Welcome to our annual awards! For the past three years, this column has paid homage (translation: "ripped off their gimmick") to the McLaughlin Group television show by handing out our own year-end awards (while using the same categories). This will be a two-part column, with the second installment appearing one week from today. And feel free to watch the McLaughlin Group on your local PBS station this weekend, to compare my picks with theirs.
Also, just for comparison's sake (to see how many things I got wrong, in other words), here are the previous two years' columns:
(2006, Part 1) (2006, Part 2) (2007, Part 1) (2007, Part 2)
Without further ado, let's move on to the awards!
Biggest Winner of 2008
While the knee-jerk response to this question is undoubtedly "Barack Obama," there are plenty of other categories where Obama will likely take home an award this year. And I do have a tradition of awarding this one quite literally.
Which means we must look outside the political world for "biggest winner" this year. Because Olympian Michael Phelps wins this award, which he can put next to his eight gold medals from the Beijing Olympics -- more than anyone has ever won before. Sure, the Olympics were oversold commercially. Sure, they were put on by a repressive regime. Sure, by the time Phelps actually started swimming we were already sick of him (due to NBC proclaiming him some sort of godlike being in the massive buildup to the event). And sure, there was some trash talking in the pool.
But you know what? None of that matters. Phelps won more than any other human being has ever won. Meaning he must be acknowledged as "Biggest Winner of 2008." Because nobody else came close to such an achievement last year.
Biggest Loser of 2008
The left wing lobbied heavily for either George W. Bush or John McCain as the Biggest Loser of 2008, and the right wing (out of spite) lobbied hard for Cindy Sheehan (who ran as an independent against Nancy Pelosi and lost by 55 points), but neither one of these gets it.
Because this year, The American Taxpayer was the Biggest Loser of 2008. Adding to the insult of having to pay $12 billion a month on George Bush's wars, and after being told over and over again "there simply isn't the money" for ANY good idea progressives might have (single-payer health care, for instance) -- when Wall Street came begging (or extorting, depending on how you view it), Congress snapped their fingers inside of two weeks and made seven hundred billion dollars appear out of thin air. "Thin air" in this case means "China and other countries who hold our debt." Which Henry Paulson then proceeded to hand out like Hallowe'en candy to anyone he felt like, for any reason he felt like.
Meaning, on a purely fiscal scale, The American Taxpayer got screwed the worst this year. Personally, I would have been happy if we had made each and every company who got one thin dime from the Treasury agree to cease all lobbying for all reasons for five years. Then we wouldn't have to hear them whine about legislation geared towards the average guy and gal, and not the fat cats (for once).
Again, while Barack Obama's name springs to mind, be patient. We've got plenty of other awards to hand out here, and I have a sneaking suspicion Obama's name is on more than one of them.
Because truly the Best Politician of 2008 was Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. In the year-long talks over the Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with America, Maliki played George Bush like a fiddle. His masterful use of leaks to the press, and playing to his own domestic audience, got him just about everything he demanded in the final document. And Bush had to give up pretty much everything he wanted, in increasing desperation to get any deal signed.
Which is pretty amazing, when you think about it. Iraq is an occupied country, and many call Maliki an "American puppet." But by turning around and yanking back on the puppet strings, Maliki made Bush dance to his tune. And for such a masterful political stroke, Maliki wins the Best Politician award (interesting note -- I gave Maliki the "Worst Politician" award last year).
Joe Lieberman was considered for this ignominious award, as was Rod Blagojevich. From the other side of the aisle, Sarah Palin, for her entire performance on the national stage, almost won as well. But by a nose, Ted Stevens takes the award for Worst Politician.
Stevens is an old, old man, and was going to have to retire (or die in office) soon anyway. Instead of standing aside when he was indicted on federal charges, he thought he could beat the rap, and win re-election. He did neither. He made a purely political decision, and he blew it. Because if he had resigned, Governor Palin could have appointed some staunch Republican as a temporary replacement, and he or she could have then run as an "incumbent" in the 2008 election. Instead, the seat went to Democrat Mark Begich (who won an extraordinary victory). Meaning Stevens didn't just lose his own seat, he also lost the seat to the other party. Not even Blagojevich's shenanigans is likely to have that result.
Meaning Stevens was the Worst Politician last year. I'm still trying to figure out which federal prison to send the award to, but I promise it'll be in the mail soon, Ted.
Most Defining Political Moment
While it is indeed tempting to give the award for Most Defining Political Moment to the guy who chucked his shoes at George Bush on worldwide television, and while a good case can be made that in the future we will indeed look back at this as symbolic of his entire Iraq adventure, it wasn't quite defining enough to win this category.
My wife suggested the so-called (at least by me) "Super Duper Tsunami Tuesday" in the primary season. But while SDTT did indeed wind up defining the nominee for the Republicans, the only thing it "defined" for Democrats was the long primary slog ahead for the nomination between two almost-equally balanced candidates. So if there was a "most chaotic moment" award, I might consider it for that, but (not to get too Clintonian here) as I define "define," I didn't think it made the cut.
No, the Most Defining Political Moment this year can be exactly pinned down, almost to the second. Shortly after the clock struck 8:00 P.M. on the West Coast, every single news announcer on television announced that we could all now start calling him "President Elect Barack Obama." Obama had other great moments during the year, including his acceptance speech in front of a throng of 80,000 cheering supporters, but I know I speak for many Democrats and other Obama supporters when I say that until it was "officially announced" it wasn't quite real somehow. It was hard to believe that he had actually won until the talking heads made it official.
Turncoat Of The Year
For the third straight year there is just no competition for Turncoat Of The Year. Joe Lieberman can put his 2008 award right next to his 2007 and 2006 awards in this category.
It's such an obvious and unanimous decision that there is little else to say here. All the sniping between the Hillary camp and the Obama camp were small potatoes indeed when held up to the standard of Joe Lieberman's lips being permanently attached to John McCain's nether regions during the entire campaign season.
Thanks for nothing, Joe.
While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a perennial favorite in this category, and while Bill Richardson gave "Most Boring" a run for the money, this year the award just has to go to Fred Thompson. Thompson's un-spectacular campaign had even seasoned political reporters falling asleep in their chairs. Thompson's support was actually at its highest peak the day before he officially threw his hat in the Republican ring for president. It was all downhill from there. It didn't really have to be this way (Republicans, after all, elected our only movie actor president previously, and they seem pretty happy with the way that turned out). But Thompson's lackluster phone-it-in campaign style bought him nothing but a quick road to obscurity in the nomination race.
So, for boring to tears people who might have voted for him, Fred Thompson walks away with the Most Boring award this year. Better luck next year, Harry.
For the third year in a row, Most Charismatic goes to Mr. Charisma himself... (drumroll)... Barack Obama!
Seriously, there is just nobody else in Obama's class. The only other person who even was considered for this award was Sarah Palin. Like her or not, Palin's only redeeming quality was her charisma. It certainly wasn't her eloquence or her deep knowledge of foreign affairs (or, for that matter, her deep knowledge of just about anything). Palin's best virtue was the fact that she drew big crowds on the campaign trail. Fawning crowds. At one point, even rabid crowds. Palin had so much charisma that McCain was even scared to campaign without her -- because the press would then see how obvious it was that most people were turning out to see her, and not him.
But Obama's shine is the power of the sun next to a dimly sputtering candle in comparison. Meaning it really wasn't even close.
I kind of struggled with this one, so if you've got a better suggestion, let me hear it. A case could be made for Eliot Spitzer (did the punishment fit the crime, in other words). Or for Hillary and Bill Clinton being painted as racists (if you believe they were just repeatedly misunderstood on the campaign trail).
But, even though the "rap" was twelve years ago, John and Patsy Ramsey earned the award this year for being exonerated by the police in the murder of their daughter Jon Benet. Patsy did not live to see this exoneration, but for twelve years of living under a shadow I think the Ramseys deserve this year's Bummest Rap award.
This category, unlike the previous one, was jam-packed this year. Ted Stevens. Rod Blagojevich. Iraqis hucking shoes at President Bush. A decent case for Fairest Rap can be made for any of them. Or, for that matter, Hillary and Bill Clinton being painted as racists (if you believe they really did know what they were doing and saying during the campaign).
But I have to say, the fairest rap this year was "Sarah Palin is not ready to be Vice President." Her supporters say she was just over-handled. They also say she's a lot smarter than she appeared in those interviews. And they told us all ad nauseum during the campaign that she had "executive experience."
But all of that wasn't worth a fart in a windstorm, to put it bluntly. The woman was so obviously out of her depth that she became a laughingstock as quickly as she deserved. Now, I am not saying she's not going to get better, or that we've seen the last of her. Not by a long shot. But for spectacularly proving a bit of inside-the-Beltway wisdom wrong this year, Sarah Palin deserves Fairest Rap. Because before now, and throughout the campaign, we were told over and over again by the punditocracy that "nobody makes their mind up who to vote for based on the veep selection." Polls showed this to be utterly false when it came to Palin. McCain shored up the hardcore Republican base by picking Palin, and enthused the heck out of them -- but he lost millions of votes in the center by doing so, after America got a good look at her. She may have singlehandedly cost him the election. Meaning "Palin is a drag on the ticket" was the Fairest Rap of all in 2008.
As I was putting this column together, I heard a song on the radio which deserves (except for the bland choruses) to be quoted here in its entirety, as it was seemingly written for Sarah Palin. The song is called "Miss America" by the 70s band Styx, and was written about a beauty queen. Now, Styx isn't exactly known for deep thinking, but it is truly eerie how close this comes to the Palin reality we all saw:
You were the apple of the public's eye
As you cut the ribbon at the local mall
A mirage for both you and us
How can it be real?
We loved your body in that photograph
Your home state sure must be proud
The Queen of the United States
Have you lost your crown?
Are you really who we think you are
Or does your smile seem to wear your down
Is the girl who you once were
Screaming to jump out?
Is the dream that you must live
A disease for which there is no cure
This rollercoaster ride you're on
Won't stop to let you off
Well it's true just take a look
The cover sometimes makes the book
And the judges did they ever ask
To read between your lines?
In your cage at the Human Zoo
They all stop to look at you
Next year what will you do
When you have been forgotten?
Another patently obvious category. A case could be made for "the Taliban," due to the situation in Afghanistan. An even better case could be made for General Shinseki, who spoke truth to power at the beginning of the Iraq war (which he essentially got fired for), and who will now be elevated to a cabinet post -- an impressive comeback indeed. But there is really only one contender for the prize this year.
For the journey from being "inevitable" to losing caucus after caucus, for hanging in long past when she should have quit, for refusing to concede her loss for almost a week... and then for being a true Democrat out on the campaign trail, and for her speech at the convention, and for being named to the most prestigious cabinet position there is -- nobody can touch Hillary Clinton's comeback this year.
Hillary Clinton's fall and rise in 2008 was just miles ahead of anyone else's comeback. So Best Comeback of the year is hers without question.
Most Original Thinker
I think I'm going to award this one as a tie. From the right, Ron Paul shook the Republican Party to its foundations during his eclectic run for the nomination. He actually outraised every other Republican candidate for campaign cash one quarter during the election season. He also stood up for the truly Libertarian wing of the party, which astonished Washington by its size and fervor. If Republicans manage to turn their party around in the coming years, and tap into the internet for fundraising, they may do it on the Ron Paul model. Stranger things have happened.
And from the Democratic side of the aisle, we have Dennis Kucinich. Kucinich was not afraid to say what he felt on the campaign trail -- often speaking without notes and without a prepared speech -- and he stood up for what he believed was right, not for what he thought would get him votes. He pushed the other candidates further left, and became a moral voice for change within the party. The media ridiculed him mercilessly for doing so. But Dennis Kucinich stood up for what he thought was right, instead of following conventional wisdom. And for that, he has earned the award.
So Most Original Thinker of 2008 goes to both Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich.
Most Stagnant Thinker
Rush Limbaugh and the entire world of right-wing talk radio certainly comes to mind here. Their way of thinking is so stagnant that the swamp has turned into a marsh, which has baked in the sun until it is a hard crust of cracked and broken solid slime. Rush and his ilk have gotten so bad that even some Republicans are starting to warn that following their way of thinking any further is just going to head the entire party over a cliff.
From the left, I would have to consider the Reverends Jeremiah Wright and Jesse Jackson. Their civil-rights-era way of looking at race relations in this country was overwhelmed by the generational change Obama brought this year, and exposed it for the stagnant thinking it truly is in the twenty-first century.
But the worst example of stagnant thinking wasn't even George W. Bush this year (although his "thinking" was as stagnant as it's ever been) -- but rather John McCain, for running his entire campaign as an extension of all the disastrous Bush policies. McCain didn't break with Bush on anything of real note, meaning that he was running on the concept "Bush's thinking is great -- we just need four more years of it!" Which is about as stagnant as you can get. Call it "stagnant squared."
For his entire campaign's kowtowing to Bush's way of seeing the world, John McCain gets the Most Stagnant Thinker of 2008.
Best Photo Op
This one was tough, so I just punted the decision and am awarding a three-way tie.
The opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics is the first to get the nod. Say what you will about totalitarian systems, one thing they know how to do well is put on a spectacle. And the opening ceremony (and much of the rest of the games) qualifies as one of the most spectacular Olympic events ever. Now, nobody will ever top the archer lighting the cauldron in Barcelona, but for overall photo-op-ness, Beijing has to be acknowledged here.
Barack Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention was one of the most stirring political speeches of my lifetime. For all the petty and small-minded taunting about the columns behind him and the crowd size and his celebrity appeal; when Barack Obama took the stage, none of it mattered. The whole Obama family at the end of the speech was unquestionably the best photo op of the entire campaign (although I still think Michelle's dress was kind of strange-looking, but what do I know about fashion?).
But I just had to also sneak in here the image of shoes hurtling towards President Bush. Now, to give the man credit, he did an amazing job of ducking the incoming footwear. The man is 62 years old, and I would not bet against him in a dodgeball game after seeing him get out of the way of the flying shoes. And even though in these year-end awards I try to resist whatever is fresh and recent in order to take a longer view, I truly think this image will be one of the defining ones of Bush's presidency. Much like the image of his father barfing on the Japanese Prime Minister at a state banquet, at almost the same point in his lame duck period. Two images will bookend the history of George W. Bush and Iraq: the "Mission Accomplished" banner, and an Iraqi journalist throwing his shoes at Bush's head.
As usual, there's a bunch of things which easily qualify for the "Enough Already!" award.
O.J. Simpson? Enough already!
"America doesn't torture" -- enough already!
The View -- enough already!
Hillary and Obama hardcore supporters sniping at each other? Enough already!
The endless, endless election campaign season? Enough already!
Sarah Palin? Enough already!
But the true winner of this award was not some fleeting moment during 2008, and didn't even last just the entire year, but has been bedeviling this country for the past eight years. So everyone join in with a gigantic ENOUGH ALREADY!! for President George W. Bush.
John Edwards certainly deserves a mention in this category. He lied to his wife, he lied to his campaign staff, he lied to the cameras, and he lied to the American public. But, seriously, it was just about sex. It wasn't earth-shattering, mostly because he didn't get the nomination.
Sarah Palin and John McCain's last-ditch attack on Obama ("pallin' around with terrorists") certainly also deserves a mention here. McCain's "the fundamentals of the economy are strong" doesn't really qualify, though, because he may have actually believed that to be true (in which case, to him, it wasn't a lie, it was just being spectacularly out of touch with reality).
But the Worst Lie of the year was contained in chain-letter emails that found their way into millions of inboxes during the campaign. They had all kinds of lies about all kinds of subjects, but only one target -- Barack Obama. Just for convenience's sake, I will summarize this mountain of lies into the most memorable one: "Barack Obama is a secret Muslim."
I hate to say it, but such email mudslinging is going to become routine and pervasive in every single future campaign. History will show that Obama was the first to be attacked in such a widespread fashion by email spam -- but he certainly won't be the last. Which wins the whole tactic "Worst Lie" of 2008.
Capitalist Of The Year
2008 was not a good year for capitalism in general.
So it's kind of hard to pick the best capitalist this year. A strong case could be made for the oil companies, who treated us all to gasoline for over four dollars a gallon this summer. Or for Madoff, for playing the capitalism game to enrich himself (on a previously-unheard-of scale). Or for Paulson and Bernanke, because they got to hand out all the capital (our capital, by the way) they felt like, with virtually no oversight whatsoever.
But for return-on-investment alone, I have to award the Capitalist Of The Year to the Somali pirates. For putting up a few guys, a small boat, and some machine guns, they have reaped rewards of millions of dollars. And isn't that what capitalism is all about? Increasing revenue for your shareholders, and the consequences be damned? Defined that way, the Somali pirates have shown even the Wall Street bandits how to play in the big leagues.
Person Of The Year
I have to agree with Time magazine this year. 2008 will forever be known in America as Barack Obama's year. Barack absolutely defined this year in American politics, and in most other phases of American life. His reach went beyond our shores, as well (the biggest campaign rally he gave was actually in Berlin, Germany).
I forget who said it, but the quote has stuck with me -- Barack Obama has done more to improve America's standing in the world just by his existence than George Bush did in eight years.
Obama's victory is already seen by the rest of the world as a complete repudiation of Bush's policies. And they are breathing an enormous sigh of relief as a result.
For this and so much more, Barack Obama is clearly Person Of The Year.
As usual, for anything or anyone I've forgotten (or otherwise inadvertently omitted), please feel free to let me know your choices in the comments. Until next week...
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