FridayTalkingPoints.com

My 2014 "McLaughlin Awards" [Part 1]

[ Posted Friday, December 19th, 2014 – 19:34 PST ]

Welcome everyone to our year-end awards columns!

As we do every year, we are pre-empting our "Friday Talking Points" columns for the next two weeks, to bring you our best and worst of 2014. And, yes, we are going to continue our supercilious and no-doubt-annoying habit of using the editorial "we" throughout these two columns, so thanks for asking! Heh.

As always, we are using a slightly-modified version of a category list created by the The McLaughlin Group for their own year-end shows, as an homage (which sounds ever so much better than saying we're just ripping off McLaughlin's categories... ahem).

This will be a very long column (just to warn everyone) with lots of short little awards explanations, so let's get right to it. Feel free to disagree with any or all of these picks in the comments, as usual, and propose your own winners for everyone's consideration. I will admit that there is a sort of running theme to this year's awards, due to one issue that remained in the background for most Americans but on which such significant political progress was made this year that it deserved multiple awards. Enough of a teaser for you to read all the way through to Person Of The Year? We certainly hope so.

 

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   Biggest Winner Of 2014

Loath as we are to admit it, there was no single Biggest Winner Of 2014, because the award must be handed, collectively, to the Republican Party. A case could be made for Mitch McConnell, since he will win the biggest prize of any Republican next year: control of the United States Senate. But this would leave out other Republican victories, such as holding more House of Representative seats than at any time since Herbert Hoover was president, or their increase in control of governors' offices and state legislatures.

The GOP won big this November. Really big. So big that this award was one of the easiest to call. The Biggest Winner Of 2014 was the entire Republican Party.

 

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   Biggest Loser Of 2014

Hmm... let's see... Scottish independence?

Kidding aside, you'd think this would also be an easy one to pick. The converse award should go to the Democratic Party, for their ineffectual campaign about nothing. Or perhaps Harry Reid, for losing the Senate.

But we're going to tack in a different direction, and give the Biggest Loser award to the Tea Party, for the second year running. The Tea Party lost almost every important primary challenge (with the notable exception of Eric Cantor's takedown), and they lost a huge amount of power within the corridors of Capitol Hill as well. Oh, sure, folks like Ted Cruz still get lots of camera time bloviating about this or that, but when the votes are counted, the Tea Party has lost significant support from within the Republican ranks. For instance, although there was a raise in the debt ceiling and extensions of the federal budget this year, there was no government shutdown. That right there is a measure of their waning support within Congress.

There was even a period this year, during primary season, when the conventional Washington wisdom (an oxymoron if ever there was one) was that the Tea Party was over and done with. This was nonsense, of course. The Tea Party will be around in some form or another for years to come, but it is impossible to ignore how much real power they lost this year. Making them the Biggest Losers Of 2014. The Tea Party's highest point will likely be measured as the shutdown last October -- since then, it's all been downhill.

 

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   Best Politician

Again, it brings us no personal pleasure, but we have to give Best Politician to Mitch McConnell. Mitch was in big trouble heading into this election. His approval ratings were in the toilet in Kentucky, and he faced a Tea Party primary challenge and then a formidable Democrat in the general. He did what politicians often do in such situations -- he raised a mountain of cash. He used this war chest to win the nomination handily, and then chalk up a comfortable margin in the general election.

McConnell has led his fellow Senate Republicans on a very risky path, that of delaying and obstructing Harry Reid at levels never before seen in all of American history. Back in the day, a few bills per year would be filibustered. Under McConnell, pretty much every bill was subjected to a 60-vote minimum. And -- the important reason why McConnell wins this award -- he paid no real political price for doing so. Other than the backlash against last year's government shutdown, Republicans were able to raise the obstructionism level to sky-high limits, and the public largely never noticed.

McConnell will have a tough job ahead of him trying to get anything done, especially considering the fact that at least three members of his Republican Senate caucus are gearing up to run for president -- and will thus have no interest in "toning things down" or "getting things done." We'll see how good a politician he really is in the next two years, but for 2014 he was indeed the Best Politician.

 

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   Worst Politician

This is a tough one, because there are so many to choose from. Sigh.

On the Republican side, there was Monica Wehby and Terry Lynn Land, who ran for the Senate from Oregon and Michigan, respectively. Both were hailed early on as candidates with excellent chances for stealing seats away from Democrats. Both ran disastrous campaigns, and lost -- in a big Republican year, no less. On the Democratic side, we had Bruce Braley, who blew an easily-winnable Senate race in Iowa with one bad comment disparaging farmers.

On the crazy side, we had all sorts of wackadoodles. Edwin "live boy or dead girl" Edwards thought the time was ripe for his comeback (he was wrong). Erick Wright, who put a campaign video out of himself sitting on the toilet expounding on politics ("Politics on the Throne"), or maybe the Tea Party candidate in Kansas who had a disgraceful hobby of posting X-rays of gunshot victims online with witty comments about how they died.

We almost handed this award to Darrell Issa, because he had a purely political job -- uncover a juicy scandal (ANY scandal!) in the Obama administration -- and he failed at it so spectacularly. He held hearing after hearing, but never got anywhere close to a "smoking gun" in any of his trumped-up scandals. That's a pretty bad record, measured purely on politics.

But we're going to give the award to Scott Brown, the peripatetic Senate candidate who has now lost in two New England states (watch out, Connecticut -- you may be next!). Carpetbaggers are not exactly welcome in New Hampshire, especially those arriving from Massachusetts. They even have a word for such folks, and it begins with "Mass" and ends with "holes," but we are too polite to repeat such slurs here, of course. Ahem.

Scott lost the only Senate seat that Republicans really should have picked up this year -- in a GOP wave election, his loss was pretty much the only sour note on Election Night for Republicans. Not only did Scott occasionally forget what state he was running in (whoops!), he also seemed confused about one of New Hampshire's counties at a very late date in the race. Now, this might be understandable in, say, Iowa, with its 99 counties -- but New Hampshire only has a total of ten counties. Ten! That's it. And Scott Brown had trouble remembering one of them.

For his entire performance during the campaign, and for giving Democrats their only bright spot in the 2014 midterms, Scott Brown was 2014's Worst Politician.

 

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   Most Defining Political Moment

Well, the moment that was not the most defining was probably when Democrats rolled out their "Middle Class Jumpstart" campaign theme, and then went precisely nowhere with it.

When looking back historically, President Obama's opening up Cuba may very well be the moment that is remembered. But somehow it seems to fresh right now to call it "most defining" for the whole year.

Either "Hands Up Don't Shoot" or "I Can't Breathe" may also well be seen later as the most defining moment, but that would only become reality if things actually changed as a result of all the protesting -- which is a longshot at best, sad to say.

For the time being, the Most Defining Political Moment of 2014 has to be none other than the midterm elections. The shift in power is going to redefine Washington for the next two years in a big way, making it by definition the "most defining."

 

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   Turncoat Of The Year

This is an interesting category, because you can see it in a positive light or a negative one. Positively, you could give it to (for instance) the New York Times for their stunning reversal of editorial policy on legalizing marijuana. They not only charted a new course, they backed it up with both an extensive series explaining every aspect of their decision and their endorsement of pro-marijuana ballot measures in the midterm election.

On the negative side, consider Leon Panetta's book. A great example of the "I was right, everybody else including Obama was wrong" style of literature (which is always popular in Washington).

But we're going positive this year, and handing the Turncoat of the Year award to Chad Taylor, who briefly ran as a Democrat for the Senate seat from Kansas. The "briefly" refers to why Taylor won this award. Pat Roberts was looking vulnerable in Kansas during the campaign, but the problem was the opposition to him was split between the Democrat, Taylor, and independent candidate Greg Orman. So Taylor bowed out of the race, to give Orman a better shot at taking Roberts's seat. Such acts of selflessness are incredibly rare in politics -- so rare as to almost be non-existent, in fact. It even led to an amusing period when the Republicans were suing to keep a Democrat on the ballot who didn't want to run, which ultimately failed.

Unfortunately, Orman also ultimately failed. Pat Roberts will return to the Senate. But Orman had a much better shot at winning this race than he ever would have if Taylor had stayed in. For pulling out of a race to give another guy a better shot at winning, Chad Taylor is our Turncoat of the Year.

 

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   Most Boring

While we normally hand this one out to a person, our only candidates this year were two intangibles. We considered "Republicans running on an all-anti-Obamacare platform in the midterms," since the change was so noticeable over the year -- Republicans began 2014 proudly predicting that Obamacare would be the winning issue for them, but by the time the campaign really got going, more and more good Obamacare news stories had wiped away the potency of the issue for the GOP, and they all but stopped talking about it by October. The whole "anti-Obamacare" platform was downright boring to voters, to put it another way.

But we're going to give this award out in a very positive way, instead. Because 2014 was the year that gay marriage became boring. Not the marriages themselves -- each a wonderful expression of an individual couple's joy -- but the continuous nature of all the marriage equality political and court victories over the course of the year. Think about it -- it has been only 18 months since the Supreme Court issued their landmark ruling. In that short time, news like the recent headline "Florida Grants First Gay Divorce" has become not only routine, but downright boring.

The opponents of marriage equality are so demoralized, they barely put up a fight anymore. The wiser Republicans have all but stopped talking about it. Most of the country sees it as an inevitability. The Supreme Court still has to issue one more ruling on the matter, but that is really only a question of when it will happen (not, notably, "if it will happen" or "which way the ruling will go").

Boredom, in this instance, is not a negative quality. It is an enormous victory. Marriage equality is now almost taken for granted by most Americans. That is a stunning, monumental turnaround in outlook. So gay rights activists and everyone who supported and still supports marriage equality should wear the Most Boring award with pride. Lots of pride. Because boring, in this instance, means mainstream. And that's what the battle has really been for, all along.

 

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   Most Charismatic

She doesn't fit the category in a conventional way, but we're going to go out on a limb and give Most Charismatic to Senator Elizabeth Warren. If anything, Warren exudes a soft and understated charisma; but to the populist left, she is nothing short of a rock star.

Warren not only continues to be the best Democrat since Bill Clinton at (as Bill puts it) "explainin' stuff," she also continues to gain followers among her fellow Democrats. Warren can put together a speech like no other Democrat out there right now, and it's not really that she's saying anything all that new (she's basically just recommitting Democrats to traditional Democratic principles), but the way she says it cuts through all the Washingtonese and lays it out for everyone to easily understand.

Warren does have brilliant policy ideas -- ones that more Democrats in the Senate should really get behind. The best example was her very first bill, which would have offered student loans at the same rock-bottom prices that the federal government gives when it lends money to big banks. What could be fairer? Investing in our country's future versus fattening Wall Street's pockets? A no-brainer!

At the end of the year, Harry Reid announced Warren will have a new leadership position in the Senate next year, which means she'll be a voice at the big table for Main Street. This is precisely what the party needs right now. And my guess is that she'll be the most-requested guest speaker during the 2016 campaign season. While Warren doesn't have some of the raw bluster of other charismatic politicians (Chris Christie or Vladimir Putin, for instance), her quiet version of charisma is going to win over a lot of converts in the next two years.

 

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   Bummest Rap

This one is pretty easy. All the thousands of headlines and repetitions of a talking point that was just flat-out wrong in 2014: "Obama's poll numbers are sinking fast!"

Obama's job approval poll numbers were, admittedly, pretty low in 2014. Not once did he crack even 45 percent approval on the RealClearPolitics rolling daily average. That's dangerous territory for any politician to be in, and did contribute to the Democratic losses in the midterms. Fair enough. But to say his poll numbers were "sinking" or "diving" or "cratering" or any other similar term was just wrong.

Obama started the year with a job approval rating, on the first of January, of 42.6 percent. Throughout the year this number fluctuated between a low of 40.9 percent to a high of 44.7 percent. That is a difference of only 3.8 percent -- for the entire year. And these are daily numbers, which often fluctuate wildly. Not this year, though. Obama's job approval daily rating, as I write this, is 42.0 percent -- only 0.6 percent off the exact point where he started this year. His poll numbers have stayed remarkably stable all year long, in fact -- rising a few points, falling a few points, but never really changing dramatically one way or the other.

Obama's poll numbers did take a serious dive -- but it happened last October. The Obamacare website disaster did hit his polling hard. And he's never really recovered from it. His poll numbers hovered around 42 percent all year -- a pretty low area to be in. All of this is true. But what is not true is that Obama's poll numbers were "sinking" or "plummeting" at any point during the year. But that didn't stop thousands of references from the punditocracy about "Obama's plummeting poll numbers" -- the Bummest Rap of the year.

 

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   Fairest Rap

Well, let's see, there was Dinesh D'Souza pleading guilty to violating campaign finance laws.

There was also the Republicans engaging in widespread attempts to suppress votes from voters they didn't like -- that's a pretty fair rap.

There was the sorry saga of John Walsh, who had to stop his efforts to be elected (he was initially appointed, so "re-elected" would be wrong) to the Senate in Montana, and had his diploma stripped from him by the Army War College for plagiarizing his way through a final paper. That was indeed a fair rap, and Walsh (deservedly) paid a heavy price for it.

The rap of "Democrats didn't really run on anything" is a pretty fair one, too.

But the fairest rap of 2014 was best expressed by President Obama: "We tortured some folks." Yes, we did. Senator Dianne Feinstein is to be commended for following through on this shameful period of American behavior, and fighting hard (even against the White House) to get the summary of her report released to the public. You can argue all you want to about the political implications of her report (and what we did), but the truth of the matter is now plain for all to see.

American tortured. It's a fair rap. Just ask John McCain -- he'll tell you.

 

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   Best Comeback

There were a lot of possibilities here, most notably all those Republican politicians who won their races handily, when they were supposed to be close (Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts of Kansas, for instance, or maybe Rick Scott or Scott Walker). There was the overall comeback of the Republican Party after the disaster of shutting down the government late last year -- that was pretty impressive.

We toyed with going comedic on this one, as in "best snappy comeback." The obvious contender was John Boehner making the inevitable "boner" joke about his own last name to a reporter (the video of which has been endlessly played on late-night television).

But, in the end, we have to give Best Comeback to none other than the much-maligned HealthCare.gov website. The comeback really started last December, but it continued throughout 2014 in spectacular fashion. The bugs got fixed. The site started working. Millions signed up for health care on it. This year, when the open enrollment period began, there were no problems whatsoever, even with incredibly high traffic.

The Obamacare website will doubtlessly be taught in computer programming classes for years to come as "the best bad example of how not to do a website rollout." Nothing can change that. But it also now may be taught in those same classes as the best example of how to quickly fix bad programming. The turnaround was spectacular, in fact. Look at the volume of media stories last October, November, and December about how broken the site was. The coverage was overwhelming. Now compare it to this year's coverage -- mostly a big yawn. No stories about how bad things were. "Everything still up and running" wasn't newsworthy enough to cover.

That is a spectacular comeback, and indeed HealthCare.gov wins the Best Comeback of 2014.

 

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   Most Original Thinker

This one's pretty easy, once you look beyond America's shores.

Pope Francis I is the Most Original Thinker the Vatican has seen in a very long time. Francis is faced with the world's biggest bureaucracy and the most ingrained thinking on the planet. He is going to remold the Catholic Church in a different image, by the time he's done -- of that, there can be no doubt.

The resistance he faces is daunting, from the Church's hierarchy. Nevertheless, he is determined to force change on a very moribund institution. Being in the middle of the recent thawing of relations between the United States and Cuba was just the icing on the cake, at year's end. Pope Francis I will hopefully continue to astonish the Catholic world for years to come, and is our easy choice for Most Original Thinker this year.

 

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   Most Stagnant Thinker

There were a few candidates that caught our eye here from America: Dick Cheney (for obvious reasons), the head of the Drug Enforcement Agency (also, for obvious reasons), and the big push by some Republican state legislatures to pass "Turn Away The Gays" laws, under the pretense of freedom of religion (some stagnant thinking indeed).

But, once again, we must look overseas for this award. Because Vladimir Putin was undoubtedly the Most Stagnant Thinker of the year. Even on the big world's stage of sports and entertainment -- the Sochi Winter Olympics -- Putin portrayed a deep nostalgia for the Cold War and Soviet eras. After the athletes went home, Putin grabbed Crimea in a naked display of empire not seen for quite some time. His minions then shot down a commercial airliner in the Ukrainian fighting.

Putin seems bent on charting a course for Russia that leads straight back to the worst excesses of the Soviet Union. The economic sanctions and the plummeting price of oil may eventually force him to moderate his behavior, but in 2014 Putin seems an easy pick for Most Stagnant Thinker.

 

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   Best Photo Op

Kim Kardashian's butt breaks the internet?

Nah, too easy.

We're going to return to our overarching theme here, and call the best photo op for two photos of Republican politicians that never would have happened in earlier times.

The first is an amusing photograph of Representative John Mica, at a House hearing on marijuana policy. From the story:

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) brought a fake joint to a House oversight hearing on Friday on Washington, D.C.'s new law decriminalizing marijuana.

"I have this joint here," Mica said. "Don't get too excited out there, some of you, this is not a real one, it's a mock one."

Mica, who opposes marijuana legalization generally, says the law will allow D.C. residents to possess up to 20 joints, and he brought the fake one to make his point.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) asked Mica whether he'd rolled it himself.

"No, I had staff do it," Mica said in response. "They have more experience."

Can anyone imagine this happening five or ten years ago? We certainly can't.

Our second Best Photo Op from last year is this even-more-amusing photograph (the second one down, in the article), which shows Republican Tom Tancredo of Colorado with a documentary filmmaker who created the film Mile High: The Comeback of Cannabis (in which Tancredo is interviewed in, yes, a smoke-filled room).

Tancredo, who is normally to the right of Attila The Hun on most issues, castigates his fellow conservatives for not getting behind legalization on ideological grounds:

What really does make me feel a little bit discouraged is this, everybody talks about the importance of freedom, individual responsibility. I'm talking both left and right, because I think the left comes off just as constrictive of people's liberty. But in this case, you've got people who call themselves, think of themselves as true conservatives and they want freedom for everybody except for people they don't like or for people that do things they don't think they should do. That is not freedom, in any way, shape or form. We may have won a political battle with legalization, but the philosophical battle continues to be waged.

Again, as Dylan might say, the times they are a-changin'. As these two Best Photo Op winners show.

 

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   Worst Photo Op

Kim Kardashian's butt breaks the internet? Heh... we seem to be repeating ourselves....

All kidding aside, there are certain photos which were certainly newsworthy this year. The "I can't breathe" video and the Islamic State beheadings videos, for instance. But it's hard to call them "photo ops" since they weren't staged events for political reasons.

A candidate for a local race in Fresno, California stepped in it big time while trying to use a message about urban blight against his opponent. A decent message, but somebody decided to use a "broken windows" example photo without checking where it was from -- which turned out to be Auschwitz. That was pretty bad.

Right after the State Of The Union speech last year, Republican Michael Grimm threatened to throw a reporter over a balcony for daring to ask him a question -- that was also pretty bad optics (although the worst part was the audio of his threats).

But the Worst Photo Op, for all kinds of reasons, was what was done by a Tea Partier's campaign down in Mississippi. The longtime Republican senator, Thad Cochran, was challenged from the right in the primaries. It was a brutal fight, with charges of vote-buying and a sore-loser court case by the Tea Partier when he lost the primary. But just before the election, someone in the Tea Partier's campaign decided it'd be a good idea to sneak into the care facility where Cochran's disabled wife lives and snap a few pathetic photos of her, to use in mudslinging.

This is the dirtiest of dirty pool, folks. The lowest of the low. We're no fans of Thad Cochran, but have to say for the sake of decency that this crossed a few major ethical lines (and legal ones). We refuse to link to the photos themselves (we think they were taken down, but we refused to even search for them on the grounds of awfulness) but even sight unseen, we can easily say this was the Worst Photo Op of the year.

 

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   Enough Already!

This category is a complete free-for-all, as always.

Ted Cruz -- Enough already!

Turn Away The Gays laws -- Enough already!

Benghazi conspiracy theories -- Enough already!

The Washington (Ethnic Slurs) football team -- Enough already!

Torture -- Enough already!

Dick Cheney -- Enough already!

Torture apologists -- Enough already!

Michele Leonhart, head of the D.E.A. -- Enough already!

 

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   Worst Lie

We had quite a few entries in this category, sadly.

First, a whole category of Republican conspiracy theory lies: "Benghazi!"

Maybe (as a corollary): "Anything that comes out of Darrell Issa's mouth."

Or how about: "Obamacare will kill jobs and the economy!"

PolitiFact nailed a big one: "Fearmongering by politicians and media over Ebola."

But instead of all these, we're going with a big lie that lasted throughout a goodly portion of the year: "Republicans are ready to pass immigration reform." No, seriously, remember that knee-slapper?

At the beginning of the year, House Republicans were going to put forth their own immigration bills -- many of them, starting with "secure the borders." Speculation abounded (including quite a bit of my own) over when the correct window would be for John Boehner to introduce such bills (after primary filing season, after the first big primaries, after primary season ends, while the kids-at-the-border crisis was happening, maybe in the fall, etc., etc.). Obama even gave them an extra few months before he announced his own reforms. All of it for naught.

Nothing happened. No bills moved. The Republicans have been in charge of the House since 2010, they've been promising "any day now" that they'll be tackling immigration reform, and they are completely incapable of doing so.

But every time Boehner stands in front of a microphone and repeats the same tired promise -- we're getting right on that, expect a vote soon -- the media buys into it once again. Over and over and over. With absolutely nothing to show for it. This year was the worst, in terms of broken promises. Which makes the House Republicans "We're going to have our own immigration bills" easily the Worst Lie of 2014.

 

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   Capitalist Of The Year

The Capitalist Of The Year award goes to none other than marijuana. The cannabis plant. Grass. Weed. Pot. Dope. Mary Jane. Reefer. Tetrahydrocannabinol and all its merry cannabinoid cousins.

This was the year marijuana grew up and joined the big leagues. Literally, in fact -- the 2014 Super Bowl was played between two teams from states with legal recreational marijuana, the first Super Bowl Of Weed in history. How cool is that?

But it wasn't just marijuana reform or efforts to change laws that won weed this honor. Marijuana is about to spring into being as a multi-billion dollar industry. There is currently a "Green Rush" (akin to a Gold Rush) happening, as more and more companies dive in to the peripheral markets for marijuana -- growing apparatus, purity testing companies, technological advances in processing, and all the rest of it.

The federal government has placed an official order for almost three-quarters of a ton of legal weed for the next year, anticipating the rush of scientific studies which can finally actually study the substance without anti-scientific pre-conceived political agendas. This is a new thing, because to do any such studies in the past, you had to be trying to prove how evil marijuana is. Marijuana reform opponents will soon no longer be able to use the convenient "it hasn't been rigorously tested" excuse. The state of Colorado just approved millions of dollars in state money to support such scientific analysis. In Canada, the first marijuana television ad appeared.

Washington and Colorado have a legal market for marijuana now. Oregon and Alaska will soon join them. This bell's never going to be unrung, folks. Some fear the future, because it will indeed mean marijuana will become a gigantic industry, with all the corporate baggage that implies. There are already marijuana lobbyists on Capitol Hill, for instance. Yes, at some point the tobacco companies will likely get interested. There will be a marijuana mass market, soon. But just as there is today Pabst Blue Ribbon, there is also Dom Perignon. There will always be an elite marketplace for the best of the best, and marijuana is no different, the fearful should really calm down a bit.

Marijuana is about to become just another commodity. There really is no turning back. It's about to become big business. In fact, it's about to become Big Marijuana, worthy of capitalization in the same way Big Banks or the Big Three automakers are capitalized. Not only is this nothing to fear, it is also the reason why marijuana wins Capitalist Of The Year. Nothing else comes close, because the marijuana marketplace is being created from scratch -- meaning the growth in this industry will be off the charts for the next few years to come.

 

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   Honorable Mention

This is another one of those anything-goes categories.

First and foremost (to me, at least), an Honorable Mention goes to Craig Ferguson, who helped keep me sane for the past ten years. Craig's last show is tonight, so don't miss it!

I'd also like to give an Honorable Mention to Betty Medsger, author of The Burglary, the best book I read all year long. This fascinating story is all but unknown, even to people who recognize such terms as COINTELPRO, the Pentagon Papers, and the Church Committee. I strongly encourage everyone to buy a copy today to put under the tree of your favorite political wonk -- they'll thank you for it later, I promise!

The retiring Democrat John Dingell deserves an Honorable Mention, for being the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives in all our history (he served 29 terms, and was first sworn in when American had only 48 states), and the longest-serving current member of Congress.

Dianne Humetewa, the first Native American woman to sit as a federal judge, deserves an Honorable Mention as well.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, former emergency room doctor, who saved the life of a stranger while on his way to dinner.

Joe Biden, for sending a nice note and a red-white-and-blue corsage to a woman who asked him to be her prom date. A classy response, Joe!

The nameless guy in a Colorado bar who, in a friendly gesture, offered President Barack Obama a toke of his joint (captured on video), with the immortal words "You want a hit of this?" The amazing thing was what happened immediately afterwards -- Obama laughed it off, and nothing else happened. The guy wasn't wrestled to the ground, he wasn't arrested by the Secret Service (they've certainly arrested people near presidents for less), and he wasn't charged with any crime. That is progress, my friends.

Me (can't resist), for coining a fun word that won't be used for another 35 years -- "selenofriggatriskaidekaphobia," the fear of the full moon on Friday the 13th. Heh.

And, out of the hidden annals of history, Buzz Aldrin. An auction revealed a story I certainly had never heard before: Buzz Aldrin officially celebrated communion on the moon. That's got to be worth at least an Honorable Mention at the very least, right?

 

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   Person Of The Year

If that Capitalist Of The Year award weren't enough of a shock, our 2014 Person Of The Year was none other than the outgoing Attorney General, Eric Holder.

Holder wins Person Of The Year for being the point man on reversing the federal government's disastrous War On Weed. Sure, you can argue that Holder didn't act without approval from his boss, but President Obama has largely been content to let Holder take the lead (and the heat) for all the new marijuana policies. Since Holder took the risks, he also is entitled to the reward.

Holder has done much this year on his own to chart a new course for marijuana policy. Most notably, he allowed the Colorado and Washington experiment to proceed without heavy-handed interference by the feds. He moved to allow banks to deal with above-board marijuana businesses, he stunningly has changed sentencing policy (even retroactively applying it to current prisoners), and he has spoken out on the racial disparities evident in who gets arrested, charged, and sentenced for low-level drug crimes.

He's got plenty of high-level support (and, no, that is not a pun). Treasury Secretary Jack Lew helped out with the banking rule changes. Five Nobel Prize winners and George Shultz signed a letter in support of ending the worldwide Drug War. Prosecutors are getting on board with the idea. Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens expressed his support. President Obama -- the third American president in a row to admit smoking pot earlier in his life -- admitted in an interview that smoking pot was less dangerous than drinking alcohol.

The War On Weed is crumbling. We are approaching the end game of this pointless decades-long failed experiment. When the history of legalization is finally written, though, there will be plenty of people responsible for turning points along the way. But Eric Holder will hold a special place as the pioneer who began the efforts to dismantle the federal government's failed policies on marijuana. Yes, he could have gone further, and he could have gotten there quicker. Yes, injustices still happen on a daily basis. Yes, there are some federal prosecutors who are still way too gung-ho about marijuana prosecutions. Yes, the head of the Drug Enforcement Agency really needs to be fired. There are plenty of caveats -- including the biggest: Eric Holder could reschedule marijuana on the "controlled substances" list himself, with the stroke of a pen. Even having said all of that, however, Eric Holder took the first steps on a path that has now changed from being unthinkable to being almost inevitable. For bravely doing what he managed to accomplish, Eric Holder is our Person Of The Year.

 

[See you next week, for the conclusion of our 2014 awards!]

 

If you're interested in traveling down Memory Lane, here are all the previous years of this awards column:

2013 -- [Part 1] [Part 2]
2012 -- [Part 1] [Part 2]
2011 -- [Part 1] [Part 2]
2010 -- [Part 1] [Part 2]
2009 -- [Part 1] [Part 2]
2008 -- [Part 1] [Part 2]
2007 -- [Part 1] [Part 2]
2006 -- [Part 1] [Part 2]

 

-- Chris Weigant

 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground
Cross-posted at: The Huffington Post

 

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