for Political Stardom
Barack Obama. Even if he loses in 2008, we're going to hear more from him in the future. He has proved that he can run a credible national campaign and that America is indeed ready to at least consider a black man for president. Even if he returns to the Senate next year, he will still be eyeing the top prize and will run his political life accordingly. One way or another, Obama's going to be in the spotlight in the future.
Destined for Political Oblivion
Scooter Libby. While I fully expect to see Karl Rove's name in the news in the future, I think it's a pretty safe bet that Scooter's name will never be heard again in Washington.
Best Political Theater
Oprah Winfrey introducing Barack Obama to an adoring crowd of something like 30,000 Iowans. You just can't beat the star power that Oprah is going to bring to the campaign trail. If Obama wins the nomination, we'll be arguing for years how much of a factor Oprah was in his victory.
Worst Political Theater
There were a lot of contenders for Worst Political Theater last year, from Senator Larry Craig's press conference (where he attempted to explain exactly what did occur in that airport bathroom), to Congress wasting time condemning MoveOn.org and wholeheartedly coming out in support of Christmas, to Rudy Giuliani answering his cell phone while giving a political speech ("It's my wife...").
But the award actually goes to... FEMA's fake press conference. We expect snow jobs from the Bush administration as a matter of course now, but we'd really prefer that press conferences actually... you know... have the press in the audience.
Worst Political Scandal
Hoo boy. Nothing else even comes close to Senator Larry Craig in this category. 2007 was the year we learned about Craig's "wide stance" in public bathrooms, and that he "is not gay," even though he seems to have a penchant for anonymous gay sex in public restrooms. Um, yeah. That's not very gay, is it? After the Mark Foley scandal with the congressional pages, Democrats are no doubt delighted that Senator Craig will be serving in the Senate until the end of 2008. Maybe he'll get caught illegally "not being gay" in some public place again, just before the elections!
Most Underreported Story
As always, there are plenty of candidates for this category, thanks to the ceaseless efforts of the mainstream media to keep us informed about the latest tiger attack, at the expense of actual news.
On the world stage, once again the Darfur story got sporadic attention at best in America. In Iraq, the biggest unreported story is the successful conclusion of the ethnic and sectarian cleansing in the entire country. Shi'ite-only and Sunni-only districts, complete with concrete blast walls, are the norm in Baghdad and the countryside. Sectarian violence has ebbed in part due to the success of these efforts. Little mention of any of this was made in the American media all year, since it doesn't quite fit into anyone's "storyline" for Iraq.
Closer to home, the aftermath of Katrina faded into the background for everyone except the people who still live there. Every once in a while a story would surface in the national media, but then quickly die through lack of attention. Shameful.
But the Most Underreported Story award has to go to Republican obstructionism in Congress -- particularly in the Senate. The minority party has successfully blocked dozens and dozens of good ideas, including every change to President Bush's Iraq policy proposed (except the one the White House told them to let through so Bush could veto it). The Republicans in the Senate have used the cloture vote ("filibustering," even though it technically isn't) more times in a single year than any other Senate has done in two years' time.
And through it all, they have successfully spun their obstructionism to the mainstream media as "Democrats can't get anything done in Congress." But more on that in a bit.
Most Overreported Story
While this award could go every year to some denizen of Hollywood, I disqualify all entertainment figures just on principle. I just don't care what Britney, Lindsay, and the rest of them are up to, personally.
In politics, I would have to say that the Most Overreported Story has got to be John Edwards' hair cut. A strong case could be made for the "inevitability" of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee, but the Edwards $400 haircut has got to be the one story that put on display the idiocy of what passes for "political reporting" in the mainstream media.
Biggest Government Waste
The saga of the post-Katrina FEMA trailers springs to mind, since it just keeps getting worse and worse as the story continues. A strong case can be made for all those billions of dollars we've sent to Pakistan's Musharraf. And I was tempted to give the award to "Iraq" as I did last year, but this year I have to be more specific.
The Biggest Government Waste last year was paying for security contractors in Iraq, such as Blackwater. In the first place, let's call them what they are. They're not the euphemistically-named "security contractors;" they are mercenaries. Mercenaries paid for by our tax dollars. At unbelievable expense -- to the tune of a half-million dollars a year per soldier.
Now, Republicans have long advocated dismantling the U.S. government in all its forms, and turning things over to private enterprise. This was known back in the 80s and 90s as "privatizing." The logic is supposed to be: "private companies can always do the job better, more efficiently, and cheaper than some government bureaucracy."
But a half of a million dollars is a lot more than we pay each Marine for a year's work. And Marines are under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, meaning that when they murder civilians they are supposed to be tried for it as a crime.
So for my money (which, in literal fact, it is), Blackwater and all the other security firms in Iraq win the prize for Biggest Government Waste.
Best Government Dollar Spent
I was going to give this award to Stuart Bowen, Jr., the Inspector General for all Iraq reconstruction money, but there may be scandals in his own office brewing (and then again there may not -- he's made some powerful enemies by rooting out corruption in Iraq, so at this point, who knows?). Then I was just going to go with a favorite fallback, such as the National Parks system, or the Interstate Highways.
But upon reflection, I think the Best Government Dollar Spent was funding the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). While congressional Democrats were thwarted in their efforts to expand this program by twice getting vetoed by Bush, it's still a fantastic program that needs more money and more attention next year. So I would have to say the best tax dollars spent were on SCHIP last year.
Boldest Political Tactic
Most people would think that Bush's "surge" was the Boldest Political Tactic last year, since it was indeed bold. But, one, it's not a tactic, it's a strategy; and two, it's not political, it's military. Plus, I already gave out the Most Defining Political Moment for Bush's speech announcing the "surge."
So I am going to have to go way, way out on a limb here and say that the boldest political tactic last year was Iranian President Ahmadinejad coming to America to speak at Columbia University. I know this won't make me any friends, but I really believe he deserves the award.
Consider that his political tactic was meant for consumption of the audience back home -- in Iran. He really didn't care what the American press had to say about his visit, he was playing for his own domestic audience. And in the Islamic tradition, you're supposed to tell your enemies exactly what problems you have with them. Ahmadinejad did so on an academic stage, further boosting his image as a learned man (back home).
But for those who would argue that it wasn't a bold move, ask yourself -- can you see any American politician doing the reverse? Can you see anyone from the Bush administration giving a speech to university students in Tehran, and then taking their questions? Can you see any Democrat doing so?
To his own people, Ahmadinejad went into the lion's den, behaved reasonably, and boosted his stature by doing so. Since there is absolutely no American politician who would dare do the reverse, I award the Boldest Political Tactic to Ahmadinejad for his speech.
Um... maybe we should... you know... inspect some of that cheap crap coming over here from China that our pets eat and our children play with? Guys? ...Anyone?
Don't like that one? How about "let's do something to stop global warming" -- that's better. Best Idea of the year, and one that even the Bush administration is being forced to confront. Congratulations to the Democrats in Congress for finally raising the mileage standards for cars made in America.
This one has to go to Vice President Dick "Darth" Cheney, and his whole neo-conservative cabal, for trying to provoke Bush into bombing Iran.
It's a rare day indeed when I thank my lucky stars for the Central Intelligence Agency, but their National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq threw a whole bucket of cold water on the concept that it would be a great idea to just casually fly into Iran and drop a few thousand tons of high explosives. The sequel to Iraq has been averted... for now, at least. Bush still has a year to go, so it still could happen, but either way it definitely deserves Worst Idea of 2007.
Sorry To See You Go
Not Sorry To See You Go: Jerry Falwell. E. Howard Hunt.
Sorry To See You Go: Benazir Bhutto. Steve Fossett (missing, presumed dead). Molly Ivins. Evel Knievel. Sidney Sheldon. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. And, finally, five tons of flax to Robert Anton Wilson (Hail Eris! All Hail Discordia!).
15 Minutes of Fame
The "Don't tase me, bro!" guy. See, I've already forgotten his name, but his immortal words will outlive his 15 minutes of fame in pop culture.
The "Do-Nothing Democratic Congress."
Congress actually got some stuff accomplished last year, but you certainly wouldn't know it based on what the media tells you. Granted, the Democrats didn't stop the war, but that didn't stop them from getting some other important stuff done: We got a whopping big increase in the minimum wage, for instance; as well as ethics reform, implementing the 9/11 Commission's suggestions, passing an actual budget for the first time in years, and raising the CAFE standards for auto mileage for the first time in a generation.
Democrats also took down an Attorney General (actually, Republicans helped on this one, as he was such an thumb-fingered incompetent that even they couldn't stomach him any longer).
All-around, while not deserving an A-plus for the 2007 legislative year, Democrats also did not deserve the "do-nothing" label that Republicans are trying to stick them with.
This spin is going to increase to a fever pitch next year, as the elections roll around. Republicans obstruct passage of laws at a record pace, and then are going to campaign on the fact that Democrats can't get anything done. It sounds absurd, and it should be. But the mainstream media is already buying into this "do-nothing" spin, making it the most successful (and most insidious) spin of the year. Let's hope Democrats forcefully beat this spin back next year, and counter it with their own framing of the message.
Most Honest Person
I almost gave this award to the family in the SCHIP ad that was excoriated by the right-wing noise machine last year (before they checked their facts). The right-wingers tried to paint the family as some sort of welfare queens, too rich to deserve the government saving their child's life, but when the truth came out it blew up in their faces.
But, for the second year in a row, I have to give the award to Congressman John Murtha. Murtha calls it as he sees it, which got him a lot of heat when he returned from a trip to Iraq. His remarks were taken out of context and echoed by the right wing for their own purposes, which Murtha surely knew would happen. But Murtha said what he said anyway -- that the "surge" seemed to be working militarily, but that political progress was non-existent -- and for that I award him Most Honest Person.
I'm going to go political here, and give out two awards. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton. She may still indeed win the nomination, but the whole "air of inevitability" story was a little much. Which, it should be noted, she actively fed and encouraged.
On the Republican side, Fred Thompson. He flirted all year with the whole coy "will I run or won't I" dance, and his poll numbers rose accordingly. Then he jumped in the race and people got to see him attempt to give a speech, and his poll numbers tanked. Think about that -- his poll numbers were probably highest the day he announced his candidacy. Then they fell. That pretty much defines "Most Overrated."
Again, I'm going political for this one. On the Democratic side, John Edwards. Once again, he may not win the nomination, but his campaign deserved a lot more serious consideration than it ever got from the mainstream media. You'll notice that while they were busy attacking Edwards for his haircuts, his large house, his inauthenticity, his large wealth, and whatever other fluff they could think of -- virtually nobody even mentioned his actual stance on the issues. His anti-corporate-influence populism must just horrify the mainstream media conglomerates, because they absolutely refused to even mention what Edwards stands for. If he wins Iowa, look for even more vicious attacks on him personally, with little attention paid to what he's actually saying.
On the Republican side, Ron Paul wins this one hands down. His candidacy was supposed to be a joke -- a bunch of libertarian lunatics and college kids who probably won't even show up to vote. But then he started getting floods of money on the internet. Now, I still think it's impossible for him to win the Republican nomination, but you have to respect the man for raising more money than any other Republican candidate for the fourth quarter of 2007. For this alone, Ron Paul gets Most Underrated.
The Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the states of Florida, Michigan, Wyoming, and too many others to count -- for giving us the most insane presidential primary schedule this country's ever seen. Hopefully, in a state of exhaustion, everyone will decide that this isn't working at all, and some sort of fix will be imposed on the states at the national level. But for the next few months, enjoy the ride everyone!
Last year, I wrote three predictions. I'll leave it for you to decide how accurate they were:
Speaker Pelosi will do a great job.
Karl Rove will be booted from the White House.
Congress will censure Bush and Cheney and "move on," but will not impeach.
Here are my predictions for next year:
Oil will start trading in Euros and move away from the U.S. dollar.
Hong Kong or Taiwan (or possibly both) will use the fact that the world's media will be focused on Beijing for the Olympics to do something provocative right before they begin. The temptation to do so will be enormous, since they'll see it as the best possible time for some movement towards independence. Beijing's hands will be tied, at least until after the ceremonies are over and everyone goes home.
Oh, that brings up a corollary -- NBC's coverage of the Olympics will suck badly. [OK, this one's a no-brainer, I realize, but I just had to throw it in there to up my statistics next year.]
The Republicans will not know who their presidential nominee will be until March (at the earliest) and possibly even later. There's even a slight chance they'll make it all the way to their convention without a clear candidate.
Democrats take the White House. Democrats gain 25 seats in the House, and 7 seats in the Senate.
New Year's Resolution
Shorter columns. I promise!
See, the reason for my logorrhea can be explained by the following eighteen well-reasoned arguments....
[No! No! Stop me, someone!!]
In true McLaughlin-ian fashion, I bid you:
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post
-- Chris Weigant