Welcome once again to our year-end wrapup and awards ceremony. Honesty dictates that I immediately genuflect to The McLaughlin Group, from whom I have stolen all these award categories. We will begin this week with Part 1 of these annual awards, and then next Friday on New Year's Day, we will present Part 2, with reduced volume levels (for those who are nursing hangovers... ahem).
Before we begin, though, we have to insert a free plug, for another year-end awards column with a slightly different theme -- awards for idiocy in the mainstream media (a subject near and dear to my own heart, I confess). Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting has their "2009 P.U.-Litzer Awards" up, and I heartily encourage everyone to read it as well, because it is excellent and well worth your time.
And, for comparison, it simply wouldn't be Friday around here if I didn't throw in a few plugs for my own columns, so if you'd like to peruse my McLaughlin Awards from years past, here are the previous three years' worth:
But enough of that -- let's get right to the awards themselves!
Biggest Winner of 2009
I have a history of taking these first two categories literally (Michael Phelps won this award last year, for instance). And there were two political wins last year which stood out, for separate reasons, so we're going to hand out two Biggest Winner awards as a result.
The first, for "Biggest Deferred Win" goes to none other than Senator Al Franken, who had to wait until the end of June to be officially declared the winner in the Minnesota Senate race over Norm Coleman. Waiting eight months to be seated, on a razor-thin 314-vote margin, Al Franken certainly deserves some sort of award for his patience. Maybe I should call it the "Hardest-Fought Win" award, but whatever you call it, Senator Franken deserves a salute for becoming the 60th vote Democrats desperately needed in the Senate.
Over in the House, the "Most Impressive Winner" this year was none other than Representative Bill Owens, from the New York Twenty-Third Congressional District. Owens won a House seat that, when last held by a non-Republican, was a Whig -- in the 1850s. This stunning upset was made possible by the "Tea Party" movement within the Republican Party, which so savaged Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava that she actually dropped out days before the election -- and then endorsed the Democrat in the race. [Hundreds of television "journalists" immediately breathed a collective sigh of relief that they wouldn't have to learn how to pronounce "Scozzafava" correctly, as an indirect result.] Hopefully, we can all look forward to many more of these sorts of intra-party dogfights in 2010, but for his jaw-dropping upset, Bill Owens deserves to be named Biggest Winner this year.
Biggest Loser of 2009
My first inclination for Biggest Loser was "Progressives," for obvious reasons. But then I thought about it, and Progressives may not be progressing as fast or as far as they thought they were going to under President Obama, but they certainly didn't "lose" as much as they would have under President McCain. This is small consolation indeed, but "losing" isn't just the absence of winning.
But, on a very closely-related and somewhat-overlapping theme, I'd have to award the Biggest Loser to the people pushing strongly for some version of the public option, Medicare-for-all, or single-payer healthcare reform.
Proponents of fundamental and bedrock change in America's health delivery system lost. Big time. Although there is a small chance (measured as the length of time a roughly-packed spheroid of frozen dihydro-monoxide would survive in Hades) of some shred of one of these plans surviving in the House/Senate conference on the healthcare reform bill, I'm not exactly holding my breath.
So, to the millions and millions of people who wanted to actually reform our healthcare system, and are having to swallow the bitter pill of being thrown under a bus instead, we award the Biggest Loser of 2009, with sorrow.
This one is going to be a bit controversial, so allow me to explain up front. "Politician" can be either a neutral term or one loaded with negative connotations. But the best practitioner of politics this year was (surprise!) President Barack Obama.
Which pegs our definition somewhat towards the negative end of the scale. Obama was, to many, overcautious this year in flexing his political muscle, in using the mandate the voters gave him, and in spending political capital in general. All of which was true, to one extent or another.
But staying out of the sausage-making fray in Washington did exactly what President Obama intended -- allowed him to swoop in at the end, and claim credit for the legislative victory. He did this most noticeably on the stimulus package and on healthcare reform. In both cases, he was never tarred with the brush of "defeat" on any particular facet of the legislation, and emerged at the end with virtually the exact same line: "I got 90 percent of what I wanted."
Although this has frustrated a great many of his supporters no end, it (again) did exactly what Obama intended. So, tarnished as the term may be, Obama has to be seen as the Best Politician of the year for playing this political game on his own terms. I'm not exactly happy about it myself, but I have to give credit where credit is due.
There are two names which pop instantly to mind in this category, but one of them is no longer in office, so we're not sure he qualifies.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney showed the absolute worst traits a politician can -- sour grapes -- at pretty much every opportunity he could during 2009. You'd think he was gone for good (or, more accurately, for worse)... but then there he'd be, popping up on the television screen yet again, with his opinion of why Obama was sending this country straight to Hell, on the Handbasket Express. The fact that he was so bitterly wrong didn't seem to deter the teevee shows from allowing him on whenever he felt the urge, even though he was so utterly irrelevant to the discussion at hand.
But, again, he's out of office, and I simply don't feel like giving the man an award for anything, personally, so we'll skip over him quickly.
Now, there were plenty of examples of corporate-owned "Democrats" in Congress (most noticeably in the Senate) this year, for whom you could make a strong case of being the Worst Politician. But again, I take this category more literally.
Unquestionably the Worst Politician of the year was the titular leader of the Republican Party, Michael Steele. Steele was an embarrassment to his own party, pretty much every time he opened his mouth, and he provided his opponents with so many gleefully idiotic quips that it is impossible to accurately count them all. He was, for Lefties, the gift that just kept right on giving, over and over again. So, for embarrassing his own party while creating joy and delight for his opponents -- while delivering absolutely no tangible political benefit whatsoever, either way -- Steele is hereby awarded the Worst Politician.
Most Defining Political Moment
Because it is fresh in the mind, it's tempting to say that the death of the public option in the healthcare reform debate was the Most Defining Political Moment of 2009.
But it really doesn't qualify, because it didn't define the debate so much as it did end it.
No, the truly Most Defining Political Moment this year was when Barack Obama named his economic team, and got them confirmed. This absolutely defined the first year of his presidency. Obama was stating loud and clear by his choices that he was going to be Wall Street's best friend, and that nobody should expect any radical populism from him whatsoever.
This shaded the debate on so many things during the year that, by definition, it was indeed the Most Defining Political Moment.
Turncoat Of The Year
In an absolute upset, for the first time ever this award is not going to Senator Joe Lieberman, of the "Liebermans for Lieberman" party. Ol' Joe has walked away with this award every year we've handed it out; but this year -- even with a spectacular finish killing off every progressive notion of healthcare reform -- Joe just didn't measure up. Because he's already turned his coat. He would really only be eligible this year if he had become the most liberal member of the Senate, which (as we are all aware) did not happen (see: previous statement on snowballs in Hell).
Towards the end of the year, we had a minor contender in the House, who changed parties from Democrat to Republican, but in the grand scheme of things this was fairly non-eventful, although it does deserve a mention here. Also worth pointing out was Olympia Snowe, who certainly didn't make any friends in her own party by occasionally crossing the aisle to vote with Democrats. And John McCain, who has pivoted to the extreme right of his party so hard he is denouncing things he used to support (quite recently, in fact), in a naked attempt to get re-elected (see: comment on fratricidal Tea Party primary challengers).
But, although it has receded into memory for the most part, the true Turncoat Of The Year -- in the most positive sense of the term you can imagine -- is Senator Arlen Specter. Specter's switch from the Republican Party to the Democrats is what made most of the rest of the year possible. Before Al Franken was seated, Specter was the one who made it possible for a 60-vote majority by his party switch. I can't exactly cite him for courage in doing so, because he also swapped parties in a naked attempt to hold onto his seat, from (once again) a Tea-Party-type of primary challenger. But Specter is now facing a serious Democratic primary challenger next year, so it may have all been in vain for him to do so. But whether he gets booted out or retained by Pennsylvania voters next year; for this year, he is fondly awarded the Turncoat Of The Year.
There are three candidates from the Democratic side for Most Boring. Actually, now that I think about it, pretty much "The entire Republican leadership team in both houses of Congress" should also qualify as well (Mitch McConnell? Seriously? That's all you've got? Wow.), but we'll stick to the Democrats for the actual award here.
Just on stylistic points alone, Joe Lieberman and Harry Reid deserve special mention here. [Yawn!] Man, you see either of this characters on television, and your head just involuntarily starts nodding off. I mean, watching Lieberman speak is about as exciting as watching paint dry, and listening to a Harry Reid press conference is about as packed with thrills as watching an icicle melt.
I have to slap myself across the face to even keep awake when writing about them, I have to admit.
But continuing this year's upside-down nature of how I am interpreting these categories, I am awarding this as a positive award. Because Barack Obama was without question the Most Boring this year. And I do mean that in a good way. The "no drama Obama" campaign theme continued right on into the White House, and Obama was cool and collected throughout a very intense year. Raging scorn was heaped upon him from the Left and from the Right (and from the media, in bucketfuls), and he somehow managed to stay above it all.
To the media, in particular, he stated over and over again that he was simply not interested in the "24-hour news cycle" where everything is about "winning the day's story," and feeding into whatever idiotic storyline the media is going apoplectic over that particular week. Obama kept the "long view" and he saw the "big picture" and -- with only one notable exception (see, below: beer summit) -- completely kept out of the snarling dogfight of daily political ups-and-downs, and trivial issues blown up into gargantuan proportions by bored media types with nothing better to report on. Actually that's not true -- there was plenty of better stuff to report on, but most of it was above the intelligence level of the so-called "journalists," leaving them to squabble over meaningless sandbox issues.
For being this cheerfully boring in the face of such strident idiocy, Obama wins Most Boring -- in the nicest possible way.
We're going to hand out two of these awards, one for the House and one for the Senate. Al Franken is trying as hard as he knows how to stifle his inherently and genetically (one assumes) hilarious nature, and thus appear as serious as is humanly possible in his new career as a politician. But every so often, he gets that wry smile on his face and just can't resist saying something amusing. This is a man who knows humor, and has a lighting-fast and razor-sharp sense of irony. To expect him to completely hide this light under a barrel is to ask too much of the man, and -- for these cracks of brightness which shine through occasionally -- we have to award him Most Charismatic in the Senate. No doubt this will be a disappointment to Franken, since, as I said, he's trying mightily not to let any of it show. But Al sometimes just has to be Al, and for that we are eternally grateful. Once he grows into his role as senator, and once he feels confident of his state electorate's support, we fully expect to see this side of him grow and mature; but, for now, we'll take what we can get.
Over on the House side is Representative Alan Grayson. Now, Grayson has occasionally overstepped the boundaries of good taste during the year, but he can be forgiven these rookie errors when you look at the totality of how energetically (and charismatically) he has injected himself into some very important debates, and (by doing so) made some very important points -- in plain, everyday, easy-to-understand language -- that nobody else on the Democratic side seems capable of making. Grayson has proved, this year, that he is a man to watch in the future of Democratic politics, and for his vigorous and entertaining ways of putting things, he has indeed earned Most Charismatic of the year.
So the "Als" sweep the category this year! Congratulations to both Franken and Grayson are in order.
This category was chock full of bum raps this year, I am sorry to say.
Not only a bum rap, but also one of the stupidest raps I've ever witnessed in politics were the early complaints that President Obama relied upon his TelePrompTer too much. What a crock -- as if every other politician dating back to Ronald Reagan (and even earlier) hadn't used the same exact device for pretty much all their public speeches. Sheesh. I mean, it's like complaining about Obama "using some newfangled personal computing device that seems to function much as a typewriter does," or, even, "using that science-fictional device which some are calling 'the telephone,' instead staying in touch via the time-honored and known-to-be-reliable telegraph system."
Sorry, my eyes were rolling so much there that I had to take a deep breath, and then re-focus on the page in front of me. Ahem.
Obama likewise got two other bum raps which were simply laughable -- that he was some sort of pacifist peacenik, and that he had said he would never sign a bill with earmarks. The first was downright laughable, because every speech Obama has ever made on war -- back to and including his initial denouncement of the Iraq invasion -- references the fact that there are indeed "just wars," and that Obama himself isn't against all wars... just stupid ones. The earmarks thing was astounding, too, because it was a campaign promise made by his opponent! That's right -- John McCain was the one who foreswore all earmarks. And yet the brain-dead media kept hammering Obama about it, as if he were the one who had made such a promise. Once again: SHEESH!!
Joe Biden deserves a mention here, since he has never lived up (down?) to the "loose cannon" bad rap the media types (and, admittedly, late-night comedians) have delighted in all year. Sure, he's made a misstatement or two (as any human being would), but he's said simply nothing like what we were all led to expect from "journalists" (see: previous brain-dead comment). Also notable for "beating the rap" (as it were) was former President Bill Clinton, who has been remarkably quiet during his wife's first year as Secretary of State.
But there were two raps which stood out as being sheer moose poop during this past year, and to these we give the actual Bummest Rap award. The first of these was Dick Cheney's comments on President Obama's "dithering" on Afghanistan. Obama took three months to make up his mind to send the second of his surges into Afghanistan (the media, in another bum rap, didn't even credit Obama for the first one). But this absolutely ignores the fact that George W. Bush took exactly the same period of time when deciding on his surge into Iraq. Making Cheney a complete moose's ass for suggesting Obama was somehow shirking his duty, and making this Bummest Rap number one for 2009.
Bummest Rap number two was pretty much everything the Republicans said about Sonia Sotomayor. Man, they threw everything at her but the kitchen sink, in a desperate effort to paint her as something she simply was not. None of it had the slightest effect, other than in the inane nature of the questions in her Senate hearing -- all of which she absolutely hit out of the park in her answers. But the caricature painted of her by her opponents was one bum rap indeed.
Two fair raps stand out for me. The first was a trivial one -- the rap that those claiming that "a million people" showed up for the Tea Party at the U.S. Capitol were, to be polite, talking through their hats. The photos showed a crowd of around 50,000 to 70,000 people. Now, as I admitted at the time, that's a pretty impressive crowd for a demonstration in Washington. But the Righties were simply not seriously credible when they attempted to inflate the crowd size beyond all reason, with their claim that a million people (or two million, or three million...) showed up. This got even more embarassing when Fox used photos of this rally to try and boost numbers for a later (and much smaller) rally by the same people. So the rap of wildly inaccurate crowd numbers was indeed a fair rap.
And, sadly, over on the Left, the rap that President Obama (and his chief henchman Rahm Emanuel) throws his supporters under the proverbial bus at pretty much every opportunity was indeed a fair rap. Emanuel comes out of the Clinton White House, with all the "triangulation" that implies. This thinking goes somewhat like: "we've already got the Left, we can afford to piss them off, we just need to peel off enough centrists to get things done." And, sadly (as I said) this is indeed a fair rap not just for Emanuel, but also for his boss.
The examples of this are almost too numerous to recall. On gay issues, on medical marijuana, on single-payer, on the public option, on anti-war types, on pro-choice, on immigration, on Wall Street over Main Street populism, on national security issues -- the list is indeed a long one of things that Obama has either disappointed on, or simply kicked the can down the road (a telling statement: I am positive I have missed a few in that list...).
So the rap that the Left should be vary wary of Obama's support, because he has a tendency to throw them under the bus, on pretty much any of their key issues, is indeed a fair one. Actually, it's getting pretty crowded under this bus, now that I think about it... sigh.
The list of nominees for this one was fairly long -- Sarah Palin (for her book tour), Joe Lieberman (for being the most important senator for a few weeks recently), to perhaps even (from the other side) David Vitter. A good case could be made for "healthcare reform," since the entire effort was all but pronounced dead by the punditocracy (also known as the "inside the Beltway" set) around August. And yet, even with a heavily compromised bill, the effort marches on.
But my choice for Best Comeback is Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina. Sanford was caught in a sex scandal (see next week's category: Worst Political Scandal, for more) and the betting money was he'd either immediately resign, or be impeached and removed from office by his fellow Republicans. But when it came time to act, the state legislature did no more than slap Sanford on the wrist, and it is now clear he'll serve the remaining time in his term.
[Insert your own "don't cry for me, Argentina" joke here... ahem.]
But for such a downright "Clintonian" performance, Sanford deserves Best Comeback of the year, I have to admit.
Most Original Thinker
This one is easy, although his name will likely be unfamiliar to you. Atul Gawande wrote a brilliant article on healthcare reform in The New Yorker at the beginning of June, which examined the way a few areas of the country delivered health services. He looked at areas that did it right (and were under the national average in costs), and areas that did it wrong (that were far over the national average), while both delivering similar results.
This article quickly became "must reading" for anyone in the White House, and was probably the most-quoted piece of writing in the entire debate. It was referenced uncountable times by politicians, and did more to influence policy-makers' opinions than perhaps anything else this year.
For writing this article, Atul Gawande is the Most Original Thinker of the year. The article (like most New Yorker articles) is extremely long, but is definitely worth reading.
Most Stagnant Thinker
I have one group award here, and one special mention for an individual.
The group award: The Republican Party. The "Party of No." The idea-less ideologues. No further explanation should be necessary, really.
And for individual cognitive stagnation, a special "Retro" Most Stagnant Thinker for Governor Rick Perry (and all the others), who opened the door to Texas (and other states) actually seceding from the Union -- as if this was actually a valid political stance to take. Seriously, this throwback thinking from the 1860s goes beyond "stagnant," to downright "antebellum."
Best Photo Op
While Michelle Obama's "Victory Garden" photo ops with Washington schoolchildren were endearing, and while Barack Obama's Nobel acceptance speech was (in his own admission) nothing more than a glorified photo op; we tend to forget that 2009 also included last January.
And January 2009 saw two million people stand around for eight or nine hours in sub-zero temperatures just to watch the Inauguration of President Barack Obama.
No photo op in the successive eleven months even came close, I have to say.
Worst Photo Op
We're adding this category to the McLaughlin canon, just because.
There were a few "worst photo op" candidates, sadly all from Obama, in one way or another. The most galling of these were the two (one in the spring, one quite recently) photo ops of "Obama talks tough to Wall Street bankers," which produced exactly nothing in the way of tangible results.
And there was Obama bowing and being polite and overly-respectful (obsequious, even) to various world leaders. This is more symbolic than anything else, but I have to throw my lot in with the Obama-haters on this one (to my great chagrin and embarrassment). Because, I have to say, they're right on this one. America was built on an idea. Part of this idea was that we're all equal. This was a radical, radical idea for its time. And it meant that -- unlike the nobility and royalty in Europe -- no man would bow to our leader. He is not above us -- he is one of us. Equal. The first among equals, to be sure, but still: just a citizen. So we neither bow nor curtsey to him. But the flip side is that he also bows to no foreign leader. We are most decidedly not subjects of anyone. All of us -- individually and collectively -- are just not "subjects." Meaning we do not follow the protocol of royals. Like I said, both a minor issue, and a very major one. Such is the nature of diplomatic protocol. But Obama went too far in his efforts to reach out to the world, I have to conclude.
The third silly photo op was the whole "beer summit." The less said about this episode the better, at this point.
But the real Worst Photo Op -- which topped all of these in idiocy -- was having Air Force One (actually, technically, it was not "Air Force One" at the time, since that designation is reserved for when the president is actually onboard the plane) buzz Manhattan in order to get a photo of it flying by the Statue Of Liberty. Guys, really, there's this thing called "Photoshop," y'know? And... um... 9/11?
Sigh. Nothing really came close to this visual screwup all year long. What were they thinking? Were they thinking? Apparently not.
As usual, there's a bunch of things which easily qualify for the "Enough Already!" award.
Here's where we just start ranting without abandon.
Tiger Woods? Enough Already!
Balloon Boy's parents? Enough Already!
Michael Jackson's dead? Enough Already!
Gate-crashers at the White House? Enough Already!
Death panels? Enough Already!
Town hall screaming idiots? Enough Already!
Tea Parties? Enough Already!
Sarah Palin? Enough Already!
Obstructionist Corporatist Democrats? Enough Already!
But the actual award has to go to a parliamentary rule, and how it is being abused. Filibusters (and attendant Republican obstructionism)? Enough Already!
My first inclination was to just give this to "everything the Tea Partiers and town hall idiots let fly from their pie-holes," but then I thought a little more, and remembered this doozy:
Mark Sanford, explaining his absence from the state he was (and is) Executive Officer of (while he was really boinking his mistress down in South America) with the lamest lie of the entire year -- that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail at the time. Further irony was heaped upon this, by the bare-naked fact that during the period he was maintaining this falsehood, there was a nationwide celebration of "Nude Hiking Day," which must have included a few brave nudists hiking on that very same trail.
No other lie even came close, really, from Maine to Georgia (and in all other points of our great country, for that matter).
Capitalist Of The Year
This one's fairly obvious, when you think about it.
President Obama did more to advance the interests of Wall Street, and by inference "capitalism in general" than anyone else this past year. From naming his economic team at the start of the year, to allowing them to have their way with his healthcare reform plan at the end of the year; Obama did what he was told to do by his advisors, and by Wall Street itself.
More in sorrow than in anger, we have to give Obama the Capitalist Of The Year award.
This is a lead-in category to the final one for this week, and is somewhat of a catchall for odds and ends not adequately covered by the other categories in the list.
In that spirit, I'd like to give Bill and Hillary Clinton an Honorable Mention here. The fear of bringing Hillary into Obama's cabinet was that she had some baggage, and that this baggage was named "Bubba." But Hillary has been more than competent in her job, and has done so without attempting once to steal the spotlight from her boss. And Bill must be on a very short leash indeed, because there simply have been no "Bimbo eruptions," or other miscellaneous scandalous behavior (such as spotlight-stealing) from the Big Dog himself this year. For proving all the naysayers wrong, I give this extraordinary political couple the special mention they deserve.
And I have to say, it was a shame that Farrah Fawcett Majors died on the day that she did. Farrah was pretty much "Queen Sex Kitten Of The Universe" in the 1970s, with countless adolescent males discovering the joys of... um... a special type of self-love (that's as far decency allows me to go)... whilst staring fixedly (and sweatedly) at this ubiquitous bathing suit poster (still, if I'm not mistaken, the best-selling poster of all time).
Without the existence of this poster, for instance, Baywatch simply never would have occurred to anyone, later on. Farrah deserved better, on her grand exit from life's stage, than being a footnote. Which is what she wound up as, since she unfortunately chose the same day to die as Michael Jackson. All the "Charlie's Angel is now really an angel" prepared footage was woefully foreshortened and overshadowed by the final act in the circus known as the "King of Pop." Which was sad, in a way, for Farrah. So we're giving her an Honorable Mention, just for the smile she's wearing in that iconic poster.
[Full disclosure: I'll have you know, I do not speak from experience, since as a young lad I personally lusted after Kate Jackson ("Sabrina," or the "brainy one"); but I saw that Farrah poster in more of my friends' bedrooms than I saw Led Zeppelin posters -- which, for the 1970s, is saying something indeed.]
Person Of The Year
While both Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid deserve a lot of credit they simply do not get from pixel-stained wretches (such as myself) for shepherding through a raft of small-bore (and large-bore, for that matter) legislation that does not receive media attention, nobody else in particular stood out this year as deserving of the "Person Of The Year" award.
Obama obviously had the chance to shine, and pick up this award as a matter of course. But, sadly, he didn't. He fell short of the bar on any number of issues, and was simply not seen in Washington as driving the debate -- rather (sadly) as a bystander to the debate who would occasionally yell something from the sidelines.
In all honesty, and with absolutely no tinge of suck-up-i-tude, I have to say that Arianna Huffington is right. The "Person Of The Year" this year was "The Lobbyist." Here is her entire blog post on the subject:
This week, Time named Fed chair Ben Bernanke its Person of the Year. The magazine says its choice is "not an award," but rather a recognition of the person who "most influenced the news during the past year -- for good or for ill." Based on that criterion, Time should, without a doubt, have picked Washington lobbyists -- because no person or group was more influential in 2009. After an inspiring presidential campaign that promised to take on the special interests, the lobbyists flexed their muscles (and their wallets) and showed who really runs the show in DC. Lobbyists carried the day on health insurance reform, banking reform, financial reform, drug pricing, cramdown legislation, and credit card interest rates, to name just a few. And every time they won, the American people lost. It's Time for a reshoot. The Lobbyists: The Real Persons of the Year.
Sad to say, I couldn't agree with Arianna more this year.
As usual, for anything or anyone I've forgotten (or otherwise inadvertently omitted), please feel free to let me know your choices in the comments. Until next week's "Part 2" of these awards, I wish you a Happy Holiday!
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant
Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground
Cross-posted at: The Huffington Post
-- Chris Weigant