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Roger Hickey: Washington Post lets Pete Peterson write the news on deficit.

January 2nd, 2010 admin No comments

On Thursday, December 31, the last day of 2009, The Washington Post published an article, presented as a news story, which could be a signal of the death of the Post as an independent and objective news source. The piece, entitled “Support grows for tackling nation’s debt,” appeared to be one of those background news pieces common in newspapers like the Post. But article was written not by the newspaper’s reporters – and not by an objective wire service, like the Associated Press – but by a new organization called the Fiscal Times, whose founder and major backer, Peter G. Peterson, has a long term ideological commitment to convincing Americans that “support is growing for tackling the nation’s debt.”

These are indeed hard times for journalism, but the Washington Post is sealing its own fate as a fake news source if, as the press release for the Fiscal Times claims, this new “independent” digital news publication reporting on fiscal, budgetary, health-care and international economics issues has forged its first media partnership, a content sharing agreement with The Washington Post. This deal, the first evidence of which is Thursday’s article, is the equivalent of the Post reviving its old relationship with United Press International to cover religion and politics – without informing their readership that since 2000 the once-proud UPI has been owned by News World Communications, a media company owned by Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church! The only difference is that Peter G. Peterson is starting his own news service instead of buying an old one.

Economist and media critic Dean Baker was the first to blow the whistle in his Beat the Press blog at The American Prospect website:

The piece [by Fiscal Times and published by the Post] conveys Peterson’s view that there is a drastic budget crisis which requires circumventing normal congressional procedures. It implies that the huge surge in deficit in the last year was attributable to the irresponsibility of Congress rather than an economic collapse that resulted from incredibly incompetent policy and Wall Street greed.

The amazing thing is that, given the desire of the new Fiscal Times (and presumably the Post) to present their new partnership as an objective and journalistic endeavor, the actual article is so obviously slanted to the conservative point of view Peter G. Peterson (partner in Wall Street’s Blackstone Group and former Republican Treasury Secretary) has used his millions to promote over many years. Nowhere in the “story” would the reader find reference to the fact that it is now official government policy to increase the federal deficit in order to stimulate growth and economic recovery from the worst recession since the great depression. The whole piece seems designed to give prominence to the legislation, advanced by Senators Conrad and Greg, that would create a commission to come up with a plan for slashing deficits which would be voted on – without amendments and with limited debate – by both houses of Congress. No mention is made of the fact that Pete Peterson recently testified in favor of such a commission before Senator Conrad’s Budget committee. The piece contains one quote from a high level official at the AARP questioning whether such a commission would be willing to consider progressive tax increases. But nowhere in the Fiscal Times article could a reader find that over 40 national organizations – including the Alliance for Retired Americans, the National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, AFSCME and the Campaign for America’s Future – have circulated a statement opposing such a commission and warning that it could undermine Social Security, Medicare, health care reform, and the fragile economic recovery.

The Fiscal Times piece does quote the “the Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform” (funded by Pete Peterson’s foundation). And executive director of the Concord Coalition is quoted as noting rising support for action on the deficit – without noting that one Peter G. Peterson serves as president of the Concord Coalition. This is not journalism. It is big money purchasing a relationship that allows Peterson to put faux news pieces into the Washington Post news pages.

In July, the Washington Post’s Ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, admitted that his publisher’s “ill-fated plan to sell sponsorships of off-the-record “salons” was an ethical lapse of monumental proportions.” When Katharine Weymouth and Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli realized how horrendous a pr problem they had on their hands, they apologized and rescinded their plans for “a series of 11 intimate dinners to discuss public policy issues – at which for a fee of up to $25,000, underwriters were guaranteed a seat at the table with lawmakers, administration officials, think tank experts, business leaders and the heads of associations.” Obviously, the program looked too much like “pay to influence coverage.”

But Peter Peterson has found a better way: not content with advocacy, he is using his vast wealth to create a “news service” and forged a deal to get the Post to treat his advocacy as news.
A group of policy experts and advocates, led by author Nancy Altman (and myself) have just sent a letter to Andrew Alexander, who still appears to be the Post’s ombudsman. He has another ethical hot potato on his hands – but this one goes to the heart of the journalistic mission of the Post.

Our letter, which can be found here, awaits a response from the Washington Post. If you care about journalism – and if you care about this important Washington newspaper, you should make your views known to the Post at ombudsman@washpost.com.

(Note: I have writen about the proposed budget commission, Peterson and his critics recently at the Huffington Post and TPMcafe and www.oufuture.org)


Sarah van Gelder: Nine Ways Our World Changed during the ’00s

December 31st, 2009 admin No comments

What was the decade of the ’00s about? What trends showed up in the last 10 years that will set the stage for the ’10s? The following nine trends are a snapshot of some of the driving forces we’re dealing with now at the turn of the decade.

1. The rich got really, really rich, and then got a spanking. During the irrational exuberance of the ’90s and early ’00s, it seemed like anybody should be able to get rich betting on bubbles. Pundits predicted there would be no end to the expansion of wealth and that we had transcended the business cycle. But the dot com bubble burst, then the housing bubble, and the financial bubble. Most of the rich are still rich–the bailouts made sure of that. But driving a Bentley is now considered poor taste, and populist anger is growing. The gap between rich and poor is growing, too, while the ladder out of poverty is splintering.

2. Middle class existence went from steadily stagnant to downright precarious.
Necessities like housing, energy, food, education, and medical care all climbed, while incomes stagnated. Families survived by working increasing hours, and by going into debt, using their homes as collateral. When the Great Recession hit, we learned that being middle class had been a bubble, too. And the billions that Wall Street took in bailouts hasn’t “trickled down” to ordinary people or to the real economy.

3. Mother Earth came up to bat. At the beginning of the decade, it was just the environmentalists, scientists, and some very forward-looking elected officials talking about the hazards of climate change, along with the insurance companies that have to pay for the increasing rates of wild fires, floods, and other climate-related disasters. Today, Pentagon brass, business owners, religious leaders, farmers, foresters, and people at all levels of government are seeing the danger and looking for ways to stop the disruption of the climate. The global leaders at Copenhagen struck out, but Mother Earth bats last.

4. We found a new enemy. We called the enemy “terror,” and we made war on it. Rather than use proven counter-terrorism strategies of sophisticated police work plus intelligence, the Bush administration used the shock of 9/11 to justify ultimately futile invasions and occupations. Then they added torture and a crack-down on civil liberties abroad and at home. It’s hard to measure the costs in traumatized civilians and soldiers, the dead and dying, refugees and broken societies, billions of added national debt, and the tarnished reputation of the United States. But here’s one gauge: Invading Afghanistan has already helped bring down one superpower. The ’00s set the stage for us to follow the Soviet Union’s example.

5. First we hated government. Later, we loved it. Government was revealed at its worst during Hurricane Katrina, when sheriff deputies blocked fleeing citizens from crossing a bridge to safety and the federal government offered little more than black booted Blackwater guards to maintain “security” and a morale-boosting “Good job, Brownie!” from the commander in chief. Maybe it’s to be expected that a president who hates government would turn over emergency preparedness to cronies and crooks. On the other hand, when the uber-greed of Wall Street threatened to bring the global economy to its knees, it turned out government could act quickly and effectively to keep the money flowing.

6. The Republican Party collapsed as a trusted force for reasoned governance, driven into the ground by the incompetence of its president, by unjustifiable and devastating military campaigns, and by policies that turned the economy over to corporate powers, who took it over a cliff. Economic fundamentalism and neoconservativism are now understood to be dystopian fantasies, and all that’s left for those who remain in the party is to flail around with tea bagging, climate denial, and attempts to kill anything that doesn’t bolster the military-industrial complex, the wealthy, and big business.

7. The Democratic Party collapsed as a trusted force for reasoned governance when, in spite of having an overwhelming mandate from the American people for real change, elected officials allowed corporations and their lobbyists to call the shots on health care reform, regulation of Wall Street speculation, and climate legislation. The resulting policies shored up the stock market but did little to help ordinary people, who became increasingly alienated from the party.

8. China continued its rapid ascent, moving quietly into position to become the next superpower. The U.S. debt to China, coupled with the transfer of most manufacturing capacity abroad–especially to China–hampered efforts to rebuild the U.S. economy, and weakened our global position. (This is one more outcome of corporate power, to add to 1-7 above.)

9. We began to hear whispers of the End Times, including the best selling post-rapture “Left Behind” series, the new disaster flick 2012, and the prophesies related to the Mayan calendar (Google it, and you’ll get over 8 million hits). The real end times might be more straightforward. At the same time Wall Street wealth was soaring (with a short setback in 2008), the ’00s witnessed a crash in the real wealth that keeps civilizations alive: fresh water, climate stability, trust and solidarity with fellow human beings, reliable public infrastructure, healthy soil and forests, resilient agriculture, sound governance, livelihoods that can meet basic necessities. Our way of life is increasingly precarious as we import much more than our fair share of the world’s declining supply of fossil energy and of other resources, bring the climate to the brink of runaway change. The end times of this consumption lifestyle are, indeed, upon us.

But wait, there are signs, too, that people are pulling out of this downward spiral. In the ’00s, people around the world turned away from obsolete ways of life, and went to work building the foundations of a world where our families and communities can thrive along with the natural systems that we rely on. The seeds are already planted. In my next column, I’ll list the 12 innovations begun in the ’00s that we can build on in the 2010s.

Sarah van Gelder is executive editor of YES! Magazine, a national media organization that links powerful ideas and practical action toward a just and sustainable world.

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Chris Weigant: We Need More Parties

December 31st, 2009 admin No comments

While that may seem a rather redundant headline the day before a world-wide party is scheduled, it was actually less provocative than my original concept of selling the theme that America needs more than two viable political parties, which was: “Party! Party! Party! Party!” But then I noticed I had already used one exclamation point in a headline this week; so I realized if I ran my original choice, I would be jeopardizing my standing among the Professional Journalists And Wannabes Who Play One On The Web Guild (the beloved PJAWWPOOTWG, pronounced like… um… well, it’s best not to try to pronounce the acronym until you’ve got at least three stiff drinks under your belt). Where was I? Oh, right, party headlines.

While my generation was the first to use the word “party” as a verb (known technically as “verbalizing” it… no, wait, that can’t be right… “verbizing” it perhaps?), we were not the first to heartily endorse the concept. When I was growing up, friends of my parents had a sign in their den, over the built-in bar: “I support the two-party system. One party a week is not enough!” Showing that, while the language may indeed change, the party instinct is as old as mankind. Or at least as old as my childhood neighbors (who seemed pretty old to me at the time).

Seriously, though (I do seem to be easily distracted today, sorry), since it is the end of the year and we’re all in a bit of a silly mood, I thought I’d posit a scenario that has long been a dream of many voters in America: that we have more than two realistic choices on the ballot when we vote. And while in my own time I’ve seen many nascent “third” parties grow, bloom, and (inevitably) die; it seems to me that we could be on the cusp of our two-party system doubling itself, amoeba-like, within the next year. I don’t make any statement as to the probability of this actually happening, but will instead just throw the idea out there for discussion and debate. Call it “party talk.”

The strength of the American two-party political system is that any attempt to grow it into three results largely in one party becoming weaker by the split, and one party staying together — and getting stronger, since their opposition vote is split. After a disastrous election cycle or two, the third-party hotheads sigh dejectedly, and rejoin the party from whence they came, and the system falls back into two-party equilibrium once again.

But what if both parties split at the same time? What if we ended up with four parties instead of two? This could avoid the zero-sum nature of attempting only a “third” party.

The seeds for the splits are obvious to see, on both sides. Let’s take Republicans first (”take my Republicans… please!” flits through my mind, I have to admit, so here’s a bow to Henny Youngman). The Tea Party movement, while fractious, is a lot stronger than many are willing to admit. A recent poll showed more people self-identifying as Tea Partiers than as Republicans. The problem is, the bigwigs in the Republican Party control the money and the party machine. By “party machine” I speak of all the infrastructure that a national political party enjoys which is so hard for any third-party movement to put together from scratch. These two groups — Tea Partiers and establishment Republicans — are headed on a violent collision course in the primary season next year. Mainstream Republicans know the way the game of politics is played on a national scale, and try to argue for candidates that will have some sort of broad appeal in the electorate, in an effort to retake the independents in the middle. Tea Partiers are concerned with only one thing: purity, above all else. The problem for the Tea Partiers is that they’re largely (at this point) a one-issue movement, with no broader agenda than: “No taxes. Ever.” This leaves them wide open to hijacking by other single-issue Republican subcultures, so it will be interesting to see what sort of stand Tea Partiers take (if they do — the smartest thing they could do is not take a stand at all) on issues like abortion or gay rights, to name just two.

But in the clash in the primaries, either the Tea Partiers will win the day, or the Republican establishment will eke out a victory. If the Republican establishment candidate wins, the Tea Party folks will have a choice to make. Either slink back into the Republican Party with their tails between their legs; or, as Sarah Palin would put it, “go rogue” by entering the general election as a third-party candidate. If this happened in four or five Senate races (Florida, Kentucky, California, etc.), and if the Tea Party candidate started beating the Republican candidate (see: this year’s NY-23 congressional election), I could see a general split in the party at large, with elected Republican officials suddenly proclaiming that they, too, are now Tea Partiers, and not Republicans.

In this case, the name “Republican” would stay with the national party organization. The new party already has their own name, and would likely want to distance themselves from Republicanism anyway. What would happen, in this scenario, to the Republicans who were left is an open question. They could become the “social conservative” party, devoted to all the hot button religious issues afoot, or they could become the “pro-war” party which advocated the neo-conservative agenda. Or they could become the “we’re the adults here” party, and portray themselves as serious and worthy of office, as opposed to the lunatics in the Tea Party.

Over on the left side of the aisle, we have the current situation in the Democratic Party. The Progressives are about an inch away from considering a similar exodus from the party at large. They feel betrayed by Barack Obama, and by the corporate-owned “New Democrat” wing of the Democratic Party. Progressives also feel that they are the core of the Democratic Party, being stymied by the corporatist fringe within. The building frustration among Progressives could lead to an eventual split, with a caucus of House and Senate Democrats proclaiming a new Progressive Party. If enough of them jumped ship simultaneously, they could form a bigger caucus than the remaining Democrats. And, like the Tea Partiers, they would likely bar entry to their party to anyone seen as insufficiently pure — no corporate lackeys in Congress need apply. Which would leave the Democratic Party the “corporate-approved,” pro-business, socially-liberal party. It would also leave them, like the Republicans, with the party name and the nationwide party apparatus.

This could lead to elections in which you, as a voter, weighed the Democratic candidate against the Progressive, and the Tea Party candidate against the Republican. Four choices instead of two, in other words. It would free up the true believers on both sides of the political divide to back whomever they wished, without being told by the national party what their only choice is.

Now, as I said at the beginning, the odds of this actually playing out in such a fashion are long, at best. What is much more likely (looking at recent history) is that these groups will make a big point, and, by doing so, pull the national party in their direction as a whole. Republicans seem rather terrified of the Tea Party movement within their ranks, and will likely fall all over themselves signing “pledges of purity” with the Tea Party folks next year. They are scared because such a mob mentality is notoriously fickle, and they’ve already set up some epic battles in Senate primaries next year. “Mob” has a long history politically, since the word is nothing more than a shortening of “mobile” — as in a “mobile party” that votes with its feet. And the Tea Party folks look like they may be mobbing in a new direction next year. The Republicans may face the choice of going with the mob, or splitting off from them and disavowing them.

Democrats face a similar situation, although the Progressives are not as organized or “mobilized” as the Tea Partiers. But some Progressives are just as angry as the Tea Party folks, and for similar reasons — they feel like their own party is selling them out at every opportunity. Democrats’ own mob is not as cohesive — yet — as the Tea Partiers, but that could indeed change, because the feelings are just as raw.

What would this mean, besides more choices on the ballot? It would mean a coalition approach to government, as most parliamentary systems use. On some issues, Progressives would caucus with Democrats to get legislation passed. Both parties could get concessions for their support, with the weight of their voting bloc behind them. On other issues, Democrats and Republicans may caucus together (call it the Big Business Caucus). Progressives and Tea Partiers may find themselves in agreement on, for instance, taking on Wall Street. The sands of alliance would shift, issue by issue.

Of course, this could be a giant prescription for total and utter gridlock in Congress. The possibility certainly exists that absolutely nothing would get done under a four-party system, because no one party would dominate on any particular issue. And even if there were splits among Republicans and Democrats, it may lead to the death of one of the major parties themselves, as Republicans all rush to become Tea Partiers, or Democrats belatedly proclaim themselves Progressives.

But what interests me is that the possibility of such splits exists on both sides at the same time. The trite “America is divided and polarized politically as a nation” line that journalists love to trot out is even more true than they have noticed. Because not only are we divided in two, across the unbridgeable gap yawning wider every year between Republicans and Democrats, but on each side of the chasm, cracks are appearing within, between two major subgroups. We’re really splitting into four in American politics, in other words, not just two. And whether that results in a formal split which creates two new parties, or whether it winds up just being intraparty feuds that eventually get resolved remains to be seen.

Speaking on a personal level, as a politics-watcher, nothing would make my job more interesting than some new players on the field. Speaking as an American, I have no idea whether a four-party system would be any better or worse for the country, or whether it could even work. But it certainly would be fascinating to watch.

OK, that’s it. We now return you to your regularly-scheduled party program. Everyone with me?

Party! Party! Party! Party!

 

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com

 

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Economic Outrage du Jour

December 29th, 2009 admin No comments

Congress caves. Surprise! Not.

Three weeks ago the House of Representatives passed a far-reaching overhaul of financial practices, including a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to protect consumers from abusive lending practices, establish new trading rules and deal with the threat of too big to fail. It was heralded in some quarters as the biggest reform since the New Deal.

That may well be so, but the legislation goes not nearly far enough. Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to regulating complex over-the-counter derivatives. I’ll bet you’re not wondering why. But you’re probably basing your view on mere suspicions about certain people being in the pocket of certain other people. The Wall Street Journal’s  Randal Smith and Sarah N. Lynch confirm it for you:

Lobbying by Wall Street has blunted efforts to step up regulation on derivatives trading by carving out exceptions or leaving the status quo in place.

Derivatives took blame for some of the worst debacles of the financial crisis. But a year after regulators and critics began calling for an overhaul in the way they are traded, some efforts have been shelved and others have been watered down. …

The two main issues concerning regulators were trading and clearing of swaps, which allow investors to bet on or hedge movements in currencies, interest rates and many other things. Swaps generally trade privately, leaving competitors and regulators in the dark about the scope of their risks. In November 2008, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee proposed forcing all derivatives trading onto exchanges, where their prices could be publicly disclosed and margin requirements imposed to insure that participants could make good on their market bets.

When the legislation emerged on relatively close vote from the House on Dec. 11, however, those requirements were diluted or gone altogether.

A lawyer for one big Wall Street dealer said in an interview that the rollback from the first proposals in Congress was the result of an “educational” process by dealers and customers that resulted in “a grudging recognition” that many uses of derivatives didn’t fit such a strict approach. At one point, House agriculture chairman Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) said he suspected dealers had dispatched their customers to lobby Capital [sic] Hill.

When the mark-up begins on the Cantwell-McCain bill that would restore the protections of the New Deal’s Glass-Steagall Act, you can expect – at the very least – dilution again to be the order of the day. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or a marxist to know why. Senator Dick Durbin said it in April:

And the banks — hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.

Some give themselves fancier names than “bank.” But they still have us by the short hairs. And all it takes for them to maintain their grip is a little “educational” effort among the folks we’re told are elected to represent everybody’s interests.


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Chris Weigant: Ride The Populist Wave: Restore Glass-Steagall!

December 29th, 2009 admin No comments

Democrats should realize, by this point, that they’re going to have to reposition themselves a bit if they stand any chance in next year’s midterm congressional elections. Fortunately for them, there are two issues out there just begging for exploitation. The first is the Republican Party, who has reportedly decided they are going to run next year on taking something away from voters which Democrats have given them — the healthcare reform bill. And the second is a little-noted bill introduced a few weeks ago by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-OR), John McCain (R-AZ), and Russ Feingold (D-WI), which would bring back a chunk of the banking regulations passed in the Great Depression known as “Glass-Steagall.” Together, these two issues present an opportunity for Democrats to reap some of the populist anger brewing out there in the electorate.

Not that it’s going to be easy to do so. The Republicans, after all, are reacting to a movement (the Tea Partiers) which is routinely labelled “populist” itself. But there is populism and then there is populism. After all, both Barack Obama and Sarah Palin — for very differing reasons — were called “populist” by the media at one time or another during last year’s campaign. Populism is not so much a political stance (as “conservatism” is, for instance) as it is a political tactic. Meaning it can be used equally well by either side of our current American political divide.

Democrats like to think of themselves as the ideological heirs to the capital-P historical Populism from a century ago. Democrats consider themselves the “party of the common man,” but this routine and facile assumption ignores the “anti-bailout” anger in play today — where Democrats are seen as helping out Wall Street and largely ignoring Main Street. Republicans, on the other hand, see themselves as bringing populism into the modern age, in the form of social conservatives and hot-button issues like gay rights or abortion.

Populism, even back in its beginnings, has always had a rather nasty edge to it. Because populists aren’t usually “for” things, as much as they are “against” other things. Historically, one of the main targets of Populism was one which strikes a familiar chord today: elitist Northeastern bankers. Wall Street, in other words. This makes it a good fit for the times, since Wall Street is not exactly beloved right now. Of course, a hundred years ago, this also had an ugly side, as many conflated “elitist bankers” with “Jews.” This type of bigotry has been (so far, and as far as I know) thankfully absent from the populist wave building out there — but there have been plenty of more modern examples of such idiocy as well (such as Auschwitz photos of dead bodies waved at Tea Parties, for instance).

But populism, just because it attracts some rather scary fringe elements to it, should not be ignored by Democrats who feel they can just coast on the coattails of the image of the “common man” Democratic Party in voters’ minds. Voters are notoriously short of memory, and are much more likely to be demanding of Democratic officeholders: “What have you done for me lately?”

Democrats need to get out front on this. If the healthcare bill that the president signs is the best that could have passed Congress, then you’re going to have to defend it forcefully out on the campaign trail next year. Rather than focusing on the “might-have-beens” in the bill, Democrats need to loudly proclaim the good things it contains. Meanwhile, Republicans are going to paint themselves in a corner by campaigning on repealing whatever passes. Because while there is indeed a lengthy list of “might-have-beens” which did not make it into the bill, there are also a lot of very good reforms of the health insurance industry in there as well, and once voters get used to having these reforms, they’re not going to like politicians promising to take such things away.

One of the worst things about the bill hasn’t seemed to arouse much Republican ire yet (although it has raised a lot of ire from both Independents and some Democrats) — the individual mandate. But Republicans are building steam on the issue, so Democrats should expect it to be used against them. The individual mandate isn’t going to be easy for Democrats to tout as a wonderful thing, to twentysomethings who don’t want to buy health insurance. But pretty much everything else in the bill can be proclaimed as a good deal for voters — if Democrats would only make the case for them.

Picture a Democratic candidate at a debate next year with a Republican opponent. Here’s how they could make their case:

“My opponent wants to repeal the historic healthcare act President Obama signed early this year. This means he is against laws which end the insurance industry’s ability to deny you coverage — yes, you! — for ‘pre-existing conditions.’ He wants insurance companies to be able to deny you the benefits you have paid for, by going back to the days when some insurance company bureaucrat could decide that they weren’t going to pay for your daughter’s treatment when she gets leukemia. He wants to go back to the days when insurance companies could tell you ‘well, we’ve spent a million bucks on your operation, now we’re going to stop paying for you at all… oh, and by the way, you’re uninsurable for the rest of your life.’ My opponent stands against all these things, because he is more in tune with the insurance industry’s future earnings than he is concerned about the voters of this great state being able to get health insurance without having to face bankruptcy. Make no mistake about it, when he calls for repealing the healthcare reform act, that is exactly what he stands for.”

Of course, the negotiations between Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid on the final bill could help this a lot by front-loading a bunch of the goodies in the healthcare bill so that they take effect right away, instead of in 2013 or 2014. Democrats are going to require some very tangible benefits that voters can already see, or else it’s going to be a much harder sell.

And, while it has more than a hint of “too little, too late,” the White House — and Democrats in general — have done a fairly good job of getting out in front of this, for the past two weeks or so. They have been on a real media blitz, trying to shape the story as “historic reform,” and if they keep it up they can indeed make inroads with voters who have not been paying much attention to the details of the healthcare debate until now. President Obama seems to be leaning on two lines in particular. The first is about the bill, and about his own legacy: “I got 90-95 percent of what I wanted.” While this is hard to argue (since he never laid out exactly what he wanted in any sort of detailed fashion, it’s impossible to fact-check), it does move the focus back to the good things in the bill which the media has largely been ignoring all year long. The second line the president is using is all about his legacy: “Seven presidents have tried this, and seven presidents have failed.” This points out the magnitude of the political victory, which may help Obama himself, but will only help Congresscritters campaign on the broader theme of: “Democrats are getting things done, Republicans only know how to say no.”

But Democrats need a better issue for next year, because believe it or not, healthcare reform is not going to be the biggest issue in the election. Voters are more forward-looking, and will be concentrating on other things as well. Such as jobs and the economy. But while Democrats may pass some sort of window-dressing bill to stimulate both the economy and hiring, there simply is no magic lever they can pull (on Capitol Hill or in the Oval Office) to create jobs. The economy will do what it will — recover, stay flat, or go down again — and Democrats will either pay the price or reap the rewards, accordingly.

But they’ll have a much better chance, no matter where the economy is, if they’re out there fighting the good fight. Which is where Cantwell-McCain-Feingold comes in. It is tailor-made for the anti-Wall-Street rage out there. What it does, in a nutshell, is to move us back a decade. During the Great Depression, regulating banks was all the rage. One of the biggest regulations passed back then was the “Glass-Steagall Act” of 1933 (passed during F.D.R.’s first year in office), which forbade the intermingling of banking and investment firms. This law stayed in place until the 1999, when it was essentially overturned by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. This was a modern age, it was argued, and we needed to modernize banking for the 21st century. That old-fashioned Glass-Steagall Act was getting in the way of making lots of money and bringing joy to all. Gramm-Leach-Bliley passed with overwhelming majorities in Congress, and there are plenty of politicians around today (from both parties) who sang its praises back then. What happened, instead of joy-for-all, was a free-for-all — Wall Street taking a decade to “party like it’s 1999.” And we’ve all seen the results of that.

Cantwell-McCain-Feingold would change things back. The bankers are already marshalling their forces against it. Which makes it a perfect political issue to jump on — because, these days, if Wall Street is against it, then almost by definition it must be good. Sure, that oversimplifies things, but the bill itself is pretty simple (the entire text of the legislation itself is about a page and a half long). It even has bipartisan support, to a certain extent.

Democrats need to pick an issue that is seen in the public’s eye as a full frontal attack on Wall Street excess. This bill is absolutely made to fit. “Glass-Steagall was good enough to get our country through the last century, and it is a lot better than the deregulated mess which followed its repeal. Big banks hate the idea, which is another reason I am strongly for Cantwell-McCain-Feingold. Bring back Glass-Steagall!”

Any wave leaves you with two choices: ride with and “surf” the wave, allowing it to buoy you up and carry you far; or have it come crashing down over your head. Democrats are facing a populist wave in the electorate next year. If they realize it, and start acting like they’re responding to it, then they have a chance in next year’s election. The two issues I’ve named are only examples of how to do so — there are other issues out there, which could work out even better politically. Democrats would be a lot better positioned next year if they were seen as donning their armor, mounting their chargers, taking up a lance, and heading full-tilt at Wall Street. But if Democrats ignore the growing Wall Street/Main Street rage and continue to be seen as carrying the water for Wall Street while completely ignoring Main Street’s concerns, then they are going to get swamped by this particular political wave.

 

[Note: The Cantwell-McCain-Feingold bill can be seen, with full details, at the Library of Congress' THOMAS site. The site does not retain search links, so you have to go to their main page and click on "Search by bill number" and enter "S2886" to see it. There is a similar bill in the House as well, which you can see by searching for "HR4375", or you can read a good article on the issues involved from Bloomberg.]

 

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

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Chris Weigant: My 2009 "McLaughlin Awards" [Part 1]

December 26th, 2009 admin No comments

Welcome once again to our year-end wrapup and awards ceremony. Honesty dictates that I immediately genuflect to The McLaughlin Group, from whom I have stolen all these award categories. We will begin this week with Part 1 of these annual awards, and then next Friday on New Year’s Day, we will present Part 2, with reduced volume levels (for those who are nursing hangovers… ahem).

Before we begin, though, we have to insert a free plug, for another year-end awards column with a slightly different theme — awards for idiocy in the mainstream media (a subject near and dear to my own heart, I confess). Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting has their “2009 P.U.-Litzer Awards” up, and I heartily encourage everyone to read it as well, because it is excellent and well worth your time.

And, for comparison, it simply wouldn’t be Friday around here if I didn’t throw in a few plugs for my own columns, so if you’d like to peruse my McLaughlin Awards from years past, here are the previous three years’ worth:

[2008, Part 1] [2008, Part 2]
[2007, Part 1] [2007, Part 2]
[2006, Part 1] [2006, Part 2]

But enough of that — let’s get right to the awards themselves!

 

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   Biggest Winner of 2009

 

I have a history of taking these first two categories literally (Michael Phelps won this award last year, for instance). And there were two political wins last year which stood out, for separate reasons, so we’re going to hand out two Biggest Winner awards as a result.

The first, for “Biggest Deferred Win” goes to none other than Senator Al Franken, who had to wait until the end of June to be officially declared the winner in the Minnesota Senate race over Norm Coleman. Waiting eight months to be seated, on a razor-thin 314-vote margin, Al Franken certainly deserves some sort of award for his patience. Maybe I should call it the “Hardest-Fought Win” award, but whatever you call it, Senator Franken deserves a salute for becoming the 60th vote Democrats desperately needed in the Senate.

Over in the House, the “Most Impressive Winner” this year was none other than Representative Bill Owens, from the New York Twenty-Third Congressional District. Owens won a House seat that, when last held by a non-Republican, was a Whig — in the 1850s. This stunning upset was made possible by the “Tea Party” movement within the Republican Party, which so savaged Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava that she actually dropped out days before the election — and then endorsed the Democrat in the race. [Hundreds of television "journalists" immediately breathed a collective sigh of relief that they wouldn't have to learn how to pronounce "Scozzafava" correctly, as an indirect result.] Hopefully, we can all look forward to many more of these sorts of intra-party dogfights in 2010, but for his jaw-dropping upset, Bill Owens deserves to be named Biggest Winner this year.

 

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   Biggest Loser of 2009

My first inclination for Biggest Loser was “Progressives,” for obvious reasons. But then I thought about it, and Progressives may not be progressing as fast or as far as they thought they were going to under President Obama, but they certainly didn’t “lose” as much as they would have under President McCain. This is small consolation indeed, but “losing” isn’t just the absence of winning.

But, on a very closely-related and somewhat-overlapping theme, I’d have to award the Biggest Loser to the people pushing strongly for some version of the public option, Medicare-for-all, or single-payer healthcare reform.

Proponents of fundamental and bedrock change in America’s health delivery system lost. Big time. Although there is a small chance (measured as the length of time a roughly-packed spheroid of frozen dihydro-monoxide would survive in Hades) of some shred of one of these plans surviving in the House/Senate conference on the healthcare reform bill, I’m not exactly holding my breath.

So, to the millions and millions of people who wanted to actually reform our healthcare system, and are having to swallow the bitter pill of being thrown under a bus instead, we award the Biggest Loser of 2009, with sorrow.

 

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   Best Politician

This one is going to be a bit controversial, so allow me to explain up front. “Politician” can be either a neutral term or one loaded with negative connotations. But the best practitioner of politics this year was (surprise!) President Barack Obama.

Which pegs our definition somewhat towards the negative end of the scale. Obama was, to many, overcautious this year in flexing his political muscle, in using the mandate the voters gave him, and in spending political capital in general. All of which was true, to one extent or another.

But staying out of the sausage-making fray in Washington did exactly what President Obama intended — allowed him to swoop in at the end, and claim credit for the legislative victory. He did this most noticeably on the stimulus package and on healthcare reform. In both cases, he was never tarred with the brush of “defeat” on any particular facet of the legislation, and emerged at the end with virtually the exact same line: “I got 90 percent of what I wanted.”

Although this has frustrated a great many of his supporters no end, it (again) did exactly what Obama intended. So, tarnished as the term may be, Obama has to be seen as the Best Politician of the year for playing this political game on his own terms. I’m not exactly happy about it myself, but I have to give credit where credit is due.

 

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   Worst Politician

There are two names which pop instantly to mind in this category, but one of them is no longer in office, so we’re not sure he qualifies.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney showed the absolute worst traits a politician can — sour grapes — at pretty much every opportunity he could during 2009. You’d think he was gone for good (or, more accurately, for worse)… but then there he’d be, popping up on the television screen yet again, with his opinion of why Obama was sending this country straight to Hell, on the Handbasket Express. The fact that he was so bitterly wrong didn’t seem to deter the teevee shows from allowing him on whenever he felt the urge, even though he was so utterly irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

But, again, he’s out of office, and I simply don’t feel like giving the man an award for anything, personally, so we’ll skip over him quickly.

Now, there were plenty of examples of corporate-owned “Democrats” in Congress (most noticeably in the Senate) this year, for whom you could make a strong case of being the Worst Politician. But again, I take this category more literally.

Unquestionably the Worst Politician of the year was the titular leader of the Republican Party, Michael Steele. Steele was an embarrassment to his own party, pretty much every time he opened his mouth, and he provided his opponents with so many gleefully idiotic quips that it is impossible to accurately count them all. He was, for Lefties, the gift that just kept right on giving, over and over again. So, for embarrassing his own party while creating joy and delight for his opponents — while delivering absolutely no tangible political benefit whatsoever, either way — Steele is hereby awarded the Worst Politician.

 

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   Most Defining Political Moment

Because it is fresh in the mind, it’s tempting to say that the death of the public option in the healthcare reform debate was the Most Defining Political Moment of 2009.

But it really doesn’t qualify, because it didn’t define the debate so much as it did end it.

No, the truly Most Defining Political Moment this year was when Barack Obama named his economic team, and got them confirmed. This absolutely defined the first year of his presidency. Obama was stating loud and clear by his choices that he was going to be Wall Street’s best friend, and that nobody should expect any radical populism from him whatsoever.

This shaded the debate on so many things during the year that, by definition, it was indeed the Most Defining Political Moment.

 

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   Turncoat Of The Year

In an absolute upset, for the first time ever this award is not going to Senator Joe Lieberman, of the “Liebermans for Lieberman” party. Ol’ Joe has walked away with this award every year we’ve handed it out; but this year — even with a spectacular finish killing off every progressive notion of healthcare reform — Joe just didn’t measure up. Because he’s already turned his coat. He would really only be eligible this year if he had become the most liberal member of the Senate, which (as we are all aware) did not happen (see: previous statement on snowballs in Hell).

Towards the end of the year, we had a minor contender in the House, who changed parties from Democrat to Republican, but in the grand scheme of things this was fairly non-eventful, although it does deserve a mention here. Also worth pointing out was Olympia Snowe, who certainly didn’t make any friends in her own party by occasionally crossing the aisle to vote with Democrats. And John McCain, who has pivoted to the extreme right of his party so hard he is denouncing things he used to support (quite recently, in fact), in a naked attempt to get re-elected (see: comment on fratricidal Tea Party primary challengers).

But, although it has receded into memory for the most part, the true Turncoat Of The Year — in the most positive sense of the term you can imagine — is Senator Arlen Specter. Specter’s switch from the Republican Party to the Democrats is what made most of the rest of the year possible. Before Al Franken was seated, Specter was the one who made it possible for a 60-vote majority by his party switch. I can’t exactly cite him for courage in doing so, because he also swapped parties in a naked attempt to hold onto his seat, from (once again) a Tea-Party-type of primary challenger. But Specter is now facing a serious Democratic primary challenger next year, so it may have all been in vain for him to do so. But whether he gets booted out or retained by Pennsylvania voters next year; for this year, he is fondly awarded the Turncoat Of The Year.

 

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   Most Boring

There are three candidates from the Democratic side for Most Boring. Actually, now that I think about it, pretty much “The entire Republican leadership team in both houses of Congress” should also qualify as well (Mitch McConnell? Seriously? That’s all you’ve got? Wow.), but we’ll stick to the Democrats for the actual award here.

Just on stylistic points alone, Joe Lieberman and Harry Reid deserve special mention here. [Yawn!] Man, you see either of this characters on television, and your head just involuntarily starts nodding off. I mean, watching Lieberman speak is about as exciting as watching paint dry, and listening to a Harry Reid press conference is about as packed with thrills as watching an icicle melt.

I have to slap myself across the face to even keep awake when writing about them, I have to admit.

But continuing this year’s upside-down nature of how I am interpreting these categories, I am awarding this as a positive award. Because Barack Obama was without question the Most Boring this year. And I do mean that in a good way. The “no drama Obama” campaign theme continued right on into the White House, and Obama was cool and collected throughout a very intense year. Raging scorn was heaped upon him from the Left and from the Right (and from the media, in bucketfuls), and he somehow managed to stay above it all.

To the media, in particular, he stated over and over again that he was simply not interested in the “24-hour news cycle” where everything is about “winning the day’s story,” and feeding into whatever idiotic storyline the media is going apoplectic over that particular week. Obama kept the “long view” and he saw the “big picture” and — with only one notable exception (see, below: beer summit) — completely kept out of the snarling dogfight of daily political ups-and-downs, and trivial issues blown up into gargantuan proportions by bored media types with nothing better to report on. Actually that’s not true — there was plenty of better stuff to report on, but most of it was above the intelligence level of the so-called “journalists,” leaving them to squabble over meaningless sandbox issues.

For being this cheerfully boring in the face of such strident idiocy, Obama wins Most Boring — in the nicest possible way.

 

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   Most Charismatic

We’re going to hand out two of these awards, one for the House and one for the Senate. Al Franken is trying as hard as he knows how to stifle his inherently and genetically (one assumes) hilarious nature, and thus appear as serious as is humanly possible in his new career as a politician. But every so often, he gets that wry smile on his face and just can’t resist saying something amusing. This is a man who knows humor, and has a lighting-fast and razor-sharp sense of irony. To expect him to completely hide this light under a barrel is to ask too much of the man, and — for these cracks of brightness which shine through occasionally — we have to award him Most Charismatic in the Senate. No doubt this will be a disappointment to Franken, since, as I said, he’s trying mightily not to let any of it show. But Al sometimes just has to be Al, and for that we are eternally grateful. Once he grows into his role as senator, and once he feels confident of his state electorate’s support, we fully expect to see this side of him grow and mature; but, for now, we’ll take what we can get.

Over on the House side is Representative Alan Grayson. Now, Grayson has occasionally overstepped the boundaries of good taste during the year, but he can be forgiven these rookie errors when you look at the totality of how energetically (and charismatically) he has injected himself into some very important debates, and (by doing so) made some very important points — in plain, everyday, easy-to-understand language — that nobody else on the Democratic side seems capable of making. Grayson has proved, this year, that he is a man to watch in the future of Democratic politics, and for his vigorous and entertaining ways of putting things, he has indeed earned Most Charismatic of the year.

So the “Als” sweep the category this year! Congratulations to both Franken and Grayson are in order.

 

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   Bummest Rap

This category was chock full of bum raps this year, I am sorry to say.

Not only a bum rap, but also one of the stupidest raps I’ve ever witnessed in politics were the early complaints that President Obama relied upon his TelePrompTer too much. What a crock — as if every other politician dating back to Ronald Reagan (and even earlier) hadn’t used the same exact device for pretty much all their public speeches. Sheesh. I mean, it’s like complaining about Obama “using some newfangled personal computing device that seems to function much as a typewriter does,” or, even, “using that science-fictional device which some are calling ‘the telephone,’ instead staying in touch via the time-honored and known-to-be-reliable telegraph system.”

Sorry, my eyes were rolling so much there that I had to take a deep breath, and then re-focus on the page in front of me. Ahem.

Obama likewise got two other bum raps which were simply laughable — that he was some sort of pacifist peacenik, and that he had said he would never sign a bill with earmarks. The first was downright laughable, because every speech Obama has ever made on war — back to and including his initial denouncement of the Iraq invasion — references the fact that there are indeed “just wars,” and that Obama himself isn’t against all wars… just stupid ones. The earmarks thing was astounding, too, because it was a campaign promise made by his opponent! That’s right — John McCain was the one who foreswore all earmarks. And yet the brain-dead media kept hammering Obama about it, as if he were the one who had made such a promise. Once again: SHEESH!!

Joe Biden deserves a mention here, since he has never lived up (down?) to the “loose cannon” bad rap the media types (and, admittedly, late-night comedians) have delighted in all year. Sure, he’s made a misstatement or two (as any human being would), but he’s said simply nothing like what we were all led to expect from “journalists” (see: previous brain-dead comment). Also notable for “beating the rap” (as it were) was former President Bill Clinton, who has been remarkably quiet during his wife’s first year as Secretary of State.

But there were two raps which stood out as being sheer moose poop during this past year, and to these we give the actual Bummest Rap award. The first of these was Dick Cheney’s comments on President Obama’s “dithering” on Afghanistan. Obama took three months to make up his mind to send the second of his surges into Afghanistan (the media, in another bum rap, didn’t even credit Obama for the first one). But this absolutely ignores the fact that George W. Bush took exactly the same period of time when deciding on his surge into Iraq. Making Cheney a complete moose’s ass for suggesting Obama was somehow shirking his duty, and making this Bummest Rap number one for 2009.

Bummest Rap number two was pretty much everything the Republicans said about Sonia Sotomayor. Man, they threw everything at her but the kitchen sink, in a desperate effort to paint her as something she simply was not. None of it had the slightest effect, other than in the inane nature of the questions in her Senate hearing — all of which she absolutely hit out of the park in her answers. But the caricature painted of her by her opponents was one bum rap indeed.

 

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   Fairest Rap

Two fair raps stand out for me. The first was a trivial one — the rap that those claiming that “a million people” showed up for the Tea Party at the U.S. Capitol were, to be polite, talking through their hats. The photos showed a crowd of around 50,000 to 70,000 people. Now, as I admitted at the time, that’s a pretty impressive crowd for a demonstration in Washington. But the Righties were simply not seriously credible when they attempted to inflate the crowd size beyond all reason, with their claim that a million people (or two million, or three million…) showed up. This got even more embarassing when Fox used photos of this rally to try and boost numbers for a later (and much smaller) rally by the same people. So the rap of wildly inaccurate crowd numbers was indeed a fair rap.

And, sadly, over on the Left, the rap that President Obama (and his chief henchman Rahm Emanuel) throws his supporters under the proverbial bus at pretty much every opportunity was indeed a fair rap. Emanuel comes out of the Clinton White House, with all the “triangulation” that implies. This thinking goes somewhat like: “we’ve already got the Left, we can afford to piss them off, we just need to peel off enough centrists to get things done.” And, sadly (as I said) this is indeed a fair rap not just for Emanuel, but also for his boss.

The examples of this are almost too numerous to recall. On gay issues, on medical marijuana, on single-payer, on the public option, on anti-war types, on pro-choice, on immigration, on Wall Street over Main Street populism, on national security issues — the list is indeed a long one of things that Obama has either disappointed on, or simply kicked the can down the road (a telling statement: I am positive I have missed a few in that list…).

So the rap that the Left should be vary wary of Obama’s support, because he has a tendency to throw them under the bus, on pretty much any of their key issues, is indeed a fair one. Actually, it’s getting pretty crowded under this bus, now that I think about it… sigh.

 

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   Best Comeback

The list of nominees for this one was fairly long — Sarah Palin (for her book tour), Joe Lieberman (for being the most important senator for a few weeks recently), to perhaps even (from the other side) David Vitter. A good case could be made for “healthcare reform,” since the entire effort was all but pronounced dead by the punditocracy (also known as the “inside the Beltway” set) around August. And yet, even with a heavily compromised bill, the effort marches on.

But my choice for Best Comeback is Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina. Sanford was caught in a sex scandal (see next week’s category: Worst Political Scandal, for more) and the betting money was he’d either immediately resign, or be impeached and removed from office by his fellow Republicans. But when it came time to act, the state legislature did no more than slap Sanford on the wrist, and it is now clear he’ll serve the remaining time in his term.

[Insert your own "don't cry for me, Argentina" joke here... ahem.]

But for such a downright “Clintonian” performance, Sanford deserves Best Comeback of the year, I have to admit.

 

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   Most Original Thinker

This one is easy, although his name will likely be unfamiliar to you. Atul Gawande wrote a brilliant article on healthcare reform in The New Yorker at the beginning of June, which examined the way a few areas of the country delivered health services. He looked at areas that did it right (and were under the national average in costs), and areas that did it wrong (that were far over the national average), while both delivering similar results.

This article quickly became “must reading” for anyone in the White House, and was probably the most-quoted piece of writing in the entire debate. It was referenced uncountable times by politicians, and did more to influence policy-makers’ opinions than perhaps anything else this year.

For writing this article, Atul Gawande is the Most Original Thinker of the year. The article (like most New Yorker articles) is extremely long, but is definitely worth reading.

 

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   Most Stagnant Thinker

I have one group award here, and one special mention for an individual.

The group award: The Republican Party. The “Party of No.” The idea-less ideologues. No further explanation should be necessary, really.

And for individual cognitive stagnation, a special “Retro” Most Stagnant Thinker for Governor Rick Perry (and all the others), who opened the door to Texas (and other states) actually seceding from the Union — as if this was actually a valid political stance to take. Seriously, this throwback thinking from the 1860s goes beyond “stagnant,” to downright “antebellum.”

 

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   Best Photo Op

While Michelle Obama’s “Victory Garden” photo ops with Washington schoolchildren were endearing, and while Barack Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech was (in his own admission) nothing more than a glorified photo op; we tend to forget that 2009 also included last January.

And January 2009 saw two million people stand around for eight or nine hours in sub-zero temperatures just to watch the Inauguration of President Barack Obama.

No photo op in the successive eleven months even came close, I have to say.

 

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   Worst Photo Op

We’re adding this category to the McLaughlin canon, just because.

There were a few “worst photo op” candidates, sadly all from Obama, in one way or another. The most galling of these were the two (one in the spring, one quite recently) photo ops of “Obama talks tough to Wall Street bankers,” which produced exactly nothing in the way of tangible results.

And there was Obama bowing and being polite and overly-respectful (obsequious, even) to various world leaders. This is more symbolic than anything else, but I have to throw my lot in with the Obama-haters on this one (to my great chagrin and embarrassment). Because, I have to say, they’re right on this one. America was built on an idea. Part of this idea was that we’re all equal. This was a radical, radical idea for its time. And it meant that — unlike the nobility and royalty in Europe — no man would bow to our leader. He is not above us — he is one of us. Equal. The first among equals, to be sure, but still: just a citizen. So we neither bow nor curtsey to him. But the flip side is that he also bows to no foreign leader. We are most decidedly not subjects of anyone. All of us — individually and collectively — are just not “subjects.” Meaning we do not follow the protocol of royals. Like I said, both a minor issue, and a very major one. Such is the nature of diplomatic protocol. But Obama went too far in his efforts to reach out to the world, I have to conclude.

The third silly photo op was the whole “beer summit.” The less said about this episode the better, at this point.

But the real Worst Photo Op — which topped all of these in idiocy — was having Air Force One (actually, technically, it was not “Air Force One” at the time, since that designation is reserved for when the president is actually onboard the plane) buzz Manhattan in order to get a photo of it flying by the Statue Of Liberty. Guys, really, there’s this thing called “Photoshop,” y’know? And… um… 9/11?

Sigh. Nothing really came close to this visual screwup all year long. What were they thinking? Were they thinking? Apparently not.

 

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   Enough Already!

As usual, there’s a bunch of things which easily qualify for the “Enough Already!” award.

Here’s where we just start ranting without abandon.

Tiger Woods? Enough Already!

Balloon Boy’s parents? Enough Already!

Michael Jackson’s dead? Enough Already!

Gate-crashers at the White House? Enough Already!

Death panels? Enough Already!

Town hall screaming idiots? Enough Already!

Tea Parties? Enough Already!

Sarah Palin? Enough Already!

Obstructionist Corporatist Democrats? Enough Already!

But the actual award has to go to a parliamentary rule, and how it is being abused. Filibusters (and attendant Republican obstructionism)? Enough Already!

 

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   Worst Lie

My first inclination was to just give this to “everything the Tea Partiers and town hall idiots let fly from their pie-holes,” but then I thought a little more, and remembered this doozy:

Mark Sanford, explaining his absence from the state he was (and is) Executive Officer of (while he was really boinking his mistress down in South America) with the lamest lie of the entire year — that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail at the time. Further irony was heaped upon this, by the bare-naked fact that during the period he was maintaining this falsehood, there was a nationwide celebration of “Nude Hiking Day,” which must have included a few brave nudists hiking on that very same trail.

No other lie even came close, really, from Maine to Georgia (and in all other points of our great country, for that matter).

 

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   Capitalist Of The Year

This one’s fairly obvious, when you think about it.

President Obama did more to advance the interests of Wall Street, and by inference “capitalism in general” than anyone else this past year. From naming his economic team at the start of the year, to allowing them to have their way with his healthcare reform plan at the end of the year; Obama did what he was told to do by his advisors, and by Wall Street itself.

More in sorrow than in anger, we have to give Obama the Capitalist Of The Year award.

 

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   Honorable Mention

This is a lead-in category to the final one for this week, and is somewhat of a catchall for odds and ends not adequately covered by the other categories in the list.

In that spirit, I’d like to give Bill and Hillary Clinton an Honorable Mention here. The fear of bringing Hillary into Obama’s cabinet was that she had some baggage, and that this baggage was named “Bubba.” But Hillary has been more than competent in her job, and has done so without attempting once to steal the spotlight from her boss. And Bill must be on a very short leash indeed, because there simply have been no “Bimbo eruptions,” or other miscellaneous scandalous behavior (such as spotlight-stealing) from the Big Dog himself this year. For proving all the naysayers wrong, I give this extraordinary political couple the special mention they deserve.

And I have to say, it was a shame that Farrah Fawcett Majors died on the day that she did. Farrah was pretty much “Queen Sex Kitten Of The Universe” in the 1970s, with countless adolescent males discovering the joys of… um… a special type of self-love (that’s as far decency allows me to go)… whilst staring fixedly (and sweatedly) at this ubiquitous bathing suit poster (still, if I’m not mistaken, the best-selling poster of all time).

Farrah

Without the existence of this poster, for instance, Baywatch simply never would have occurred to anyone, later on. Farrah deserved better, on her grand exit from life’s stage, than being a footnote. Which is what she wound up as, since she unfortunately chose the same day to die as Michael Jackson. All the “Charlie’s Angel is now really an angel” prepared footage was woefully foreshortened and overshadowed by the final act in the circus known as the “King of Pop.” Which was sad, in a way, for Farrah. So we’re giving her an Honorable Mention, just for the smile she’s wearing in that iconic poster.

[Full disclosure: I'll have you know, I do not speak from experience, since as a young lad I personally lusted after Kate Jackson ("Sabrina," or the "brainy one"); but I saw that Farrah poster in more of my friends' bedrooms than I saw Led Zeppelin posters -- which, for the 1970s, is saying something indeed.]

 

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   Person Of The Year

While both Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid deserve a lot of credit they simply do not get from pixel-stained wretches (such as myself) for shepherding through a raft of small-bore (and large-bore, for that matter) legislation that does not receive media attention, nobody else in particular stood out this year as deserving of the “Person Of The Year” award.

Obama obviously had the chance to shine, and pick up this award as a matter of course. But, sadly, he didn’t. He fell short of the bar on any number of issues, and was simply not seen in Washington as driving the debate — rather (sadly) as a bystander to the debate who would occasionally yell something from the sidelines.

In all honesty, and with absolutely no tinge of suck-up-i-tude, I have to say that Arianna Huffington is right. The “Person Of The Year” this year was “The Lobbyist.” Here is her entire blog post on the subject:

This week, Time named Fed chair Ben Bernanke its Person of the Year. The magazine says its choice is “not an award,” but rather a recognition of the person who “most influenced the news during the past year — for good or for ill.” Based on that criterion, Time should, without a doubt, have picked Washington lobbyists — because no person or group was more influential in 2009. After an inspiring presidential campaign that promised to take on the special interests, the lobbyists flexed their muscles (and their wallets) and showed who really runs the show in DC. Lobbyists carried the day on health insurance reform, banking reform, financial reform, drug pricing, cramdown legislation, and credit card interest rates, to name just a few. And every time they won, the American people lost. It’s Time for a reshoot. The Lobbyists: The Real Persons of the Year.

Sad to say, I couldn’t agree with Arianna more this year.

Sigh.

 

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’s “Part 2″ of these awards, I wish you a Happy Holiday!

 

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground

 

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Chris Weigant: My 2009 "McLaughlin Awards" [Part 1]

December 26th, 2009 admin No comments

Welcome once again to our year-end wrapup and awards ceremony. Honesty dictates that I immediately genuflect to The McLaughlin Group, from whom I have stolen all these award categories. We will begin this week with Part 1 of these annual awards, and then next Friday on New Year’s Day, we will present Part 2, with reduced volume levels (for those who are nursing hangovers… ahem).

Before we begin, though, we have to insert a free plug, for another year-end awards column with a slightly different theme — awards for idiocy in the mainstream media (a subject near and dear to my own heart, I confess). Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting has their “2009 P.U.-Litzer Awards” up, and I heartily encourage everyone to read it as well, because it is excellent and well worth your time.

And, for comparison, it simply wouldn’t be Friday around here if I didn’t throw in a few plugs for my own columns, so if you’d like to peruse my McLaughlin Awards from years past, here are the previous three years’ worth:

[2008, Part 1] [2008, Part 2]
[2007, Part 1] [2007, Part 2]
[2006, Part 1] [2006, Part 2]

But enough of that — let’s get right to the awards themselves!

 

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   Biggest Winner of 2009

 

I have a history of taking these first two categories literally (Michael Phelps won this award last year, for instance). And there were two political wins last year which stood out, for separate reasons, so we’re going to hand out two Biggest Winner awards as a result.

The first, for “Biggest Deferred Win” goes to none other than Senator Al Franken, who had to wait until the end of June to be officially declared the winner in the Minnesota Senate race over Norm Coleman. Waiting eight months to be seated, on a razor-thin 314-vote margin, Al Franken certainly deserves some sort of award for his patience. Maybe I should call it the “Hardest-Fought Win” award, but whatever you call it, Senator Franken deserves a salute for becoming the 60th vote Democrats desperately needed in the Senate.

Over in the House, the “Most Impressive Winner” this year was none other than Representative Bill Owens, from the New York Twenty-Third Congressional District. Owens won a House seat that, when last held by a non-Republican, was a Whig — in the 1850s. This stunning upset was made possible by the “Tea Party” movement within the Republican Party, which so savaged Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava that she actually dropped out days before the election — and then endorsed the Democrat in the race. [Hundreds of television "journalists" immediately breathed a collective sigh of relief that they wouldn't have to learn how to pronounce "Scozzafava" correctly, as an indirect result.] Hopefully, we can all look forward to many more of these sorts of intra-party dogfights in 2010, but for his jaw-dropping upset, Bill Owens deserves to be named Biggest Winner this year.

 

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   Biggest Loser of 2009

My first inclination for Biggest Loser was “Progressives,” for obvious reasons. But then I thought about it, and Progressives may not be progressing as fast or as far as they thought they were going to under President Obama, but they certainly didn’t “lose” as much as they would have under President McCain. This is small consolation indeed, but “losing” isn’t just the absence of winning.

But, on a very closely-related and somewhat-overlapping theme, I’d have to award the Biggest Loser to the people pushing strongly for some version of the public option, Medicare-for-all, or single-payer healthcare reform.

Proponents of fundamental and bedrock change in America’s health delivery system lost. Big time. Although there is a small chance (measured as the length of time a roughly-packed spheroid of frozen dihydro-monoxide would survive in Hades) of some shred of one of these plans surviving in the House/Senate conference on the healthcare reform bill, I’m not exactly holding my breath.

So, to the millions and millions of people who wanted to actually reform our healthcare system, and are having to swallow the bitter pill of being thrown under a bus instead, we award the Biggest Loser of 2009, with sorrow.

 

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   Best Politician

This one is going to be a bit controversial, so allow me to explain up front. “Politician” can be either a neutral term or one loaded with negative connotations. But the best practitioner of politics this year was (surprise!) President Barack Obama.

Which pegs our definition somewhat towards the negative end of the scale. Obama was, to many, overcautious this year in flexing his political muscle, in using the mandate the voters gave him, and in spending political capital in general. All of which was true, to one extent or another.

But staying out of the sausage-making fray in Washington did exactly what President Obama intended — allowed him to swoop in at the end, and claim credit for the legislative victory. He did this most noticeably on the stimulus package and on healthcare reform. In both cases, he was never tarred with the brush of “defeat” on any particular facet of the legislation, and emerged at the end with virtually the exact same line: “I got 90 percent of what I wanted.”

Although this has frustrated a great many of his supporters no end, it (again) did exactly what Obama intended. So, tarnished as the term may be, Obama has to be seen as the Best Politician of the year for playing this political game on his own terms. I’m not exactly happy about it myself, but I have to give credit where credit is due.

 

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   Worst Politician

There are two names which pop instantly to mind in this category, but one of them is no longer in office, so we’re not sure he qualifies.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney showed the absolute worst traits a politician can — sour grapes — at pretty much every opportunity he could during 2009. You’d think he was gone for good (or, more accurately, for worse)… but then there he’d be, popping up on the television screen yet again, with his opinion of why Obama was sending this country straight to Hell, on the Handbasket Express. The fact that he was so bitterly wrong didn’t seem to deter the teevee shows from allowing him on whenever he felt the urge, even though he was so utterly irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

But, again, he’s out of office, and I simply don’t feel like giving the man an award for anything, personally, so we’ll skip over him quickly.

Now, there were plenty of examples of corporate-owned “Democrats” in Congress (most noticeably in the Senate) this year, for whom you could make a strong case of being the Worst Politician. But again, I take this category more literally.

Unquestionably the Worst Politician of the year was the titular leader of the Republican Party, Michael Steele. Steele was an embarrassment to his own party, pretty much every time he opened his mouth, and he provided his opponents with so many gleefully idiotic quips that it is impossible to accurately count them all. He was, for Lefties, the gift that just kept right on giving, over and over again. So, for embarrassing his own party while creating joy and delight for his opponents — while delivering absolutely no tangible political benefit whatsoever, either way — Steele is hereby awarded the Worst Politician.

 

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   Most Defining Political Moment

Because it is fresh in the mind, it’s tempting to say that the death of the public option in the healthcare reform debate was the Most Defining Political Moment of 2009.

But it really doesn’t qualify, because it didn’t define the debate so much as it did end it.

No, the truly Most Defining Political Moment this year was when Barack Obama named his economic team, and got them confirmed. This absolutely defined the first year of his presidency. Obama was stating loud and clear by his choices that he was going to be Wall Street’s best friend, and that nobody should expect any radical populism from him whatsoever.

This shaded the debate on so many things during the year that, by definition, it was indeed the Most Defining Political Moment.

 

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   Turncoat Of The Year

In an absolute upset, for the first time ever this award is not going to Senator Joe Lieberman, of the “Liebermans for Lieberman” party. Ol’ Joe has walked away with this award every year we’ve handed it out; but this year — even with a spectacular finish killing off every progressive notion of healthcare reform — Joe just didn’t measure up. Because he’s already turned his coat. He would really only be eligible this year if he had become the most liberal member of the Senate, which (as we are all aware) did not happen (see: previous statement on snowballs in Hell).

Towards the end of the year, we had a minor contender in the House, who changed parties from Democrat to Republican, but in the grand scheme of things this was fairly non-eventful, although it does deserve a mention here. Also worth pointing out was Olympia Snowe, who certainly didn’t make any friends in her own party by occasionally crossing the aisle to vote with Democrats. And John McCain, who has pivoted to the extreme right of his party so hard he is denouncing things he used to support (quite recently, in fact), in a naked attempt to get re-elected (see: comment on fratricidal Tea Party primary challengers).

But, although it has receded into memory for the most part, the true Turncoat Of The Year — in the most positive sense of the term you can imagine — is Senator Arlen Specter. Specter’s switch from the Republican Party to the Democrats is what made most of the rest of the year possible. Before Al Franken was seated, Specter was the one who made it possible for a 60-vote majority by his party switch. I can’t exactly cite him for courage in doing so, because he also swapped parties in a naked attempt to hold onto his seat, from (once again) a Tea-Party-type of primary challenger. But Specter is now facing a serious Democratic primary challenger next year, so it may have all been in vain for him to do so. But whether he gets booted out or retained by Pennsylvania voters next year; for this year, he is fondly awarded the Turncoat Of The Year.

 

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   Most Boring

There are three candidates from the Democratic side for Most Boring. Actually, now that I think about it, pretty much “The entire Republican leadership team in both houses of Congress” should also qualify as well (Mitch McConnell? Seriously? That’s all you’ve got? Wow.), but we’ll stick to the Democrats for the actual award here.

Just on stylistic points alone, Joe Lieberman and Harry Reid deserve special mention here. [Yawn!] Man, you see either of this characters on television, and your head just involuntarily starts nodding off. I mean, watching Lieberman speak is about as exciting as watching paint dry, and listening to a Harry Reid press conference is about as packed with thrills as watching an icicle melt.

I have to slap myself across the face to even keep awake when writing about them, I have to admit.

But continuing this year’s upside-down nature of how I am interpreting these categories, I am awarding this as a positive award. Because Barack Obama was without question the Most Boring this year. And I do mean that in a good way. The “no drama Obama” campaign theme continued right on into the White House, and Obama was cool and collected throughout a very intense year. Raging scorn was heaped upon him from the Left and from the Right (and from the media, in bucketfuls), and he somehow managed to stay above it all.

To the media, in particular, he stated over and over again that he was simply not interested in the “24-hour news cycle” where everything is about “winning the day’s story,” and feeding into whatever idiotic storyline the media is going apoplectic over that particular week. Obama kept the “long view” and he saw the “big picture” and — with only one notable exception (see, below: beer summit) — completely kept out of the snarling dogfight of daily political ups-and-downs, and trivial issues blown up into gargantuan proportions by bored media types with nothing better to report on. Actually that’s not true — there was plenty of better stuff to report on, but most of it was above the intelligence level of the so-called “journalists,” leaving them to squabble over meaningless sandbox issues.

For being this cheerfully boring in the face of such strident idiocy, Obama wins Most Boring — in the nicest possible way.

 

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   Most Charismatic

We’re going to hand out two of these awards, one for the House and one for the Senate. Al Franken is trying as hard as he knows how to stifle his inherently and genetically (one assumes) hilarious nature, and thus appear as serious as is humanly possible in his new career as a politician. But every so often, he gets that wry smile on his face and just can’t resist saying something amusing. This is a man who knows humor, and has a lighting-fast and razor-sharp sense of irony. To expect him to completely hide this light under a barrel is to ask too much of the man, and — for these cracks of brightness which shine through occasionally — we have to award him Most Charismatic in the Senate. No doubt this will be a disappointment to Franken, since, as I said, he’s trying mightily not to let any of it show. But Al sometimes just has to be Al, and for that we are eternally grateful. Once he grows into his role as senator, and once he feels confident of his state electorate’s support, we fully expect to see this side of him grow and mature; but, for now, we’ll take what we can get.

Over on the House side is Representative Alan Grayson. Now, Grayson has occasionally overstepped the boundaries of good taste during the year, but he can be forgiven these rookie errors when you look at the totality of how energetically (and charismatically) he has injected himself into some very important debates, and (by doing so) made some very important points — in plain, everyday, easy-to-understand language — that nobody else on the Democratic side seems capable of making. Grayson has proved, this year, that he is a man to watch in the future of Democratic politics, and for his vigorous and entertaining ways of putting things, he has indeed earned Most Charismatic of the year.

So the “Als” sweep the category this year! Congratulations to both Franken and Grayson are in order.

 

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   Bummest Rap

This category was chock full of bum raps this year, I am sorry to say.

Not only a bum rap, but also one of the stupidest raps I’ve ever witnessed in politics were the early complaints that President Obama relied upon his TelePrompTer too much. What a crock — as if every other politician dating back to Ronald Reagan (and even earlier) hadn’t used the same exact device for pretty much all their public speeches. Sheesh. I mean, it’s like complaining about Obama “using some newfangled personal computing device that seems to function much as a typewriter does,” or, even, “using that science-fictional device which some are calling ‘the telephone,’ instead staying in touch via the time-honored and known-to-be-reliable telegraph system.”

Sorry, my eyes were rolling so much there that I had to take a deep breath, and then re-focus on the page in front of me. Ahem.

Obama likewise got two other bum raps which were simply laughable — that he was some sort of pacifist peacenik, and that he had said he would never sign a bill with earmarks. The first was downright laughable, because every speech Obama has ever made on war — back to and including his initial denouncement of the Iraq invasion — references the fact that there are indeed “just wars,” and that Obama himself isn’t against all wars… just stupid ones. The earmarks thing was astounding, too, because it was a campaign promise made by his opponent! That’s right — John McCain was the one who foreswore all earmarks. And yet the brain-dead media kept hammering Obama about it, as if he were the one who had made such a promise. Once again: SHEESH!!

Joe Biden deserves a mention here, since he has never lived up (down?) to the “loose cannon” bad rap the media types (and, admittedly, late-night comedians) have delighted in all year. Sure, he’s made a misstatement or two (as any human being would), but he’s said simply nothing like what we were all led to expect from “journalists” (see: previous brain-dead comment). Also notable for “beating the rap” (as it were) was former President Bill Clinton, who has been remarkably quiet during his wife’s first year as Secretary of State.

But there were two raps which stood out as being sheer moose poop during this past year, and to these we give the actual Bummest Rap award. The first of these was Dick Cheney’s comments on President Obama’s “dithering” on Afghanistan. Obama took three months to make up his mind to send the second of his surges into Afghanistan (the media, in another bum rap, didn’t even credit Obama for the first one). But this absolutely ignores the fact that George W. Bush took exactly the same period of time when deciding on his surge into Iraq. Making Cheney a complete moose’s ass for suggesting Obama was somehow shirking his duty, and making this Bummest Rap number one for 2009.

Bummest Rap number two was pretty much everything the Republicans said about Sonia Sotomayor. Man, they threw everything at her but the kitchen sink, in a desperate effort to paint her as something she simply was not. None of it had the slightest effect, other than in the inane nature of the questions in her Senate hearing — all of which she absolutely hit out of the park in her answers. But the caricature painted of her by her opponents was one bum rap indeed.

 

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   Fairest Rap

Two fair raps stand out for me. The first was a trivial one — the rap that those claiming that “a million people” showed up for the Tea Party at the U.S. Capitol were, to be polite, talking through their hats. The photos showed a crowd of around 50,000 to 70,000 people. Now, as I admitted at the time, that’s a pretty impressive crowd for a demonstration in Washington. But the Righties were simply not seriously credible when they attempted to inflate the crowd size beyond all reason, with their claim that a million people (or two million, or three million…) showed up. This got even more embarassing when Fox used photos of this rally to try and boost numbers for a later (and much smaller) rally by the same people. So the rap of wildly inaccurate crowd numbers was indeed a fair rap.

And, sadly, over on the Left, the rap that President Obama (and his chief henchman Rahm Emanuel) throws his supporters under the proverbial bus at pretty much every opportunity was indeed a fair rap. Emanuel comes out of the Clinton White House, with all the “triangulation” that implies. This thinking goes somewhat like: “we’ve already got the Left, we can afford to piss them off, we just need to peel off enough centrists to get things done.” And, sadly (as I said) this is indeed a fair rap not just for Emanuel, but also for his boss.

The examples of this are almost too numerous to recall. On gay issues, on medical marijuana, on single-payer, on the public option, on anti-war types, on pro-choice, on immigration, on Wall Street over Main Street populism, on national security issues — the list is indeed a long one of things that Obama has either disappointed on, or simply kicked the can down the road (a telling statement: I am positive I have missed a few in that list…).

So the rap that the Left should be vary wary of Obama’s support, because he has a tendency to throw them under the bus, on pretty much any of their key issues, is indeed a fair one. Actually, it’s getting pretty crowded under this bus, now that I think about it… sigh.

 

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   Best Comeback

The list of nominees for this one was fairly long — Sarah Palin (for her book tour), Joe Lieberman (for being the most important senator for a few weeks recently), to perhaps even (from the other side) David Vitter. A good case could be made for “healthcare reform,” since the entire effort was all but pronounced dead by the punditocracy (also known as the “inside the Beltway” set) around August. And yet, even with a heavily compromised bill, the effort marches on.

But my choice for Best Comeback is Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina. Sanford was caught in a sex scandal (see next week’s category: Worst Political Scandal, for more) and the betting money was he’d either immediately resign, or be impeached and removed from office by his fellow Republicans. But when it came time to act, the state legislature did no more than slap Sanford on the wrist, and it is now clear he’ll serve the remaining time in his term.

[Insert your own "don't cry for me, Argentina" joke here... ahem.]

But for such a downright “Clintonian” performance, Sanford deserves Best Comeback of the year, I have to admit.

 

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   Most Original Thinker

This one is easy, although his name will likely be unfamiliar to you. Atul Gawande wrote a brilliant article on healthcare reform in The New Yorker at the beginning of June, which examined the way a few areas of the country delivered health services. He looked at areas that did it right (and were under the national average in costs), and areas that did it wrong (that were far over the national average), while both delivering similar results.

This article quickly became “must reading” for anyone in the White House, and was probably the most-quoted piece of writing in the entire debate. It was referenced uncountable times by politicians, and did more to influence policy-makers’ opinions than perhaps anything else this year.

For writing this article, Atul Gawande is the Most Original Thinker of the year. The article (like most New Yorker articles) is extremely long, but is definitely worth reading.

 

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   Most Stagnant Thinker

I have one group award here, and one special mention for an individual.

The group award: The Republican Party. The “Party of No.” The idea-less ideologues. No further explanation should be necessary, really.

And for individual cognitive stagnation, a special “Retro” Most Stagnant Thinker for Governor Rick Perry (and all the others), who opened the door to Texas (and other states) actually seceding from the Union — as if this was actually a valid political stance to take. Seriously, this throwback thinking from the 1860s goes beyond “stagnant,” to downright “antebellum.”

 

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   Best Photo Op

While Michelle Obama’s “Victory Garden” photo ops with Washington schoolchildren were endearing, and while Barack Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech was (in his own admission) nothing more than a glorified photo op; we tend to forget that 2009 also included last January.

And January 2009 saw two million people stand around for eight or nine hours in sub-zero temperatures just to watch the Inauguration of President Barack Obama.

No photo op in the successive eleven months even came close, I have to say.

 

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   Worst Photo Op

We’re adding this category to the McLaughlin canon, just because.

There were a few “worst photo op” candidates, sadly all from Obama, in one way or another. The most galling of these were the two (one in the spring, one quite recently) photo ops of “Obama talks tough to Wall Street bankers,” which produced exactly nothing in the way of tangible results.

And there was Obama bowing and being polite and overly-respectful (obsequious, even) to various world leaders. This is more symbolic than anything else, but I have to throw my lot in with the Obama-haters on this one (to my great chagrin and embarrassment). Because, I have to say, they’re right on this one. America was built on an idea. Part of this idea was that we’re all equal. This was a radical, radical idea for its time. And it meant that — unlike the nobility and royalty in Europe — no man would bow to our leader. He is not above us — he is one of us. Equal. The first among equals, to be sure, but still: just a citizen. So we neither bow nor curtsey to him. But the flip side is that he also bows to no foreign leader. We are most decidedly not subjects of anyone. All of us — individually and collectively — are just not “subjects.” Meaning we do not follow the protocol of royals. Like I said, both a minor issue, and a very major one. Such is the nature of diplomatic protocol. But Obama went too far in his efforts to reach out to the world, I have to conclude.

The third silly photo op was the whole “beer summit.” The less said about this episode the better, at this point.

But the real Worst Photo Op — which topped all of these in idiocy — was having Air Force One (actually, technically, it was not “Air Force One” at the time, since that designation is reserved for when the president is actually onboard the plane) buzz Manhattan in order to get a photo of it flying by the Statue Of Liberty. Guys, really, there’s this thing called “Photoshop,” y’know? And… um… 9/11?

Sigh. Nothing really came close to this visual screwup all year long. What were they thinking? Were they thinking? Apparently not.

 

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   Enough Already!

As usual, there’s a bunch of things which easily qualify for the “Enough Already!” award.

Here’s where we just start ranting without abandon.

Tiger Woods? Enough Already!

Balloon Boy’s parents? Enough Already!

Michael Jackson’s dead? Enough Already!

Gate-crashers at the White House? Enough Already!

Death panels? Enough Already!

Town hall screaming idiots? Enough Already!

Tea Parties? Enough Already!

Sarah Palin? Enough Already!

Obstructionist Corporatist Democrats? Enough Already!

But the actual award has to go to a parliamentary rule, and how it is being abused. Filibusters (and attendant Republican obstructionism)? Enough Already!

 

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   Worst Lie

My first inclination was to just give this to “everything the Tea Partiers and town hall idiots let fly from their pie-holes,” but then I thought a little more, and remembered this doozy:

Mark Sanford, explaining his absence from the state he was (and is) Executive Officer of (while he was really boinking his mistress down in South America) with the lamest lie of the entire year — that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail at the time. Further irony was heaped upon this, by the bare-naked fact that during the period he was maintaining this falsehood, there was a nationwide celebration of “Nude Hiking Day,” which must have included a few brave nudists hiking on that very same trail.

No other lie even came close, really, from Maine to Georgia (and in all other points of our great country, for that matter).

 

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   Capitalist Of The Year

This one’s fairly obvious, when you think about it.

President Obama did more to advance the interests of Wall Street, and by inference “capitalism in general” than anyone else this past year. From naming his economic team at the start of the year, to allowing them to have their way with his healthcare reform plan at the end of the year; Obama did what he was told to do by his advisors, and by Wall Street itself.

More in sorrow than in anger, we have to give Obama the Capitalist Of The Year award.

 

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   Honorable Mention

This is a lead-in category to the final one for this week, and is somewhat of a catchall for odds and ends not adequately covered by the other categories in the list.

In that spirit, I’d like to give Bill and Hillary Clinton an Honorable Mention here. The fear of bringing Hillary into Obama’s cabinet was that she had some baggage, and that this baggage was named “Bubba.” But Hillary has been more than competent in her job, and has done so without attempting once to steal the spotlight from her boss. And Bill must be on a very short leash indeed, because there simply have been no “Bimbo eruptions,” or other miscellaneous scandalous behavior (such as spotlight-stealing) from the Big Dog himself this year. For proving all the naysayers wrong, I give this extraordinary political couple the special mention they deserve.

And I have to say, it was a shame that Farrah Fawcett Majors died on the day that she did. Farrah was pretty much “Queen Sex Kitten Of The Universe” in the 1970s, with countless adolescent males discovering the joys of… um… a special type of self-love (that’s as far decency allows me to go)… whilst staring fixedly (and sweatedly) at this ubiquitous bathing suit poster (still, if I’m not mistaken, the best-selling poster of all time).

Farrah

Without the existence of this poster, for instance, Baywatch simply never would have occurred to anyone, later on. Farrah deserved better, on her grand exit from life’s stage, than being a footnote. Which is what she wound up as, since she unfortunately chose the same day to die as Michael Jackson. All the “Charlie’s Angel is now really an angel” prepared footage was woefully foreshortened and overshadowed by the final act in the circus known as the “King of Pop.” Which was sad, in a way, for Farrah. So we’re giving her an Honorable Mention, just for the smile she’s wearing in that iconic poster.

[Full disclosure: I'll have you know, I do not speak from experience, since as a young lad I personally lusted after Kate Jackson ("Sabrina," or the "brainy one"); but I saw that Farrah poster in more of my friends' bedrooms than I saw Led Zeppelin posters -- which, for the 1970s, is saying something indeed.]

 

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   Person Of The Year

While both Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid deserve a lot of credit they simply do not get from pixel-stained wretches (such as myself) for shepherding through a raft of small-bore (and large-bore, for that matter) legislation that does not receive media attention, nobody else in particular stood out this year as deserving of the “Person Of The Year” award.

Obama obviously had the chance to shine, and pick up this award as a matter of course. But, sadly, he didn’t. He fell short of the bar on any number of issues, and was simply not seen in Washington as driving the debate — rather (sadly) as a bystander to the debate who would occasionally yell something from the sidelines.

In all honesty, and with absolutely no tinge of suck-up-i-tude, I have to say that Arianna Huffington is right. The “Person Of The Year” this year was “The Lobbyist.” Here is her entire blog post on the subject:

This week, Time named Fed chair Ben Bernanke its Person of the Year. The magazine says its choice is “not an award,” but rather a recognition of the person who “most influenced the news during the past year — for good or for ill.” Based on that criterion, Time should, without a doubt, have picked Washington lobbyists — because no person or group was more influential in 2009. After an inspiring presidential campaign that promised to take on the special interests, the lobbyists flexed their muscles (and their wallets) and showed who really runs the show in DC. Lobbyists carried the day on health insurance reform, banking reform, financial reform, drug pricing, cramdown legislation, and credit card interest rates, to name just a few. And every time they won, the American people lost. It’s Time for a reshoot. The Lobbyists: The Real Persons of the Year.

Sad to say, I couldn’t agree with Arianna more this year.

Sigh.

 

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’s “Part 2″ of these awards, I wish you a Happy Holiday!

 

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground

 

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Chris Weigant: My 2009 "McLaughlin Awards" [Part 1]

December 26th, 2009 admin No comments

Welcome once again to our year-end wrapup and awards ceremony. Honesty dictates that I immediately genuflect to The McLaughlin Group, from whom I have stolen all these award categories. We will begin this week with Part 1 of these annual awards, and then next Friday on New Year’s Day, we will present Part 2, with reduced volume levels (for those who are nursing hangovers… ahem).

Before we begin, though, we have to insert a free plug, for another year-end awards column with a slightly different theme — awards for idiocy in the mainstream media (a subject near and dear to my own heart, I confess). Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting has their “2009 P.U.-Litzer Awards” up, and I heartily encourage everyone to read it as well, because it is excellent and well worth your time.

And, for comparison, it simply wouldn’t be Friday around here if I didn’t throw in a few plugs for my own columns, so if you’d like to peruse my McLaughlin Awards from years past, here are the previous three years’ worth:

[2008, Part 1] [2008, Part 2]
[2007, Part 1] [2007, Part 2]
[2006, Part 1] [2006, Part 2]

But enough of that — let’s get right to the awards themselves!

 

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   Biggest Winner of 2009

 

I have a history of taking these first two categories literally (Michael Phelps won this award last year, for instance). And there were two political wins last year which stood out, for separate reasons, so we’re going to hand out two Biggest Winner awards as a result.

The first, for “Biggest Deferred Win” goes to none other than Senator Al Franken, who had to wait until the end of June to be officially declared the winner in the Minnesota Senate race over Norm Coleman. Waiting eight months to be seated, on a razor-thin 314-vote margin, Al Franken certainly deserves some sort of award for his patience. Maybe I should call it the “Hardest-Fought Win” award, but whatever you call it, Senator Franken deserves a salute for becoming the 60th vote Democrats desperately needed in the Senate.

Over in the House, the “Most Impressive Winner” this year was none other than Representative Bill Owens, from the New York Twenty-Third Congressional District. Owens won a House seat that, when last held by a non-Republican, was a Whig — in the 1850s. This stunning upset was made possible by the “Tea Party” movement within the Republican Party, which so savaged Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava that she actually dropped out days before the election — and then endorsed the Democrat in the race. [Hundreds of television "journalists" immediately breathed a collective sigh of relief that they wouldn't have to learn how to pronounce "Scozzafava" correctly, as an indirect result.] Hopefully, we can all look forward to many more of these sorts of intra-party dogfights in 2010, but for his jaw-dropping upset, Bill Owens deserves to be named Biggest Winner this year.

 

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   Biggest Loser of 2009

My first inclination for Biggest Loser was “Progressives,” for obvious reasons. But then I thought about it, and Progressives may not be progressing as fast or as far as they thought they were going to under President Obama, but they certainly didn’t “lose” as much as they would have under President McCain. This is small consolation indeed, but “losing” isn’t just the absence of winning.

But, on a very closely-related and somewhat-overlapping theme, I’d have to award the Biggest Loser to the people pushing strongly for some version of the public option, Medicare-for-all, or single-payer healthcare reform.

Proponents of fundamental and bedrock change in America’s health delivery system lost. Big time. Although there is a small chance (measured as the length of time a roughly-packed spheroid of frozen dihydro-monoxide would survive in Hades) of some shred of one of these plans surviving in the House/Senate conference on the healthcare reform bill, I’m not exactly holding my breath.

So, to the millions and millions of people who wanted to actually reform our healthcare system, and are having to swallow the bitter pill of being thrown under a bus instead, we award the Biggest Loser of 2009, with sorrow.

 

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   Best Politician

This one is going to be a bit controversial, so allow me to explain up front. “Politician” can be either a neutral term or one loaded with negative connotations. But the best practitioner of politics this year was (surprise!) President Barack Obama.

Which pegs our definition somewhat towards the negative end of the scale. Obama was, to many, overcautious this year in flexing his political muscle, in using the mandate the voters gave him, and in spending political capital in general. All of which was true, to one extent or another.

But staying out of the sausage-making fray in Washington did exactly what President Obama intended — allowed him to swoop in at the end, and claim credit for the legislative victory. He did this most noticeably on the stimulus package and on healthcare reform. In both cases, he was never tarred with the brush of “defeat” on any particular facet of the legislation, and emerged at the end with virtually the exact same line: “I got 90 percent of what I wanted.”

Although this has frustrated a great many of his supporters no end, it (again) did exactly what Obama intended. So, tarnished as the term may be, Obama has to be seen as the Best Politician of the year for playing this political game on his own terms. I’m not exactly happy about it myself, but I have to give credit where credit is due.

 

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   Worst Politician

There are two names which pop instantly to mind in this category, but one of them is no longer in office, so we’re not sure he qualifies.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney showed the absolute worst traits a politician can — sour grapes — at pretty much every opportunity he could during 2009. You’d think he was gone for good (or, more accurately, for worse)… but then there he’d be, popping up on the television screen yet again, with his opinion of why Obama was sending this country straight to Hell, on the Handbasket Express. The fact that he was so bitterly wrong didn’t seem to deter the teevee shows from allowing him on whenever he felt the urge, even though he was so utterly irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

But, again, he’s out of office, and I simply don’t feel like giving the man an award for anything, personally, so we’ll skip over him quickly.

Now, there were plenty of examples of corporate-owned “Democrats” in Congress (most noticeably in the Senate) this year, for whom you could make a strong case of being the Worst Politician. But again, I take this category more literally.

Unquestionably the Worst Politician of the year was the titular leader of the Republican Party, Michael Steele. Steele was an embarrassment to his own party, pretty much every time he opened his mouth, and he provided his opponents with so many gleefully idiotic quips that it is impossible to accurately count them all. He was, for Lefties, the gift that just kept right on giving, over and over again. So, for embarrassing his own party while creating joy and delight for his opponents — while delivering absolutely no tangible political benefit whatsoever, either way — Steele is hereby awarded the Worst Politician.

 

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   Most Defining Political Moment

Because it is fresh in the mind, it’s tempting to say that the death of the public option in the healthcare reform debate was the Most Defining Political Moment of 2009.

But it really doesn’t qualify, because it didn’t define the debate so much as it did end it.

No, the truly Most Defining Political Moment this year was when Barack Obama named his economic team, and got them confirmed. This absolutely defined the first year of his presidency. Obama was stating loud and clear by his choices that he was going to be Wall Street’s best friend, and that nobody should expect any radical populism from him whatsoever.

This shaded the debate on so many things during the year that, by definition, it was indeed the Most Defining Political Moment.

 

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   Turncoat Of The Year

In an absolute upset, for the first time ever this award is not going to Senator Joe Lieberman, of the “Liebermans for Lieberman” party. Ol’ Joe has walked away with this award every year we’ve handed it out; but this year — even with a spectacular finish killing off every progressive notion of healthcare reform — Joe just didn’t measure up. Because he’s already turned his coat. He would really only be eligible this year if he had become the most liberal member of the Senate, which (as we are all aware) did not happen (see: previous statement on snowballs in Hell).

Towards the end of the year, we had a minor contender in the House, who changed parties from Democrat to Republican, but in the grand scheme of things this was fairly non-eventful, although it does deserve a mention here. Also worth pointing out was Olympia Snowe, who certainly didn’t make any friends in her own party by occasionally crossing the aisle to vote with Democrats. And John McCain, who has pivoted to the extreme right of his party so hard he is denouncing things he used to support (quite recently, in fact), in a naked attempt to get re-elected (see: comment on fratricidal Tea Party primary challengers).

But, although it has receded into memory for the most part, the true Turncoat Of The Year — in the most positive sense of the term you can imagine — is Senator Arlen Specter. Specter’s switch from the Republican Party to the Democrats is what made most of the rest of the year possible. Before Al Franken was seated, Specter was the one who made it possible for a 60-vote majority by his party switch. I can’t exactly cite him for courage in doing so, because he also swapped parties in a naked attempt to hold onto his seat, from (once again) a Tea-Party-type of primary challenger. But Specter is now facing a serious Democratic primary challenger next year, so it may have all been in vain for him to do so. But whether he gets booted out or retained by Pennsylvania voters next year; for this year, he is fondly awarded the Turncoat Of The Year.

 

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   Most Boring

There are three candidates from the Democratic side for Most Boring. Actually, now that I think about it, pretty much “The entire Republican leadership team in both houses of Congress” should also qualify as well (Mitch McConnell? Seriously? That’s all you’ve got? Wow.), but we’ll stick to the Democrats for the actual award here.

Just on stylistic points alone, Joe Lieberman and Harry Reid deserve special mention here. [Yawn!] Man, you see either of this characters on television, and your head just involuntarily starts nodding off. I mean, watching Lieberman speak is about as exciting as watching paint dry, and listening to a Harry Reid press conference is about as packed with thrills as watching an icicle melt.

I have to slap myself across the face to even keep awake when writing about them, I have to admit.

But continuing this year’s upside-down nature of how I am interpreting these categories, I am awarding this as a positive award. Because Barack Obama was without question the Most Boring this year. And I do mean that in a good way. The “no drama Obama” campaign theme continued right on into the White House, and Obama was cool and collected throughout a very intense year. Raging scorn was heaped upon him from the Left and from the Right (and from the media, in bucketfuls), and he somehow managed to stay above it all.

To the media, in particular, he stated over and over again that he was simply not interested in the “24-hour news cycle” where everything is about “winning the day’s story,” and feeding into whatever idiotic storyline the media is going apoplectic over that particular week. Obama kept the “long view” and he saw the “big picture” and — with only one notable exception (see, below: beer summit) — completely kept out of the snarling dogfight of daily political ups-and-downs, and trivial issues blown up into gargantuan proportions by bored media types with nothing better to report on. Actually that’s not true — there was plenty of better stuff to report on, but most of it was above the intelligence level of the so-called “journalists,” leaving them to squabble over meaningless sandbox issues.

For being this cheerfully boring in the face of such strident idiocy, Obama wins Most Boring — in the nicest possible way.

 

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   Most Charismatic

We’re going to hand out two of these awards, one for the House and one for the Senate. Al Franken is trying as hard as he knows how to stifle his inherently and genetically (one assumes) hilarious nature, and thus appear as serious as is humanly possible in his new career as a politician. But every so often, he gets that wry smile on his face and just can’t resist saying something amusing. This is a man who knows humor, and has a lighting-fast and razor-sharp sense of irony. To expect him to completely hide this light under a barrel is to ask too much of the man, and — for these cracks of brightness which shine through occasionally — we have to award him Most Charismatic in the Senate. No doubt this will be a disappointment to Franken, since, as I said, he’s trying mightily not to let any of it show. But Al sometimes just has to be Al, and for that we are eternally grateful. Once he grows into his role as senator, and once he feels confident of his state electorate’s support, we fully expect to see this side of him grow and mature; but, for now, we’ll take what we can get.

Over on the House side is Representative Alan Grayson. Now, Grayson has occasionally overstepped the boundaries of good taste during the year, but he can be forgiven these rookie errors when you look at the totality of how energetically (and charismatically) he has injected himself into some very important debates, and (by doing so) made some very important points — in plain, everyday, easy-to-understand language — that nobody else on the Democratic side seems capable of making. Grayson has proved, this year, that he is a man to watch in the future of Democratic politics, and for his vigorous and entertaining ways of putting things, he has indeed earned Most Charismatic of the year.

So the “Als” sweep the category this year! Congratulations to both Franken and Grayson are in order.

 

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   Bummest Rap

This category was chock full of bum raps this year, I am sorry to say.

Not only a bum rap, but also one of the stupidest raps I’ve ever witnessed in politics were the early complaints that President Obama relied upon his TelePrompTer too much. What a crock — as if every other politician dating back to Ronald Reagan (and even earlier) hadn’t used the same exact device for pretty much all their public speeches. Sheesh. I mean, it’s like complaining about Obama “using some newfangled personal computing device that seems to function much as a typewriter does,” or, even, “using that science-fictional device which some are calling ‘the telephone,’ instead staying in touch via the time-honored and known-to-be-reliable telegraph system.”

Sorry, my eyes were rolling so much there that I had to take a deep breath, and then re-focus on the page in front of me. Ahem.

Obama likewise got two other bum raps which were simply laughable — that he was some sort of pacifist peacenik, and that he had said he would never sign a bill with earmarks. The first was downright laughable, because every speech Obama has ever made on war — back to and including his initial denouncement of the Iraq invasion — references the fact that there are indeed “just wars,” and that Obama himself isn’t against all wars… just stupid ones. The earmarks thing was astounding, too, because it was a campaign promise made by his opponent! That’s right — John McCain was the one who foreswore all earmarks. And yet the brain-dead media kept hammering Obama about it, as if he were the one who had made such a promise. Once again: SHEESH!!

Joe Biden deserves a mention here, since he has never lived up (down?) to the “loose cannon” bad rap the media types (and, admittedly, late-night comedians) have delighted in all year. Sure, he’s made a misstatement or two (as any human being would), but he’s said simply nothing like what we were all led to expect from “journalists” (see: previous brain-dead comment). Also notable for “beating the rap” (as it were) was former President Bill Clinton, who has been remarkably quiet during his wife’s first year as Secretary of State.

But there were two raps which stood out as being sheer moose poop during this past year, and to these we give the actual Bummest Rap award. The first of these was Dick Cheney’s comments on President Obama’s “dithering” on Afghanistan. Obama took three months to make up his mind to send the second of his surges into Afghanistan (the media, in another bum rap, didn’t even credit Obama for the first one). But this absolutely ignores the fact that George W. Bush took exactly the same period of time when deciding on his surge into Iraq. Making Cheney a complete moose’s ass for suggesting Obama was somehow shirking his duty, and making this Bummest Rap number one for 2009.

Bummest Rap number two was pretty much everything the Republicans said about Sonia Sotomayor. Man, they threw everything at her but the kitchen sink, in a desperate effort to paint her as something she simply was not. None of it had the slightest effect, other than in the inane nature of the questions in her Senate hearing — all of which she absolutely hit out of the park in her answers. But the caricature painted of her by her opponents was one bum rap indeed.

 

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   Fairest Rap

Two fair raps stand out for me. The first was a trivial one — the rap that those claiming that “a million people” showed up for the Tea Party at the U.S. Capitol were, to be polite, talking through their hats. The photos showed a crowd of around 50,000 to 70,000 people. Now, as I admitted at the time, that’s a pretty impressive crowd for a demonstration in Washington. But the Righties were simply not seriously credible when they attempted to inflate the crowd size beyond all reason, with their claim that a million people (or two million, or three million…) showed up. This got even more embarassing when Fox used photos of this rally to try and boost numbers for a later (and much smaller) rally by the same people. So the rap of wildly inaccurate crowd numbers was indeed a fair rap.

And, sadly, over on the Left, the rap that President Obama (and his chief henchman Rahm Emanuel) throws his supporters under the proverbial bus at pretty much every opportunity was indeed a fair rap. Emanuel comes out of the Clinton White House, with all the “triangulation” that implies. This thinking goes somewhat like: “we’ve already got the Left, we can afford to piss them off, we just need to peel off enough centrists to get things done.” And, sadly (as I said) this is indeed a fair rap not just for Emanuel, but also for his boss.

The examples of this are almost too numerous to recall. On gay issues, on medical marijuana, on single-payer, on the public option, on anti-war types, on pro-choice, on immigration, on Wall Street over Main Street populism, on national security issues — the list is indeed a long one of things that Obama has either disappointed on, or simply kicked the can down the road (a telling statement: I am positive I have missed a few in that list…).

So the rap that the Left should be vary wary of Obama’s support, because he has a tendency to throw them under the bus, on pretty much any of their key issues, is indeed a fair one. Actually, it’s getting pretty crowded under this bus, now that I think about it… sigh.

 

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   Best Comeback

The list of nominees for this one was fairly long — Sarah Palin (for her book tour), Joe Lieberman (for being the most important senator for a few weeks recently), to perhaps even (from the other side) David Vitter. A good case could be made for “healthcare reform,” since the entire effort was all but pronounced dead by the punditocracy (also known as the “inside the Beltway” set) around August. And yet, even with a heavily compromised bill, the effort marches on.

But my choice for Best Comeback is Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina. Sanford was caught in a sex scandal (see next week’s category: Worst Political Scandal, for more) and the betting money was he’d either immediately resign, or be impeached and removed from office by his fellow Republicans. But when it came time to act, the state legislature did no more than slap Sanford on the wrist, and it is now clear he’ll serve the remaining time in his term.

[Insert your own "don't cry for me, Argentina" joke here... ahem.]

But for such a downright “Clintonian” performance, Sanford deserves Best Comeback of the year, I have to admit.

 

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   Most Original Thinker

This one is easy, although his name will likely be unfamiliar to you. Atul Gawande wrote a brilliant article on healthcare reform in The New Yorker at the beginning of June, which examined the way a few areas of the country delivered health services. He looked at areas that did it right (and were under the national average in costs), and areas that did it wrong (that were far over the national average), while both delivering similar results.

This article quickly became “must reading” for anyone in the White House, and was probably the most-quoted piece of writing in the entire debate. It was referenced uncountable times by politicians, and did more to influence policy-makers’ opinions than perhaps anything else this year.

For writing this article, Atul Gawande is the Most Original Thinker of the year. The article (like most New Yorker articles) is extremely long, but is definitely worth reading.

 

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   Most Stagnant Thinker

I have one group award here, and one special mention for an individual.

The group award: The Republican Party. The “Party of No.” The idea-less ideologues. No further explanation should be necessary, really.

And for individual cognitive stagnation, a special “Retro” Most Stagnant Thinker for Governor Rick Perry (and all the others), who opened the door to Texas (and other states) actually seceding from the Union — as if this was actually a valid political stance to take. Seriously, this throwback thinking from the 1860s goes beyond “stagnant,” to downright “antebellum.”

 

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   Best Photo Op

While Michelle Obama’s “Victory Garden” photo ops with Washington schoolchildren were endearing, and while Barack Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech was (in his own admission) nothing more than a glorified photo op; we tend to forget that 2009 also included last January.

And January 2009 saw two million people stand around for eight or nine hours in sub-zero temperatures just to watch the Inauguration of President Barack Obama.

No photo op in the successive eleven months even came close, I have to say.

 

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   Worst Photo Op

We’re adding this category to the McLaughlin canon, just because.

There were a few “worst photo op” candidates, sadly all from Obama, in one way or another. The most galling of these were the two (one in the spring, one quite recently) photo ops of “Obama talks tough to Wall Street bankers,” which produced exactly nothing in the way of tangible results.

And there was Obama bowing and being polite and overly-respectful (obsequious, even) to various world leaders. This is more symbolic than anything else, but I have to throw my lot in with the Obama-haters on this one (to my great chagrin and embarrassment). Because, I have to say, they’re right on this one. America was built on an idea. Part of this idea was that we’re all equal. This was a radical, radical idea for its time. And it meant that — unlike the nobility and royalty in Europe — no man would bow to our leader. He is not above us — he is one of us. Equal. The first among equals, to be sure, but still: just a citizen. So we neither bow nor curtsey to him. But the flip side is that he also bows to no foreign leader. We are most decidedly not subjects of anyone. All of us — individually and collectively — are just not “subjects.” Meaning we do not follow the protocol of royals. Like I said, both a minor issue, and a very major one. Such is the nature of diplomatic protocol. But Obama went too far in his efforts to reach out to the world, I have to conclude.

The third silly photo op was the whole “beer summit.” The less said about this episode the better, at this point.

But the real Worst Photo Op — which topped all of these in idiocy — was having Air Force One (actually, technically, it was not “Air Force One” at the time, since that designation is reserved for when the president is actually onboard the plane) buzz Manhattan in order to get a photo of it flying by the Statue Of Liberty. Guys, really, there’s this thing called “Photoshop,” y’know? And… um… 9/11?

Sigh. Nothing really came close to this visual screwup all year long. What were they thinking? Were they thinking? Apparently not.

 

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   Enough Already!

As usual, there’s a bunch of things which easily qualify for the “Enough Already!” award.

Here’s where we just start ranting without abandon.

Tiger Woods? Enough Already!

Balloon Boy’s parents? Enough Already!

Michael Jackson’s dead? Enough Already!

Gate-crashers at the White House? Enough Already!

Death panels? Enough Already!

Town hall screaming idiots? Enough Already!

Tea Parties? Enough Already!

Sarah Palin? Enough Already!

Obstructionist Corporatist Democrats? Enough Already!

But the actual award has to go to a parliamentary rule, and how it is being abused. Filibusters (and attendant Republican obstructionism)? Enough Already!

 

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   Worst Lie

My first inclination was to just give this to “everything the Tea Partiers and town hall idiots let fly from their pie-holes,” but then I thought a little more, and remembered this doozy:

Mark Sanford, explaining his absence from the state he was (and is) Executive Officer of (while he was really boinking his mistress down in South America) with the lamest lie of the entire year — that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail at the time. Further irony was heaped upon this, by the bare-naked fact that during the period he was maintaining this falsehood, there was a nationwide celebration of “Nude Hiking Day,” which must have included a few brave nudists hiking on that very same trail.

No other lie even came close, really, from Maine to Georgia (and in all other points of our great country, for that matter).

 

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   Capitalist Of The Year

This one’s fairly obvious, when you think about it.

President Obama did more to advance the interests of Wall Street, and by inference “capitalism in general” than anyone else this past year. From naming his economic team at the start of the year, to allowing them to have their way with his healthcare reform plan at the end of the year; Obama did what he was told to do by his advisors, and by Wall Street itself.

More in sorrow than in anger, we have to give Obama the Capitalist Of The Year award.

 

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   Honorable Mention

This is a lead-in category to the final one for this week, and is somewhat of a catchall for odds and ends not adequately covered by the other categories in the list.

In that spirit, I’d like to give Bill and Hillary Clinton an Honorable Mention here. The fear of bringing Hillary into Obama’s cabinet was that she had some baggage, and that this baggage was named “Bubba.” But Hillary has been more than competent in her job, and has done so without attempting once to steal the spotlight from her boss. And Bill must be on a very short leash indeed, because there simply have been no “Bimbo eruptions,” or other miscellaneous scandalous behavior (such as spotlight-stealing) from the Big Dog himself this year. For proving all the naysayers wrong, I give this extraordinary political couple the special mention they deserve.

And I have to say, it was a shame that Farrah Fawcett Majors died on the day that she did. Farrah was pretty much “Queen Sex Kitten Of The Universe” in the 1970s, with countless adolescent males discovering the joys of… um… a special type of self-love (that’s as far decency allows me to go)… whilst staring fixedly (and sweatedly) at this ubiquitous bathing suit poster (still, if I’m not mistaken, the best-selling poster of all time).

Farrah

Without the existence of this poster, for instance, Baywatch simply never would have occurred to anyone, later on. Farrah deserved better, on her grand exit from life’s stage, than being a footnote. Which is what she wound up as, since she unfortunately chose the same day to die as Michael Jackson. All the “Charlie’s Angel is now really an angel” prepared footage was woefully foreshortened and overshadowed by the final act in the circus known as the “King of Pop.” Which was sad, in a way, for Farrah. So we’re giving her an Honorable Mention, just for the smile she’s wearing in that iconic poster.

[Full disclosure: I'll have you know, I do not speak from experience, since as a young lad I personally lusted after Kate Jackson ("Sabrina," or the "brainy one"); but I saw that Farrah poster in more of my friends' bedrooms than I saw Led Zeppelin posters -- which, for the 1970s, is saying something indeed.]

 

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   Person Of The Year

While both Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid deserve a lot of credit they simply do not get from pixel-stained wretches (such as myself) for shepherding through a raft of small-bore (and large-bore, for that matter) legislation that does not receive media attention, nobody else in particular stood out this year as deserving of the “Person Of The Year” award.

Obama obviously had the chance to shine, and pick up this award as a matter of course. But, sadly, he didn’t. He fell short of the bar on any number of issues, and was simply not seen in Washington as driving the debate — rather (sadly) as a bystander to the debate who would occasionally yell something from the sidelines.

In all honesty, and with absolutely no tinge of suck-up-i-tude, I have to say that Arianna Huffington is right. The “Person Of The Year” this year was “The Lobbyist.” Here is her entire blog post on the subject:

This week, Time named Fed chair Ben Bernanke its Person of the Year. The magazine says its choice is “not an award,” but rather a recognition of the person who “most influenced the news during the past year — for good or for ill.” Based on that criterion, Time should, without a doubt, have picked Washington lobbyists — because no person or group was more influential in 2009. After an inspiring presidential campaign that promised to take on the special interests, the lobbyists flexed their muscles (and their wallets) and showed who really runs the show in DC. Lobbyists carried the day on health insurance reform, banking reform, financial reform, drug pricing, cramdown legislation, and credit card interest rates, to name just a few. And every time they won, the American people lost. It’s Time for a reshoot. The Lobbyists: The Real Persons of the Year.

Sad to say, I couldn’t agree with Arianna more this year.

Sigh.

 

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’s “Part 2″ of these awards, I wish you a Happy Holiday!

 

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground

 

More on Afghanistan


Charlie Sheen Arrested, Spends Christmas In Jail

December 26th, 2009 admin No comments

ASPEN, Colo. — Charlie Sheen was arrested Friday in the Colorado resort town of Aspen on charges related to domestic violence, police said.

The star of CBS’ “Two and a Half Men” was taken into custody on suspicion of second-degree assault and menacing, both felonies, along with criminal mischief, a misdemeanor, Aspen police spokeswoman Stephanie Dasaro said.

Police arrested the 44-year-old actor after responding to a 911 call regarding a report of domestic violence at 8:34 a.m. at a historic house up for sale for $7.5 million. The alleged victim in the case, whose name was withheld, did not have to be taken to the hospital, police said.

Police said Sheen will be held without bond until his first court appearance in this ski resort town about 200 miles west of Denver. The court was closed for Christmas, and no date for his appearance has been set.

Jail officials said Sheen wasn’t available to comment. After-hours messages left for his managers weren’t immediately returned.

Dasaro said Sheen would be advised of any bond conditions when he appears in court. Colorado law requires protection orders between people arrested in domestic violence cases and their alleged victims.

Sheen is the son of actor Martin Sheen. He is married to Brooke Mueller Sheen, who gave birth to the couple’s first children, twin boys, in March. They married in May 2008 following Sheen’s bitter divorce from Denise Richards.

Charlie Sheen’s screen credits include “Platoon,” “Wall Street” and the “Hot Shots!” movies. He nearly died of a drug overdose in 1998 but received court-ordered rehabilitation.


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Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein Named Financial Times Person Of The Year

December 26th, 2009 admin No comments

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein has been named Person of the Year by the Financial Times. The investment bank “not only navigated the 2008 global financial crisis better than others on Wall Street,” the paper writes, “but is set to make record profits, and pay up to $23BN in bonuses to its 31,700 staff.”

But while the FT may agree that Blankfein is doing “God’s work,” others view the bank as indicative of exactly what is wrong with Wall Street. Indeed, Blankfein himself apologized last month for Goldman Sachs’ role in the financial crisis. And Goldman Sachs’s trading practices are currently under investigation by the federal government.

In response to the FT’s decision to honor Blankfein, noted bank analyst Christopher Whalen has canceled his subscription to the paper. “Mr. Blankfein and his colleagues at Goldman Sachs, in my view, have done more to damage the reputations of global financial professionals than any other organization in 2009, yet you applaud them,” he wrote in a letter to the paper. “Not only is your suggestion ridiculous and repugnant, but it illustrates to me the fact that the FT is part of the problem in global finance, not as one would hope and expect, part of the solution.”

More on Goldman Sachs


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