My apologies to anyone tuning in who was expecting to see the 150th "Friday Talking Points" column, since it will be pre-empted for two weeks here. But the good news is we're doing so to bring you our annual "McLaughlin Awards," which are even more fun!
I admit we're jumping the gun a bit on the whole "year-end wrapup season," but this is due to the vagaries of the calendar. This is the first of a two-part article, and last year I published these on Christmas Day and New Year's Day -- which interfered with my holiday enjoyment too much. This year, the columns normally would have fallen on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, so the decision was made to bump them both up a week.
So welcome to our review of 2010, via our annual homage to the McLaughlin Group television show's award categories. "Homage" sounds ever so much nicer than "blatant ripoff," don't you think?
But enough of that, we've got a lot of awards to get to here, so let's get on with it. If you'd like to see any of the previous iterations of this column (this is our fifth year of handing out these awards), here's a handy list so you can check them out:
Which brings us directly to our 2010 awards!
Biggest Winner of 2010
Harry Reid deserves at least a mention here, for winning a race which was predicted to be the closest Senate race in the country. And doing so decisively. Of course, Harry kind of lucked out (is that a Vegas term?) in the opponent he drew, but still, it was a surprisingly strong win.
We had lots of other nominations in this category for "big business" and "big oil" and "big banks" (I sense a theme, here...), and one for just "rich folks." But while a case can be made that any or all of these "won" the most over the course of the past year, we ultimately found this a bit too abstract.
Instead, much to our chagrin, the Biggest Winner of 2010 was none other than the Republican Party. Democrats took, as President Obama described it, a "shellacking" in the midterms, losing a downright historic number of seats in Congress. Republicans not only won a huge number of elections, they also took control of the House of Representatives. The Senate was even briefly within their grasp, and even though Democrats will still retain control, Republicans boosted their Senate minority by five seats.
The other nomination was for the Tea Party, but although they did have an effect on the Republican races, it was such a decidedly mixed effect (case in point: Christine O'Donnell), that they just didn't rise to the level of "Biggest Winner."
Biggest Loser of 2010
We could take the easy way out, and name the flip-side of the Biggest Winner as the Biggest Loser of 2010 -- the Democratic Party. But that wouldn't be fair, for a number of reasons (consider how much legislation the Democrats managed to pass this year, which seems to balance their midterm election performance quite a bit).
Nancy Pelosi personally lost more in the midterm election than anyone else, as she not only oversaw a rout of her party in the House, but she also will have to hand over her gavel to John Boehner next year.
We got two snarky nominations as well, both coincidentally from Delaware. Beau Biden lost out big time by not running for his father's old Senate seat, and Christine O'Donnell was the Tea Partier everyone on the Left enjoyed the heck out of seeing get beat on election day.
But there were two even bigger losers, which resulted in a split decision. Our first Biggest Loser of 2010 was Meg Whitman. Whitman, or "Meggles" as I like to call her, spent a jaw-dropping one hundred and forty million of her own dollars trying to become governor of California. Jerry Brown won. Meggles really sank herself, though, because her handling of "Nannygate" was so insulting to the legion of Latino voters in the state. Whitman was about even with Brown in the polls until the story broke, but after her astonishing response to the scandal, Brown easily coasted to victory.
In a tie, we have a second Biggest Loser to hand out -- to Martha Coakley. Coakley (her name is probably already obscure enough for most to have forgotten it) was the Democrat who ran against Scott Brown for Teddy Kennedy's Senate seat. She ran one of the worst campaigns ever witnessed -- including a 6-day vacation holiday to play in the surf during a 42-day special election campaign. She may have sealed her fate when she mixed up baseball players from the Red Sox and the Yankees -- an unforgivable sin (or, more appropriately, perhaps, "an unforced error") in the eyes of Boston voters. Her loss to Brown also lost the Democrats a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate, in early 2010 -- which set the scene for the entire rest of the year.
For different reasons, Martha Coakley and Meg Whitman are the Biggest Losers of 2010.
The Best Politician of last year was a pretty unanimous decision -- outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Not only did she muster her troops in the House to pass over 400 bills that got ignored in the Senate (thanks, Harry Reid), but she also managed to get some very big legislative accomplishments through the House (multiple times, in some cases) that the Senate did act on -- healthcare reform and Wall Street reform.
Pelosi ended the year by defying the political inside-the-Beltway chattering class by retaining her leadership of the House Democrats as they become the minority party next year.
Throughout the year, Pelosi never seemed to call a vote without already knowing the result would be in her favor. That is the mark of a good House leader, which Pelosi will be remembered as being. At least by those on the Left. But even those on the Right focused on her in the election, meaning she was an effective politician in their eyes as well, in a certain way.
A case could be made for President Obama in the Worst Politician category, but this wouldn't be really fair. Obama has had a number of significant political victories, which mitigate against how badly he went about gaining some of them.
Likewise, a case could be made for Harry Reid, for any number of reasons. But Harry does occasionally produce, so again, this has to be seen somewhat in his favor. Martha Coakley also springs to mind, but we've already dinged her once. Rod Blagojevich also floats to the surface (in a pond-scummy sort of way), but he was largely out of politics for most of the year (once again).
Instead, we're going to name two wonky political operatives -- one from both sides of the aisle -- as Worst Politician of the year. From the Republican side, we had the antics of Michael Steele, nominal leader of the Republican National Committee. Steele just couldn't seem to open his mouth without inserting his foot, pretty much all year long.
From the Democratic side, the Worst Politician of the year was none other than Rahm Emanuel. Rahm gets this award not for all the bad advice he gave Obama as White House Chief of Staff, and not for his running denigration of the base voters of the Democratic Party who elected his boss. Instead, Rahm gets this award for his cardinal sin while in office. He broke Rule Number One for chiefs of staff -- never let yourself become "the story." Rahm so continually broke this rule throughout his reign that it's hard to even come up with the worst example. A sigh of relief was on millions of Democratic lips when Rahm announced he was quitting to go back to Chicago and run for mayor. Good riddance, Rahmbo.
Most Defining Political Moment
We did get one nomination for the just-concluded deal Obama struck with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts, but if anything this will be the most defining moment for 2011, as the president grapples with the congressional Republicans over any number of issues, in the year to come.
Likewise, the midterm elections were indeed a defining political moment on their own. Call it "The Year Of The Shellacking."
But looking at the bigger picture, our choice for Most Defining Political Moment was the passage of the healthcare reform bill. This not only set the stage for the midterm campaigning, it also capped off a full year's worth of congressional negotiations. The entire healthcare reform movement was pronounced dead so many times, you'd have thought there was a "death panel" in the room somewhere. Democrats, though, made it (gasping) across the finish line -- and passed reform they've been trying to get done for decades. Long after the midterm elections are remembered as a footnote to history, "Obamacare" will still be seen as the defining moment of the year. No matter what happens in the next Congress (Republicans have vowed to repeal the whole thing, but that is likely not going to happen, although they may succeed in tinkering with certain parts of it), passing healthcare legislation is going to be seen in the future as the most significant political event of the year.
Turncoat Of The Year
There were no outstanding turncoats this year, in terms of the turning of their coat being a spotlight moment in politics (the way Arlen Specter's defection had been last year, for instance).
There were some notable turncoats on both sides of the aisle, on individual Senate votes. Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and Scott Brown spring to mind. Without their help, Democrats would have been defeated on a number of critical bills. On the Democratic side, Russ Feingold seemed to have something to prove for the latter half of the year (which did him no good, he was defeated in the midterms anyway). As did a number of Democrats in the final throes of the healthcare debate.
But the Turncoat Of The Year for 2010 has to go to Senator John McCain. McCain faced a serious challenge from his right in the primaries, so he turned his coat on just about any issue he felt would lessen his primary challenge. He tacked so far to the right he even tried to disclaim he had ever called himself a "maverick." He ended the year as he spent the campaign -- by not only flip-flopping on his previously-stated position on repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but leading the crusade against its repeal. McCain did breeze to re-election, so perhaps all this coat-turning helped him out, but by doing so he lost just about any shred of respect anyone else in Washington had ever had for him.
In an astonishing three-way tie, we decided to give Most Boring to three out of four of the incoming party leaders in Congress. Nancy Pelosi is many things, but boring is not one of them (even her detractors would likely admit this, begrudgingly).
But watching any of the other three is about as exciting as watching kudzu grow. John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and Harry Reid just aren't very telegenic and aren't very riveting speakers. Boehner is trying mightily to improve his boringness (boringosity?) of late, by taking a cue from Glenn Beck and crying on camera whenever he gets the chance. It's not working, John. We hate to be the ones to break it to you, but you even look boring when you cry.
Washington has been referred to (snarkily) as "Hollywood for ugly people." Well, that's going a bit far, but for the next two years, we're going to see a lot of very boring people leading things in Congress.
This one isn't going to make me any friends on the Left, I fully realize.
But it's undeniable -- Sarah Palin was the Most Charismatic of the entire year.
The media -- Left, Right, and corporate -- followed her every twitch and tweet with rapturous devotion. I can personally attest to the fact that putting Sarah Palin's name in an article title generates lots of heat from Lefty commenters. Fox News, of course, loves Sarah. But astonishingly, the corporate (or, as Palin puts it oh-so-charismatically, the "lamestream") media also couldn't get enough of her. Think about it -- what other person in politics can you name in the last thirty or forty years who had their "picks" in an election (only a midterm election, at that) not only seriously discussed but regularly published by news organizations? I can name some sportscasters who get their "picks" on the air every week, but I have racked my brains and cannot come up with any other example of this phenomenon in the world of politics -- at least in my own memory.
Palin's picks were posted for all to see, throughout the primaries and throughout the election, on sites such as the Washington Post and other staid newspapers. They were endlessly discussed and dissected. The question often boiled down to: Is this good for Sarah? Will helping this particular candidate help Palin run for president?
There's only one real reason for all this fawning attention -- charisma. Palin is not a respected political voice on the issues. Palin has no unique experience which qualifies her as an opinion-maker or trend-setter. All she's got is her charisma.
And that -- at least in 2010 -- was all she needed. Which is why she is unquestionably the Most Charismatic of the year. Love her or hate her, the impossible thing (it seems, for everyone) is to ignore her.
Boy, there were any number of bum raps to choose from this year. There were the ones now becoming "old favorites" -- such as "Obama's a socialist!" or "Obama raised your taxes!" Or even "Obama's a Muslim!" (which still has a remarkable following among the public at large).
Two issues which engendered white-hot rage also were in the running. Early in the year, we had the argument that the "Two-And-A-Half-Blocks From Ground Zero Muslim Community Center" (it had another name in the media, which I am conveniently ignoring) was some sort of terrorist-inspired plot. Late in the year, we had Wikileaks and Julian Assange. The most hilarious thing about the Assange situation is how many American politicians simply do not understand the definition of "treason" (hint: you have to be a citizen of a country to commit treason against it). But the Wikileaks "rap" has yet to even be legally defined (which may prove impossible to do, I should point out), so perhaps Assange will win next year.
But the Bummest Rap of the year was actually a bum rap from a long time ago. But we've chosen to interpret the category broadly this year, even though the award we're about to give should more properly be called "Being Cleared Of A Past Bum Rap."
Little-noticed outside the Washington, D.C. area was the trial and conviction of the man who killed Chandra Levy back in 2001. Which finally cleared the name of Gary Condit. At the time, Condit was subjected to a media circus the likes of which are seldom seen in the political world. Condit was hounded out of office (a House seat from California) over the suspicions he had literally "gotten away with murder." But while he may have deserved to be kicked out by the voters, and he deserved his affair with Levy being exposed (because he was one of those sanctimoniously pointing fingers of shame at Bill Clinton) -- he definitely did not deserve the media circus he had to endure, which led to just about everyone deciding he was guilty of killing his lover.
I was not writing on politics when this situation exploded on the national scene. But I was just as bad as everyone else, and assumed Condit was guilty of murder. If I had been writing publicly back then, in all honesty I likely would have accused Condit of a crime it turns out he did not commit.
Because of this, I am awarding Gary Condit the Bummest Rap award for 2010. It's only fair.
The Fairest Rap from last year was also a "rap" from years gone by, which was finally resolved. Charlie Rangel's various transgressions speak for themselves, and he recently had to stand and listen to the House of Representatives officially censure him, which could not have been a pleasant experience. Rangel, to the end, tried to portray the accusations against him as some sort of vendetta or witchhunt (or, later, "business as usual"). Rangel grandstanded during his ethics hearing, and it did not help him one tiny bit. He abused his position in various financial ways, and he deserved the rap.
Of course, Rangel got the last laugh as his constituents re-elected him with an astounding 80 percent of the vote, so it looks like he'll be around in the House for some time to come.
This was a hard category to choose a winner, because there were several candidates with very strong comebacks to brag about.
The first, of course, is the Republican Party. After they lost big in 2006 and 2008, they mounted a comeback on the "Party Of No!" platform, with amazing success. But that's a bit too broad, and the GOP already won Biggest Winner of the year.
Gay marriage in California is in the midst of a spectacular comeback, after Proposition 8 banned it. But the court case has a long way to go, and there is no telling how the Supreme Court will ultimately rule on the subject, so this comeback is incomplete, at best.
David Vitter made an astonishing comeback, to win re-election to his Senate seat in Louisiana, after being exposed on the client lists of several different prostitutes. Just on the "political comeback" scale, that's pretty impressive, I have to admit.
Narrowly losing out was the healthcare reform bill. In January, after Scott Brown's election, the effort was (yet again) pronounced deader than a doornail by the punditocracy. Which turned out to be wrong, after a gargantuan effort, mostly driven by Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats. The White House, the Senate, and the House managed -- against pretty much all odds -- to complete their work, and "Obamacare" did indeed pass. This was one of the most spectacular legislative comebacks in recent memory, which is why it was tough not to give it the comeback award this year.
Instead, the Biggest Comeback of 2010 was the American auto industry. Two out of the three major automakers had to be bailed out by the government, then go through bankruptcy and kick out all their executives. But after the dust settled, Detroit came roaring back. In less time than just about anybody predicted, the automakers retrenched, and started making profits once again. They are now paying back their bailouts -- again, faster than just about anyone would have guessed a year ago.
For this stunning turnaround, the American auto industry was indeed the most impressive candidate for the Best Comeback of 2010 award.
Most Original Thinker
One name deserves mention here, because even though he failed in his political campaign for higher office, he still impacted national legislation in a major way. Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter failed in his Democratic primary challenge to defeat Senator Blanche Lincoln, but he came so close to doing so that he, in essence, forced Lincoln to push for strong Wall Street derivatives reform -- when even the Obama White House was against the idea. Lincoln had to fight hard to get the provision in the final Wall Street reform bill, and she never would have done so without Halter's primary challenge. For his success in pushing the issue -- without even holding national office himself -- Bill Halter was our runner-up for Most Original Thinker.
But the real winner is Elizabeth Warren. Warren is now in charge of creating and setting up the new department that she herself originally proposed -- the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This was the most brilliant idea contained within the Wall Street reform bill, and Warren deserves all the credit. In fact, this may have been the most brilliant idea this year (to date) that the Democrats managed to get signed into law. Elizabeth Warren is our obvious selection for Most Original Thinker this year.
Most Stagnant Thinker
Again, we had a few rather generic nominations in this category, such as Harry Reid (for his attempts at dealmaking and bargaining, which usually had a dismal end), or John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, just because. "The Bush tax cuts" could have been a contender, in this category as well.
But the real Most Stagnant Thinkers this year were two men charged with attempting original thinking who failed utterly to do so. Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson were co-chairs of the presidential deficit commission, which was supposed to reach a consensus on a plan to solve our long-term deficits. They, quite spectacularly, did not manage to do so. Instead, they got a few votes shy of even getting their own commission to agree on anything. Meaning the entire effort was a gigantic waste of time, because if the commission couldn't agree, no sane person thinks that Congress will be able to agree on pretty much any of their proposals.
There's a reason why people started calling their work (using their last names' initials, of course) the "B/S Report."
Best Photo Op
There were a few amusing photo op moments last year, such as when Vice President Joe Biden said to President Obama "this is a big fucking deal," unaware that a microphone was picking his comment up, just before Obama's remarks on the healthcare reform law's victory (it was a "BFD," in Biden's defense).
The most amusing ongoing photo op happened during the primary campaign in Nevada, while two Tea Party Republican candidates were duking it out for the Republican nomination to take on Harry Reid. The ultimate loser in the primary was Sue Lowden (whom Reid would likely have beaten by a much larger margin than the one he racked up against Sharron Angle). Lowden, on the campaign trail, uttered one of the looniest comments in a year chock-full of such lunacy -- that we used to barter things like chickens to get a doctor to tend to us, and that maybe we should consider this anew. This quickly morphed into "Chickens for checkups!" -- which led to many fantastic photo ops of someone dressed in a chicken outfit at pretty much every Lowden campaign event thereafter. Ah... good times....
But, all kidding aside, we had to go outside American borders for the Best Photo Op of 2010. All the way down to Chile, in fact.
The best photo op of the year, hands down, was the pictures of the Chilean miners finally being rescued from their subterranean ordeal. Nothing else really even came close.
Worst Photo Op
We added this category to the original McLaughlin award list, because it seemed unbalanced to have a "Best Photo Op" without a corresponding "Worst Photo Op" as well.
This year, there were three minor contenders for Worst Photo Op, but I'm going to announce the winner first, because it was so obvious -- the BP "spillcam."
The other three candidates for this award were kind of related -- the head of BP saying "I'd like my life back," Obama actually using the phrase "heck of a job" to describe Larry Summers (which was truly cringe-worthy, because of the Bush Katrina gaffe), and Republican Representative Joe Barton apologizing to BP for the mean, nasty Obama administration holding BP accountable for its actions (which was truly vomit-worthy).
But these images were tangents to the main one. For months, America was shown a live image from a mile under the Gulf of Mexico, of a broken pipeline creating an absolute volcano of oil. Night after night on television (the news folks helpfully ran "Day X" graphics, to count precisely how long the spill had been going on for) this image reigned supreme.
And it was a bad one. Very bad. So bad, in fact, no other bad photo op is even in the same ballpark this year. Spillcam wins Worst Photo Op, in a unanimous vote.
This category is one of those where we just let fly with numerous awards. So let's get started, shall we?
Arlen Specter? Enough already!
Rod Blagojevich? Enough already!
Stanley McChrystal? Enough already!
Bristol Palin? Enough already!
Arizona's immigration policies? Enough already!
Rahm Emanuel? Enough already!
And a big one to enter 2011 with...
John Boehner crying? Enough already!
There were a raft of these to choose from, sadly.
Last spring, Republicans circulated a Big Lie that had absolutely no basis in fact -- that Democrats were going to propose a "Value-Added Tax" (VAT), or a de facto "national sales tax." Later in the year, Republicans spoke approvingly of the B/S report which proposed the same exact thing, but nobody bothered to call them on their rank hypocrisy.
During the Wall Street reform bill's debate, Republicans were trying to position themselves as actually wanting stronger reforms than the Democrats, in a desperate attempt to be seen as not fighting hard on the side of Wall Street against Main Street. Once again, not a lot of Democrats called them on this nonsense.
Of course, there's that golden oldie: "billionaires are 'small businessmen,'" about which the less said the better.
Rahm Emanuel certainly had a few entries of his own in the Worst Lie category, the most spectacular of which was to call Union support (and Lefties in general) "fucking retarded" for supporting Bill Halter's campaign to the tune of ten million dollars.
But the real winner of Worst Lie this year is the monumental snow job put over either (take your pick) on or by the Tea Partiers that "deficit reduction" and "debt reduction" would be the first priority of business after the midterm election. This was immediately shown to be the crassest of political lies by passing $850 billion in tax cuts -- which will be added straight to the deficit and the debt. So much for "Priority Number One," huh, guys?
Capitalist Of The Year
In an upset victory, Communist China wins Capitalist Of The Year!
Maybe that's somewhat of a cop-out, so feel free to suggest your own Capitalist Of The Year in the comments, I guess.
Another catchall category, with lots of folks who don't seem to fit in other categories as well.
Elena Kagan deserves mention, for successfully making it onto the Supreme Court.
George W. Bush deserves credit both for shutting the heck up for two solid years (his book didn't come out until after the midterm elections), and together with Bill Clinton for their relief work on Haiti this year, after yet another disaster besieged the country.
Hillary Clinton deserves mention as well, for her continuing good job running the State Department.
Chris Dodd deserves honor for the way he stepped down from his Senate seat (when he realized he was probably going to lose re-election, he immediately stepped down and allowed a stronger Democrat to keep the seat).
The Tea Party deserves some sort of mention here, although it is quite likely they'll pick up one of next week's awards (in Part 2 of this column).
The Icelandic volcano, for proving utterly the stupidity of Bobby Jindal's sneering at governments wasting money on "volcano monitoring."
And, finally, California's Proposition 19 -- which failed at the ballot box, but at least gave Californians the chance to directly vote on complete legalization of marijuana for the first time since the 1970s.
Person Of The Year
While Time magazine chickened out on this one, we are going to award Julian Assange "Person Of The Year" here.
Whether you love or hate what Assange's Wikileaks has done all year, you've got to at least admit that he's pushing a debate that had been all but buried in America. The most ironic thing about the story is that the United States federal government is in a serious snit right now, deciding how it can bend its own laws in order to somehow punish Assange for publishing confidential documents provided to him by someone else. The overreaction of the feds to Assange is simply breathtaking, for a number of reasons -- not least of which is the fact that almost nobody is talking about punishing respected news organizations (the New York Times, among them) for doing essentially the same thing Wikileaks did, with the same documents -- getting them from someone else, and then making them available to the public.
But the real irony here is that the feds didn't go ballistic when Assange published his war documents, but when he released diplomatic cables. The American government, pretty much since 9/11 -- and under two presidents -- has been telling the American public "Hey, don't worry about the N.S.A. snooping around in your phone calls, emails, and internet usage -- if you don't have anything to hide, then you simply don't have anything to worry about!" Now that the government's own confidential communications have been exposed, the feds are singing a different tune, aren't they? Maybe there is something to this whole concept of "privacy" -- especially in electronic communications -- after all, eh?
For being the messenger who exposed this irony, Wikileaks' Julian Assange is our Person Of The Year for 2010.
Which is where we will leave it until next week's "Part 2" article, which will appear here on Christmas Eve. If you disagree with any of my choices (especially if I've just completely forgotten someone obvious), feel free to let everyone know your thoughts in the comments.
-- Chris Weigant