Welcome to the seventh annual homage (which sounds so much nicer than "blatant ripoff," don't you think?) to the television show The McLaughlin Group, since they have the most extensive year-end award category list of anyone around. Since "extensive" is my middle name (well, not really, although I do tend to wander off into the parenthetical wilderness at times, do I not?), such a long list fits right in here.
Before we begin, we have a few quick things to run down that can't be ignored. The first is the fact that this may be our last column, due to TEOTWAWKI (or, to the less savvy, "the end of the world as we know it"). My only thought, should it be my final one, is that perhaps the Mayans were fans of the band Rush -- look right there in the date... 12/21/12! Heh. Today is a good day to dig out a short story Arthur C. Clarke wrote almost 60 years ago, "The Nine Billion Names Of God," especially if you've never read it before.
Quickly, here are a few things I would be writing about, were this a normal Friday column: A full-page pro-marijuana ad in the New York Times (with lots of "these must be the end times" sorts of jokes). South Carolina is apparently attempting nullification once again (since the first time worked out so splendidly for them in the 1860s). And finally, Sarah Palin channelling Groucho Marx, who famously stated that he would never join any club which would have the likes of him as a member. Palin ridiculed Time magazine's choice of President Obama as "Person Of The Year" because -- get this -- Time had previously called Sarah Palin one of the most influential people in America. Palin was (thankfully) largely absent from the political stage in 2012, but gems like this give rise to a certain nostalgia for the times when the national media hung on her every word.
Oh, speaking of hanging on every word (ahem), I was interviewed on the Uprising! radio show (on the Pacifica Network) yesterday, on fiscal cliffery, so I definitely would have had a plug for that. If this were a normal Friday column, that is.
But it's not, of course -- instead we bring you our year-end awards, which are long enough as it is, so let's get underway, shall we?
Biggest Winner Of 2012
We start with an easy call. President Barack Hussein Obama was the Biggest Winner Of 2012. Winning a second term as our nation's leader eclipsed all other wins of the past year, hands down.
Biggest Loser Of 2012
This was a bit tougher to call. Mitt Romney was an obvious contender, as was Karl Rove and the SuperPACs who supported him. But the real Biggest Loser Of 2012 was the Republican Party and the Republican brand. Across the board, the GOP lost in many significant ways. Republicans lost not only the presidential vote, they lost any shred of support from African-Americans, Latinos, young people, and gays... and they went a long way towards losing women as well. But it wasn't just the presidential vote -- for the first time in American history, several states voted to allow gay marriage and to just flat-out legalize marijuana. On issue after issue, the electorate is signaling they are tired of the traditional Republican "wedge issues" and are taking their votes elsewhere. Meaning the Biggest Loser of 2012 was not just "a Republican" or "Republicans in general," but the entire Republican Party and the Republican platform, to boot.
Elizabeth Warren certainly earned her chops as a politician this year. Likewise, Chris Christie had his moment -- not "in the sun," but in the aftermath of a tragic storm. But the Best Politician this year was none other than Bill Clinton. The Big Dog. Bubba. Clinton's campaign efforts boosted Obama out on the campaign trail, and Clinton outshone all others with the speech he gave to the Democratic National Convention. If Hillary Clinton wins the White House in 2016, perhaps she'll take seriously Barack Obama's quip that a cabinet position should be created for him as the "Secretary of Explainin' Stuff."
No shortage of choices here, mostly from the Republican side of the aisle. From candidates blowing what should have been easy Senate victories through their boneheaded insensitivity on the subject of rape to the endless parade coming out of the clown car that was the Republican primary season (Rick Perry springs to mind, if you know what I mean), we certainly had a lot to choose from. But one man stood out among this crowd, and his name is Willard Mitt Romney. Romney showed America that he downright expected to win the presidency, and his disdain for the whole process of, you know, asking for votes was so apparent that it oozed out of Romney in a constant stream. Only releasing two years of tax forms. Not explaining what he would do when he got into office on just about every contentious issue raised. The stiffest delivery of any politician since John Kerry trod the hustings. Remarks about people not as lucky as himself in the "choose your parents carefully" sweepstakes. Standing up for issues which he clearly did not agree with on a personal level, just to convince the right wing that he was acceptable. These just scratch the surface of how truly awful a candidate Romney turned out to be. Thankfully, Romney will now fade into obscurity and we will never again have to watch him trying to project a level of sincerity which he was clearly faking, from day one.
Most Defining Political Moment
We got a lot of votes for "the debates," but we're going to pass on that one. Sure, the debates were riveting this year and were watched by millions, but nothing in the debates was a truly "defining" moment, really. The runner-up in this category was the Democratic National Convention, because it did indeed define the parameters of Obama's victory. Romney got no bounce from his convention, but Obama's numbers did get a healthy uptick -- and they remained at that level for the rest of the race (even if Fox News refused to admit it). But the Most Defining Political Moment of 2012 was the Supreme Court's decision to uphold Obamacare. If the decision had gone the other way, it might have defined Obama's first term as a failure on the one overwhelming issue he tackled. Since the court upheld Obamacare, we will all get a chance to see how it's going to work at the end of next year. The Obamacare decision wasn't just a defining political moment of the year, it was the defining political moment of Obama's entire first term.
Turncoat Of The Year
Charlie Crist certainly turned the colors of his coat this year, but it didn't really have much of an impact outside of Florida. Watching Chris Dodd shill for the movie industry on whatever odious legislation they supported was pretty revolting (after Dodd had previously disdained lobbying as a career choice), but again, it wasn't really of national impact. And a case could certainly be made for Chris Christie, whose support for Barack Obama after Hurricane Sandy hit his state certainly helped, in the final week of the campaign. But instead, we're going to give this award to President Obama, for "turning his coat" on the subject of gay marriage. When Obama announced he had "evolved" on the subject, many commentators predicted that he'd lose support among African-Americans. They were wrong. What happened instead was that support for gay marriage began rising among African-Americans. That, folks, is what leadership is all about.
For two years running, we've handed Most Boring to Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, and John Boehner. This year, we were even tempted to give it to "the Olympics." And while Mitt Romney certainly was a frontrunner in the Most Boring category, we're going to instead hand the award to Jon Huntsman. Oh, sure, his daughters have a fair amount of charisma, but Huntsman himself was about as exciting as dry toast -- to all Americans who don't live inside the Beltway and have a job spouting punditry for the mainstream media, of course.
Bill Clinton was a contender in this category, but then that's no real surprise. Michelle Obama is delightfully charismatic, but this only earned her a runner-up this year. Because the Most Charismatic award goes to Chris Christie. The choice is obvious, really. We're certainly looking forward to his upcoming campaign for president, as it will likely be one for the ages in the charisma department.
Some of our loyal readers hate it when we award ties, so we've cut way back on the practice in general, but there were two candidates for Bummest Rap this year, and for the life of us we can't choose between the two. We even had a strong third outside of the United States -- the Russian punk band Pussy Riot. Their sentence was harsh and in no way fit their "crime," but we have to at least thank them for the amusement of watching PBS NewsHour anchors bemusedly reading the words "Pussy Riot" on the air, which may be juvenile of us but was also priceless. But our first winner for Bummest Rap was "Obama cut $716 billion from Medicare!" out on the campaign trail. This was a bum rap for so many reasons -- first and foremost being that it wasn't a benefits cut, which Romney and Ryan ignored. The second was that Ryan's own budget made exactly the same cut. And the third is that, since the election, Republicans have been falling all over themselves to slash Medicare funding. Making it the Bummest Rap on the campaign trail, by far. Our second winner here needs no real explanation: the abrupt curtailing of Susan Rice's career over her repeating talking points on television that she had nothing to do with creating.
There were several ugly incidents which qualify for Fairest Rap. Just in the world of sports we had Lance Armstrong and the Penn State scandal. The Secret Service apparently got in the Christmas spirit a bit early this year, with a little too much cheer in the "Ho! Ho! Ho!" department. [OK, I apologize for that one, I'll put down the eggnog now.] In the military world, we had David Petraeus and his off-duty shenanigans. But the Fairest Rap of all this year was the one laid on Mitt Romney by Team Obama: that Romney was an out-of-touch plutocrat. Romney proved this over and over again, by the simple expediency of opening his mouth and saying something that should have been in a Grey Poupon ad three decades ago. From his enjoyment at firing people to his friends the NASCAR team owners to his sneering contempt for the 47 percent, Mitt just couldn't escape from the "open mouth, insert foot" syndrome all year long. Our favorite was one that the media didn't even really pick up on (I think they were having fun with his "the trees are the right height" comment instead). Mitt said he remembered going to Tigers games as a kid (he was in Michigan at the time, naturally), and then -- instead of just stopping right there, which would have been fine -- adding that he remembered chatting with the folks "in the box next to ours" who happened to be the team owners. Oh, to grow up in Plutocradelphia!
Gabby Giffords giving the Pledge of Allegiance at the Democratic Convention was certainly notable this year, as was the standing ovation she got for her attendance of the State Of The Union speech at the start of the year. But the Best Comeback of 2012 was completed when Senator-Elect Elizabeth Warren was named to the Senate committee responsible for overseeing the banking industry. The Wall Street lobbyists used their considerable influence to keep her from leading the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau she had originated, so instead of getting mad, Warren got even. She ran successfully for the Senate and captured Teddy Kennedy's old seat back for the Democrats -- by running as what can only be called a (capital-"P") Populist campaign -- and now she'll be one of the senators grilling bank executives before the cameras for the enjoyment of the public at large. In fact, this is the best political comeback we've seen in a long while and is downright phoenix-like. We look forward to watching Senate banking hearings for the foreseeable future.
Most Original Thinker
The SpaceX company, who will be launching privately-built capsules into orbit so our astronauts have a way up and down from the space station, certainly qualifies in the Most Original Thinker category. Private space vehicles -- real ones, not the toys Richard Branson is creating -- are now an important part of the future of the American space industry. Likewise, the folks over at N.A.S.A. who thought up the Rube Goldberg method of landing a rover on Mars deserve at least a tip of the hat. But we have to give Most Original Thinker to none other than Nate Silver. Perhaps we should have included him in "Bummest Rap" for the seething hatred directed at him from all those folks on the Right who are incapable of believing in "math," but we thought this would be a better category. Nate Silver is now the gold standard of crunching political numbers, and all the Karl Roves of the world need to realize that his numbers don't lie.
Most Stagnant Thinker
Speaking of Karl Rove... heh. There was much stagnation across the landscape of politics this year, indeed. Donald Trump doesn't even qualify, because we simply can't bring ourselves to use the word "thinker" in the same sentence as The Donald. Paul Ryan is in a class by himself in stagnation, no matter what "Serious People" think in Washington. The Tea Party is a whole stagnant swamp by itself. We could even give the award to the entire Republican Party, for running a campaign promising to take us back to at least the 1950s, if not the 1850s. That's pretty stagnant right there. But two men stood apart this year -- so much so that one comedian quipped: "When someone brings up the guy from your political party who made ignorant comments about rape and you have to ask 'Which one?' you know you're party's in trouble." Our Most Stagnant Thinker award for 2012 goes to Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin and Richard "Something God Intended To Happen" Mourdock. Guys... it's the twenty-first century... I mean, really.
Best Photo Op
The recently-released photo of President Obama with a very short Spiderman certainly was pretty amusing, we have to admit. Our personal favorite photo ops of the entire year were the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics, complete with a cameo by the Queen, and (the best part) the tightrope-walker staging of the cover of the Pink Floyd album Wish You Were Here. During the campaign, seeing Big Bird respond to Mitt Romney's "I'm going to cut funding for P.B.S." comment on Saturday Night Live was probably the best photo op of the political year. Continuing our space theme this week, the guy who parachuted to Earth from the boundaries of space was certainly pretty cool. But in many places across America (and with various different actual spacecraft), the "last hurrah" sendoff of the Space Shuttle program was indeed the best photo op of the year. From flybys of major cities to a slow crawl through the streets of Los Angeles (how appropriate!), the remaining shuttles took their last journeys to their resting places in museums across the land. And they had a pretty impressive last moment in the spotlight.
Worst Photo Op
Clint Eastwood immediately springs to mind, but we've got an even better category for him next week, in Part Two of this column. Then there was that finger-pointy photo of Jan Brewer and Barack Obama, but we're not even sure that happened in 2012 and, quite frankly, we are not interested enough to check. Alan Simpson attempting to dance "Gangnam Style" was so awful that legions of Americans simultaneously tried to rip out their eyeballs to avoid seeing another nanosecond of it. Paul Ryan visiting a soup kitchen during the campaign turned into a disaster of bad press, which was pretty memorable. And there were bigger disasters that we don't think should be lowered to mere "photo op" status (such as Sandy's devastation or the images from Benghazi). But the truly worst photo op of the year wins for two reasons -- the incident itself happened because it was creating a "photo op" -- and then it became a different kind of photo op because of what happened. When the cruise ship Costa Concordia "buzzed" the shore of an island to provide a striking photograph for those on board and those on shore, it ventured too close, resulting in tragedy. The image of a monster ship on its side in the water was indeed the worst photo op of the year.
This is a catch-all category, so feel free to add your own.
"Gangnam Style" -- Enough already!
Honey Boo Boo -- Enough already!
Linsanity -- Enough already!
Chick-fil-A -- Enough already!
Trump and the birthers -- Enough already!
Rush Limbaugh's bashing women -- Enough already!
Passing laws to keep people from voting -- Enough already!
Denying gay rights as a political wedge issue -- Enough already!
This is a tough one to pick a winner. After all, it was an election year. The Romney "Jeep factories will move to China!" ad was universally condemned as one of the worst lies of the campaign, just for starters. Likewise, the previously-mentioned "Obama cut $716 billion from Medicare!" nonsense was a whopper. We almost gave the award to the Republicans' "There is no 'war on women' -- really!" since it was so patently, obviously false. But, on sheer technical grounds, we have to award the Worst Lie to Mitt Romney who, during a debate, tried to tell Obama what words had come out of Obama's mouth. Obama's response was "read the transcript," but the reason this was the Worst Lie of the year was that Romney was caught lying immediately by the moderator of the debate. This is what watching only Fox News does to politicians, folks. They start believing things which are just demonstrably not true.
Capitalist Of The Year
He's either Capitalist Of The Year, or Magician Of The Year, we can't decide. Karl Rove took $390 million from rightwing SuperPACs, and made it disappear. Heh. Which allows us all to wallow in the schadenfreude in uninhibited fashion, here at year's end. Karl Rove spent a whopping amount of other people's money (or "capital"), and did his best to boost the economies of television stations across the land with ad buys. All to no avail. The "return on investment" for Rove's own political organization was pretty damn low this year. To put it another way: didn't get a whole lot for your money, guys, did you? But the whole point is that Karl talked all those billionaires into ponying up so he could have fun doing what he does. That's raw capitalism, folks -- the ability to sell nothing more than sheer unadulterated moose poop, for very high prices. Karl himself, at the end, actually fell into the "believing your own P.R." trap, much to the delight of Obama voters, on the night of the election, when he simply could not believe that Obama had won a huge victory. For his flim-flamming rich conservatives so spectacularly well, our Capitalist Of The Year is none other than Karl Rove.
Another catch-all category, for everyone that doesn't cleanly fit in the other categories. Heidi Heitkamp, for instance, for winning the closest Senate race of them all this year. Scott Walker, to be fair, for beating his recall. Hillary Clinton, for her last year as Secretary of State (and for her political future, as well). The wit in the crowd at a state fair (Iowa?) who, when seeing Barack Obama in line for drinks, yelled out: "Four more beers!" -- the best campaign slogan we heard, all year long, in fact. Jimmy Carter IV, who was the one who tracked down the "47 percent" video which changed the face of the presidential race. The Etch A Sketch. The Higgs boson. The amazing Democratic National Convention (which I actually got to attend). And, of course, Mitt Romney's dancing horse.
Person Of The Year
We end Part One of this column where we began. President Barack Hussein Obama is our Person Of The Year for 2012. Obama ran a campaign on raising taxes, which was one of the boldest moves by any Democrat since the 1980s -- and he succeeded. Obama will likely end this year with his job approval rating at the highest point it has been since the summer of 2009 -- higher even than when Osama Bin Laden was killed. Politically, he's never been stronger. As president, he's hitting his stride. He's learned a tough lesson on negotiating with Republicans, and he's a far better negotiator as a direct result. Obama will never have to run for another office for the rest of his life, so he is now free to do whatever he chooses to cement his already-impressive legacy. We look forward to Obama's second term, thanking all that is holy that we're not facing the prospect of President Romney.
[See you next week, for the conclusion of our 2012 awards!]
-- Chris Weigant
If you're interested in traveling down Memory Lane, here are all the previous years of this awards column:
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant