Welcome back to our annual year-end awards column!
In case you missed it, Part 1 of our "McLaughlin Awards" (named for the television show where we get these categories, of course) ran last week, so check it out.
Destined For Political Stardom
Last year, I chose Elizabeth Warren for this award, so I'm feeling pretty good about my prognostication in this regard.
There are some obvious choices in the Destined For Political Stardom category. On the one side, Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan (although an argument could be made they're already political stars in the Republican universe). Chris Christie is going to run for president in 2016, making him an obvious choice as well. On the other side of the aisle, there are the Castro twins from Texas, Julian who is the mayor of San Antonio, and his brother Joaquin who is in the House of Representatives. Julian's keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention was one of those career-launching moments, indeed.
Instead of the obvious, however, I'm going with a wild card pick: a person who may not become a political star for years to come. Because the person I'm thinking is Destined For Political Stardom is Sandra Fluke, the impressive woman who stood on the front lines of the War On Women, and got trashed by the likes of Rush Limbaugh for her efforts. She faced such howls of rage and misogyny with aplomb and she would make an impressive and strong-willed politician, should she decide to head her life down that path. I can see the possibility of her chairing an important congressional committee a few years in the future, and so while I'm going out on a limb, I'm going to hand the award to Sandra Fluke.
Destined For Political Oblivion
Joe Lieberman, thankfully, will soon be gone from Capitol Hill. At least, until he returns as a lobbyist for either (take your choice) AIPAC or the defense industry. John McCain is losing an important chairmanship in the Senate, but he'll likely still be around grumbling about this or that for years to come. Ron Paul is exiting the House, but his son will likely keep his legacy alive to some extent.
Since the election, some have been prematurely predicting that both Grover Norquist and the Tea Party are on the wane, but my guess is they'll both wield a lot of influence in the Republican Party, at least for the next two years. Instead, my prediction for Destined For Political Oblivion has already come true (which is kind of cheating) -- the "Americans Elect" non-movement. This was an attempt by some well-heeled Wall Street types to create a "virtual party" and get on the ballot for the presidential election in all 50 states. They were going to hold an online "convention" and vote for a split ticket which would appeal to the silent centrist majority out in America, longing for such a centrist ticket.
Now, anyone with more than a passing familiarity with the internet and politics could see what was going to happen. Ron Paul's supporters (and others having fun with the online nominating process) overwhelmed the site and the entire Americans Elect movement decided that, since Bloomberg wasn't interested in running (the candidate it was widely rumored they had set their sights on), they wouldn't even bother. They folded their tents, and slunk off into political oblivion. Except I think that's why Roseanne Barr was (bizarrely) on the California ballot -- the final punchline to a not-very-funny joke, it turned out.
Best Political Theater
My personal favorite was the Hank For Senate movement, especially the accompanying "fake scandal" photo's attention to detail:
The presidential debates were watched by huge audiences this time around, which more than qualified them for Best Political Theater. Also in the running was the entire Democratic National Convention, which was well done from beginning to end. I almost gave this award to Barack Obama for turning the tables on a Republican playbook, and actually going on the attack in the summertime (instead of the strategy Democrats used in 2004 and 2008, which might accurately be described as "go to sleep for all of August"), and hammering Romney with ads in key battleground states.
But the Best Political Theater award this year goes not to some group of folks out in the street staging some frippery for the television cameras, but instead to the news organizations themselves which provided hilarious "whoops we got that wrong" moments not just once this year, but on two separate occasions. First, there were the stations (and there were more than one) who -- in an effort to "scoop" the other networks by a few minutes (at best), reported the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision wrong. As Rick Perry might say: "Oops!"
And a second, very special award goes to Fox News' election night coverage -- and Karl Rove in particular -- as the worldview they had carefully constructed over the previous few months came crashing down around their ears. Watching Fox on election night created a riveting moment of schadenfreude that Democrats will be joking about for decades to come.
In fact, what sprang to my mind was a quote from the Lisa-dates-Ralph-Wiggum episode of The Simpsons, when Bart shows the replay of Lisa very loudly and publicly destroying Ralph's romantic dreams, while saying: "Watch this... you can actually pinpoint the second when his heart rips in half."
On the night of the 2012 election, that moment came for Karl Rove when the state of Ohio was called, putting Barack Obama over the top in the Electoral College. Priceless.
Worst Political Theater
While the whole "fiscal cliff" self-created crisis was in the running (for its Kabuki nature, if nothing else), there truly was only one possible choice for Worst Political Theater of 2012.
The peak hour of the Republican National Convention -- the one hour more voters would be watching on television than any other -- was supposed to open with one of those standard "bio" extended political ads which "re-introduce the candidate." The gauzy, "Oh, look, he's human!" paean to Mitt Romney was about average, as such bio ads go. It might have gone a long way towards convince the public that Romney wasn't actually a robot and had some compassion... that is, if America had actually seen it.
What happened instead is that they played the ad too early, because someone backstage at the convention made the decision to let Clint Eastwood go out on the stage with an empty chair and just "wing it." So the first thing many people saw of the Republican National Convention was Clint rambling to an empty chair. For a painful amount of time.
As I said, when you think about it, nothing else in the Worst Political Theater category even came close.
Worst Political Scandal
Two candidates spring immediately to mind -- David Petraeus and Jesse Jackson Junior. But neither of these really came close to the shock of America finding out that the Secret Service was having rather a lot of fun down south (so to speak), and that not only were they carousing all night with prostitutes who had to sign in at the hotel desk but also that one of the agents refused to pay up for services rendered the next morning.
Guys, is this really the way to mount a secret operation? Sadly, yes, that pun was intended.
Most Underreported Story
While a few staunch liberal media outlets did their best to expose the story, virtually all of the mainstream media took a pass on the way that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been behind a massive below-the-radar movement to get outrageously conservative laws passed at the state level. If you get your news from corporate outlets, chances are you barely recognize the name ALEC, so I encourage you to check out that link to see what you've been missing.
Most Overreported Story
The partisan in me was leaning towards the whole "there's no political scandal here, but we're going to keep digging until we find one!" nonsense over Benghazi, for Most Overreported Story of 2012.
But since it was an election year, an obscene amount of (depending on the medium) hot air, ink, and/or electrons were utterly wasted debating a completely meaningless question that fascinated almost all of the inside-the-Beltway punditocracy for months and months on end, as only a truly shiny, shiny object can. Reducing complex voting decisions to a metaphor than everyone can chat about without ever having to worry about anyone being proven wrong (since, at heart, it is a totally meaningless distinction) is one game Washington media insiders just love to play.
It was simply impossible to count how many times some pundit, thinking himself or herself witty, trotted out the inane query: "Will this election be a choice... or a referendum?" Watch for its return, four years hence, just like clockwork.
Biggest Government Waste
I know this category is really supposed to be about money (see the next category, for its intended opposite), but I'm going to interpret it this year a little differently.
The Biggest Government Waste of 2012 was Congress. Politicians from both parties admitted -- in the first few months of the year, in fact -- that Congress was simply not going to do anything all year long, until after the election was over. Oh, sure, they had plenty of big problems and plenty of crucial legislation to consider, but they had formed a handshake agreement to just ignore it all until November. They barely could muster the effort to hold "political stunt" votes, even though it was indeed an election year. They also agreed (and somehow, inexplicably, got the media to go along with them) not even to talk about the biggest and most immediate problems they faced (see: fiscal cliff) during the entire election season. They were, in fact, utterly shameless about announcing -- remember, at the very beginning of 2012 -- that they just weren't going to even attempt to do their jobs, all year long. Making the Biggest Government Waste of the year all of Congress. A pox on both our houses.
Best Government Dollar Spent
That swansong flyby operation for the Space Shuttles going to museums was pretty cool. FEMA (at least these days, now that "Brownie" is gone) is always money well spent.
Instead, though, I think that the Best Governmental Dollar Spent is the budget for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Knowing that there is now a department dedicated to fighting Big Banking on a daily basis, and slapping down fraudulent practices and rank deception, means to me that at least one good thing came out of the economy's collapse at the end of the Bush years. The CFPB is something I can wholeheartedly support with my tax dollars, and I know I'm not alone in that assessment.
Boldest Political Tactic
President Obama began 2012 with a very bold move indeed, by calling the Senate's bluff on recess appointments. One might make a case that we end the year dealing with a bold move by Congress, who set up the entire fiscal cliff mess by passing earlier legislation (this is an entirely self-inflicted crisis, in other words).
Because it was an election year, however, there were far bolder political tactics on display. Mitt Romney, of course, lost the election -- but had he won, he might have been lauded for a few very bold political tactics on the campaign trail. Such as refusing to release more than two years of tax returns -- which might have wound up the standard for all future candidates if Romney had won. The rightwing media certainly staked out a bold tactic in refusing to believe polling numbers (even the polling was somehow infected by the "liberal media," according to them, which even led to creating an alternate online universe of "unskewed" polls, to comfort the faithful). Didn't work out so good in the end, however.
Chris Christie showed boldness by essentially announcing at the Republican National Convention: "Well, we all nominated Mitt Romney, but any sane person can tell he's going to lose, so instead I'd like to start my campaign for 2016 upon this stage, if everyone doesn't mind." He followed this up by boosting President Obama's chances for re-election in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
President Obama, as previously noted, did not go to sleep in midsummer, which was a bold (and welcome) change for Democrats. But Obama wins the Boldest Political Tactic for the bedrock theme of his entire campaign, which might be summed up as: "tax the rich." This may not sound all that bold, but no Democrat has run nationally on this platform since the 1980s, and virtually every Democrat has been downright terrified of what should be a basic Democratic platform plank, ever since. Obama chose this battle. He drew a line in the sand at $250,000 of income. And he actually campaigned hard on the issue. Most Americans actually agree with Obama, and it paid off politically in the election and beyond. For his campaign theme, Obama wins Boldest Political Tactic.
There were a lot of good ideas in 2012. The Higgs boson team deserves at least a mention, for instance. Obama's tax ideas, but we just gave him an award for that. Hillary Clinton stepping down as Secretary of State to concentrate on her upcoming 2016 run for the Oval Office. SpaceX and their Dragon capsule, ushering in the advent of the private space industry. California's new redistricting effort, which drew House of Representatives districts in a non-partisan manner (which all states should adopt, in one form or another). Turning the "wedge issue" hot buttons of the recent past around, which resulted in states voting for gay marriage and marijuana legalization for the first time ever -- both of which were good ideas whose time has come.
But the Best Idea of 2012 was to counter all the voter suppression efforts, in many states across the land, by the simple expedient of stubbornly getting out and voting anyway. For all the uncountable thousands who manned the voter registration drives, who walked the pavements, and who educated the public on the Republican efforts to deny valid citizens the right to vote, this award is for you. Even more so, for the millions who reacted to efforts to make it harder for them to vote, by jumping through the hoops and not only voting but getting a few friends who hadn't voted in years to come along as well. The Best Idea of 2012 was "I am going to vote, no matter what it takes." For the people who stood in lines for eight hours, for the people who were still voting in Florida at 1:30 in the morning (a clear measure of how slow the lines were), and for every senior citizen who was forced to spend hundreds of dollars and waste uncountable hours providing paperwork which had never been requested previously. Best Idea of 2012 -- combat voter suppression by voter determination.
The Worst Idea should really be all the voter ID laws and other voter suppression efforts by Republicans, but I think we just adequately covered that in the previous award. The Republicans never expected such an enormous backlash to their efforts to rig the game, and hopefully the smarter among them will learn a valuable lesson.
There were other bad ideas we've already mentioned, such as Congress announcing they aren't going to do anything this year, and the fiscal cliff. There was always Apple's new mapping app (whoops!).
There were a slew of bad ideas from the Republican side of the aisle in the election, starting with the strategy of extending their own primary season (by rule changes within the party). Um, yeah, having Mitt Romney fight off all the clowns emerging from the clown car really helped, didn't it? Heh.
In a class by itself: the idea to wage a "War On Women," which backfired even more spectacularly than the whole "suppress the vote" thing; and also Mitt Romney channeling his inner plutocrat by rhapsodizing about the "47 percent." As bad ideas go, those were both stinkers.
But the absolute Worst Idea of 2012 was to hand Karl Rove a reported $390 million so that he could buy the election for Republicans. Wowza. That was one really, awfully, suicidally bad idea. The "return on investment" (which is how rich donors talk) was abysmally low. Karl Rove got sucked into the same "I'm going to make up my own poll numbers and believe them rather than those other ones I don't like to look at" vortex of stupidity that swirled, tornado-like, around the entire Fox News channel in the waning months of the campaign.
Here's a safe bet: whatever funds Karl is able to raise in the future, he'll never again be handed almost $400 million to play around with.
Sorry To See You Go
If there was a "Not Sorry To See You Go" category, Joe Lieberman would be atop the nominations, of course.
Sorry To See You Go is always a subjective category, so your list likely won't match mine. Notable deaths of 2012 which saddened me:
Davy Jones of the Monkees and Lee Dorman of Iron Butterfly. OK, kind of obscure, but still....
Jack Klugman, Ray Bradbury, and Maurice Sendak.
Sally Ride and Neil Armstrong.
And finally, George McGovern.
15 Minutes Of Fame
Seamus, Mitt Romney's roof-riding dog, perhaps? David Letterman certainly had a field day with that one, all year long. Occupy Wall Street? Well, I should have given them the award last year but didn't, so I guess I missed my chance on that one.
But I am going to bend the rules a bit and take an overview of the entire 2012 primary season, some of which took place in 2011. Many other pundits are doing so (on the McLaughlin Group itself last week, someone gave an award to Herman Cain, even though he dropped out of the race in early December, 2011), and we're going to give this award as a group effort to the guys and gal in the clown car -- the entire non-Romney Republican primary field.
The most fun article I wrote during the entire campaign was one where I presented the Republican primary process as a mountain-climbing expedition, which allowed me to write such lines as: "we could see the Santorum River below us, ending at the brownish and frothy Santorum Falls."
No matter what we see in future presidential races, I think it is fair to say nothing will ever again be as entertaining as the race between such luminaries as Perry, Santorum, Gingrich, Cain, Paul, and (of course) Bachmann. Of course, this is politics, so anything is possible, but this crowd certainly deserves the 15 Minutes Of Fame award this time around. Each had their moment in the spotlight, and (as clowns will do), most of them chased it around on the floor with a broom. To the amusement of all concerned.
Yet another tough category, in an election year. Also, another category where "best" can be interpreted in a number of ways. If there were a "worst spin" category, Mitt Romney's "47 percent" remark would win, hands down, of course.
But we've only got the one category, so we're going to go with the "War On Women." Remember the category title. This was the label Democrats gave to the Republican obsession with (as Tina Fey would say) "lady parts." Republicans outdid themselves this year in attacking women's health in a number of extreme and (at times) unprecedented ways. When Obamacare was being debated, Republicans were all about "keeping the government out of your doctor's office," but I guess that only applies when men go to the doctor, eh? There was a rash of Republicans (usually old men) practicing medicine without a license on the floors of statehouses across the map (the red states, at any rate), as they fell all over themselves to dictate and mandate what doctors and women had to say and do in the examination room. Some laughably blockheaded statements about how the reproductive system functions were on display, and some viciousness towards rape victims and other women were exposed for the electorate to see.
Republicans are all about small government -- except when it comes to a woman and her doctor. All of these various attacks on women's health were very successfully lumped together under the "War On Women" label. The spin fit, it was short and catchy, it applied to a whole range of legislative overreach by the GOP, and it effectively enraged women voters. That's some good spin, indeed.
Most Honest Person
Chris Christie after Sandy hit was brutally honest to his own party, rejecting their rejectionist politics to instead welcome the president to New Jersey. Michael Bloomberg was pretty brutally honest long before the shooting at Sandy Hook, when he tried to shame Barack Obama and Mitt Romney into addressing gun control towards the end of the campaign. But we've got a special group of folks for this one this year.
In the midst of all the "selfless warriors against voter fraud" (otherwise known as all those Republicans who thought passing voter suppression laws would be a good idea), there were a handful who actually let the cat out of the bag. Every so often, mostly at the state or local level, some Republican Party official or politician would just come out and admit what they were trying to do with all the voter ID laws (and their ilk) -- make it so difficult for minorities and others who traditionally vote Democratic that Republicans would win the day.
One guy promised that if the voter ID law went into effect (by surviving a court challenge) that he would deliver his state to Mitt Romney. The most honest quote, though, came from a guy named Doug Preisse, Ohio county Republican Party chair and elections board member, who openly admitted: "I guess I really actually feel we shouldn't contort the voting process to accommodate the urban -- read African-American -- voter-turnout machine."
Thanks for being so honest, if nothing else. That one sentence speaks whole volumes of truth, doesn't it?
We could say Karl Rove, but we've already humiliated him enough, I think. Newt Gingrich is also a perennial favorite in this category. The fiscal cliff got at least a nomination here. And then there's always (sigh) Donald Trump.
But this year, we're going to have to give the Most Overrated award to Speaker of the House John Boehner. Everyone keeps breathlessly hanging on his every negotiation with Obama as if it meant anything. Boehner can cut all the deals he wants with Obama, but without being able to get his own party in the House to vote for anything, he is a paper tiger at best. "Journalists" always get suckered into reporting Boehner's pronouncements and leaks as if they were anything more than shallow boasts. Boehner may or may not keep the title "Speaker of the House" next year, but it really won't matter that much since he proves again and again that his own House Republicans refuse to follow his lead. Boehner's leadership abilities are the Most Overrated thing in Washington. Someone, please, alert the media!
My personal favorite for Most Underrated would be James Earl Carter IV, grandson of President Jimmy, and the man most responsible for the leaking of Mitt Romney's "47 percent" video. Talk about a game-changer!
Michelle Obama is consistently underrated by the media, but the voters sure do love her.
The Democratic National Committee (under the leadership of Debbie Wasserman Schultz) certainly did a bang-up job of running all the ground game stuff this election cycle. In fact, all of Obama's "get out the vote" machinery seemed to perform as close to flawlessly as is currently possible.
But the Most Underrated of 2012 was none other than Vice President Joe Biden. Now, Biden's a fun guy to make fun of (see: late-night television, any channel), but he is also a force to be reckoned with in politics. Biden performed the duties of a running mate in exemplary manner, being even more of an "attack dog" than he was in 2008. Perhaps he felt less constrained by his counterpart Paul Ryan this time around, who knows? For tirelessly traveling to blue-collar venues across all sorts of battleground states, for putting his whole heart into the campaign, and for putting things in language that Obama usually eschews, Joe Biden was a bright star during all of campaign 2012. And, yes, even for injecting a few humorous moments. This, as distasteful as it is for Biden fans to admit, is another role the running mate must occasionally play -- and, by doing so, deflect some heat off of his boss.
We're looking forward not only to four more years of President Barack Obama, but also to four more years of Vice President Joe Biden.
Traditionally, I like to review my previous year's predictions here, to measure my own prognosticatory accuracy. Here's what I predicted at the start of 2012:
Unemployment will fall below eight percent in the summer, and the economy will be less of an issue in the fall election than anyone now believes.
Ron Paul will win Iowa. The media will continue to ignore him. He'll place in the top three in New Hampshire. The media will collectively yawn.
Newt will crash and burn before Super Tuesday. He'll say something so outrageous, so outside mainstream Republican thought that his poll numbers will tank.
Mitt Romney will win the nomination by mid-April.
He will choose as his running mate Marco Rubio, in a bid to attract the Tea Party and win Florida. Republicans will regretfully close ranks around Romney.
The Americans Elect "online convention" will overwhelmingly vote for Ron Paul to head their third-party ticket. Americans Elect's board will overrule this decision and nominate Bloomberg. Ron Paul will be offered the Libertarian Party's ticket instead, making it a four-way race for November.
Barack Obama will win a second term. Republicans will vent their fury on the Ron Paul supporters, much as Democrats did to Ralph Nader voters.
That first one, I'm going to give myself "partially correct" as unemployment did go below eight percent, but not until September. The economy did have less of an effect on the election than people were predicting at the beginning of the year, but the point's debatable. So, half-credit for this one.
Ron Paul came in third in Iowa, and second in New Hampshire. The media did ignore him, for the most part. Another half-credit, I think.
Newt Gingrich stayed in long after Super Tuesday, and did better than anyone expected (including me). It also took Romney longer than April to sew things up, so no credit for either of those. He obviously also didn't choose Rubio, although "regretfully close ranks" is a pretty accurate description of the GOP at that point. Still, no credit for that one.
Americans Elect (instead of Gingrich) was the one to crash and burn early. The rest of this one obviously didn't come to pass, either.
Barack Obama did indeed win a second term. Republicans didn't have the luxury of venting on Ron Paul, so I guess that's only half-correct.
That's a pretty dismal showing -- four half-credits, for a total of two right out of seven. Oh, well, in my defense, I did call every state correctly in the presidential race, which makes me feel a bit better. Not to be deterred, here are my rash predictions for 2013:
We will indeed go over the fiscal cliff, but then a deal will be passed before the end of the 112th Congress. On January 3rd, when the new Congress first meets, John Boehner will be re-elected Speaker of the House.
John Kerry will be confirmed as Secretary of State, and Democrats will easily retain his Senate seat in the special election.
Puerto Rico will take a big step towards actual statehood at some point in the year, but the media will ignore it as it will take another voter referendum on the island before the U.S. Congress has to get involved.
A sex scandal will be big news, because for the first time on the national stage it will involve not just a politician, but a female politician.
President Obama will "evolve" on marijuana, and decide that bitter legal fights with Colorado and Washington are not worth it. He will instruct his Attorney General to lower marijuana to Schedule II, solving the medical marijuana legal problems, and he will announce that Washington and Colorado will be "laboratories of democracy" for outright legalization.
The Supreme Court will kind-of, sort-of rule in favor of gay marriage (I fully detailed this prediction in an earlier column, for those interested).
And, finally, immigration reform will be signed into law in 2013. It will not reach the "comprehensive" mark, but it will be more extensive than the DREAM Act. There will indeed be a path to citizenship, but it will be a rocky and expensive one. Republicans will actually vote for it -- or enough of them to allow it to pass both houses.
That's it for 2012... have a happy new year, everyone! Or, as McLaughlin would say:
-- 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