Welcome back to our annual year-end awards column!
Part 1 of this column ran last week, just in case you missed it. We've got a lot to cover, so let's jump right in with no further introduction.
Destined For Political Stardom
At the risk of later being seen as overly optimistic, we're going to hand the Destined For Political Stardom award to the newly-elected mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio. De Blasio not only won convincingly both in the Democratic primary (over such luminaries as Anthony Weiner, but more on him in a bit) and in the general election itself, which he carried by almost 50 points. That's a pretty impressive beginning, you've got to admit.
De Blasio's campaign was cheered on by progressives, since he ran a full-throated campaign on the subject of inequality, which is seen in more stark contrast in New York (Manhattan, especially) than perhaps anywhere else in the country. How successful Bill de Blasio will be is an open question right now, but so far he certainly seems to have his priorities straight, and it's easy to see him using this as a steppingstone to higher and higher office. So, optimistically wishing de Blasio the best, we feel he is indeed Destined For Political Stardom.
Destined For Political Oblivion
We have some old business to take care of in this award, to begin with. We'd like to note Sarah Palin's continued slide to political oblivion, as she and Fox News even parted ways this past year. We wish her well on her diminished career as tourism booster for the state of Alaska, though. You betcha.
We'd also like to thank former President Bush for voluntarily entering political oblivion and firmly keeping himself out of the political fray. The only news from Bush these days is about his paintings, which is, as we said, appreciated.
As for guessing the future, we would dearly love to see Trey Radel, coke-sniffing Republican House member from Florida, on his way to political oblivion, but we'll see how he rides the whole scandal out. In the same "wait and see" category, we include the mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, who it seems is partial to smoking cocaine rather than snorting it. While normally these would be career-ending events in any politician's career, we have a longer memory than most and still remember Marion Barry's triumphant comeback from a similar situation, so we're reserving judgment for now on Radel and Ford.
As for politicians on their way out, we could always give Destined For Political Oblivion to Michele Bachmann, but we prefer to wait until she's actually gone from Congress at the end of next year (we feel it's a bit premature now). Likewise, we'd love to give it to Liz Cheney, but who knows -- she might actually win a Senate seat (probably not, but still...). In contrast, we have ex-mayor of San Diego, serial groper Bob Filner, who won't be entering political oblivion in the future -- but only because he's already there. Likewise, Anthony Weiner, who attempted the most disastrous comeback attempt we think we've ever seen -- where even more scandal erupted after he tried to re-enter politics.
In intangibles, Barack Obama announced in 2013's State Of The Union address, the formation of a blue-ribbon commission on the right to vote -- which was then never heard from again. Instant oblivion! On the other side of the aisle, the Republicans had a navel-gazing exercise (which they actually called a "post-mortem" or an "autopsy") to figure out what had gone wrong for them in 2012, which concluded that they really didn't need to change any of their policies at all. Maybe "oblivious" is a better word for that one....
Instead of all these tempting nominees, we're going with a movement which can now be said to have completely run its course -- the anti-gay-rights movement. Born in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a wedge issue for Republicans to use against Democrats, the anti-gay-rights movement was quite successful for a period of roughly two decades. The crowning achievement of this movement was passing laws in something like four out of five states "in defense of marriage" -- to deny marriage equality to gay couples. Many of these were passed at the ballot box, where they did a dandy job of increasing conservative voter turnout at the polls.
But the entire movement is now Destined For Political Oblivion. Not only has it hit its high-water mark (now starting to ebb) in state laws, the Supreme Court has clearly indicated the future, much to the anti-gay-rights movement's dismay. Gay rights -- and marriage equality in particular -- have now passed the tipping point, politically. The advancement of gay rights is now, indeed, unstoppable. Which means that no matter how successful it has been in the past, the movement against gay rights is now Destined For Political Oblivion.
Best Political Theater
Not really "political theater," but certainly melodramatic, Senator Bob Menendez proposed to his sweetheart in the Capitol's rotunda, which deserves some sort of mention (she said "yes").
This was a year of many a filibuster, what with Rand Paul (drones) and Ted Cruz (Obamacare) in the Senate, and Wendy Davis (abortion and women's rights) down in Texas, pink sneakers and all.
But in our opinion, a much more subtle and much more grassroots effort deserves Best Political Theater, over across the pond in Great Britain. In what can only be called an extraordinary effort, a song almost topped the UK singles chart -- a full seventy-four years after it was created. For political reasons. Alas, "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" failed to hit the number one spot, in the end. BBC radio refused to play the whole song -- even though it clocks in at less than a minute in length -- during their roundup of the week's chart. The reason the BBC couldn't bring themselves to play it in full, and the reason why such an odd little ditty made the charts three-quarters of a century after Judy Garland trod the yellow bricks was the same: this all happened in the week after Margaret Thatcher died.
Ding dong, indeed. For almost reaching the top of the charts, for the grassroots effort by hordes of Brits, and for the sheer theatricality of the entire idea, "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" was our Best Political Theater of the year. Was this effort in fact cruel? Yes... yes, it was. But then, so was Maggie (as far as a lot of British people were concerned). Which was kind of the point.
Worst Political Theater
At the beginning of the year, President Obama launched a so-called "charm offensive," where he staged a few dinners with some Republican leaders in Congress, as well as a few other peripheral events and photo ops. The idea was to rub shoulders with each other, hopefully creating some bonhomie as a result. This entire effort was (thankfully) abandoned fairly quickly, when it became apparent that it wasn't doing the slightest bit of good. So that was some pretty bad political theater, right there.
Anthony Weiner's attempted comeback was pretty cringeworthy, all around, and I'm still trying to forget that I now know who "Carlos Danger" is (shudder). Eliot Spitzer, too, now that I think about it.
But all of that was small potatoes indeed, when stacked up against the Worst Political Theater of 2013 -- the entire "government shutdown" five-act play, brought to you by the Republican Congressional Players Troupe. It's really hard to count the ways in which this was the worst, in fact. The most ludicrous part (almost deserving of the Worst Political Theater award on its own) was when some right-wingers tried to stage a "spontaneous" protest by young voters. Some bright spark got the idea that they could equate the protest to the burning of draft cards in the 1960s, by having students "burn their Obamacare cards." Never mind that today's youth read about such things in history books (if they're even aware of what the symbolism was supposed to be about). The truly and spectacularly bad thing about this political theater was that Obamacare cards do not, in fact, exist. Hoo boy. The quality of political consultants seems to have taken a sharp downward turn, folks, over on the right.
The second-worst thing about this political theater was that Republicans were utterly and hopelessly clueless about what they were trying to achieve. This became painfully evident to all, after the shutdown showdown had begun. In the first place, shutting down the government by refusing to pass any sort of budget did not shut down Obamacare, which was the whole reason for the Republican tantrum, or so they said. In the second place, there was the instant-classic quote from a Republican House member, explaining the GOP strategy: "We're not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don't even know what that is." Next up was the laughable spin from Republicans that: "Obama wanted this shutdown -- it's all his fault!" When that flopped, they went with the absurdity of: "getting a conference between the House and Senate budgets is a victory for the shutdown effort!" -- even though Republicans had been blocking just such an effort by Democrats all year long.
But what took the cake, really (at least for us) was the Ted Cruz "fauxlibuster." Cruz launched a talk-a-thon in the Senate. But it wasn't a filibuster -- there was a time limit, so he wasn't blocking anything, in fact. And he wound up voting the other way from the position he was trying to talk other Republicans into supporting. And what he was "blocking" (he wasn't) was a bill from his fellow Republicans in the House. I mean, the idiocy of the entire exercise was apparent to all -- which earned Cruz the most scathing quotes imaginable... from other Republicans.
But all of that aside, there was really one moment that topped all the others, in sheer stupidity, during both the entire shutdown mess and even during the Cruz "fauxlibuster" (which was chock full of stupidities, in fact) -- Ted Cruz reading Green Eggs And Ham to his children, from the Senate floor. Remember, the entire point of this exercise by Republicans was to stop Obamacare. Something new, in other words. Something untried. And yet Cruz, in complete oblivion, read a children's story about not being afraid of trying new things.
Worst Political Theater of 2013, easily. Next time, Ted, get a five-year-old to explain the moral of the Dr. Seuss story to you before you make a complete fool of yourself for the entire country to see.
Worst Political Scandal
While, on a personal level, the Justice Department aggressively going after reporters from the Associated Press and even Fox News, for no reason other than to hunt down government leakers, was a pretty bad political scandal, there was one which -- on sheer volume alone -- stood out among all other political scandals this year, thanks to Edward Snowden.
The National Security Agency's spying and wiretapping and snooping and all the rest of it are easily the Worst Political Scandal of the year. This could even have been called "Biggest News Story Of 2013," in fact, because it wasn't just one revelation, it was an entire series of revelations which happened from the point Snowden lit out for Hong Kong and has still not ended. There are still "other shoes to drop," that's about the only thing you can say with certainty on the extent of the disclosures. From the story of Angela Merkel's phone being tapped, to how the government was infiltrating Silicon Valley companies, to exposing all the lies that the spooks have been telling Congress (and the American people) with aplomb, the scandals just never stopped. So this one's a pretty easy call, this year, no matter how loudly Fox News screamed about Benghazi. And Anthony Weiner's online exploits never even really came close.
Most Underreported Story
In years where we don't have anything else for this category, we just hand it to "Congress doesn't work" -- to point out the pathetic amount of time Congress is actually in session, doing the work of The People. This year, however, we have an absolute flood of things to choose from. Which made picking a winner tough to do.
The Guantanamo hunger strike raised barely a ripple in the American media, although it was widely reported outside of the country. The ongoing problems (and evasions) at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor in Japan also barely raised an eyebrow here. The Pacific trade agreement being hammered out was also widely ignored by the American press. Fracking gets local coverage, but not so much in the national media. Diplomacy in the Middle East gets a bit more attention, but not nearly as much as it probably deserved this year.
But our winner for Most Underreported Story of 2013 was the economy, both good and bad. Let's start with the bad. There is a growing movement across the country to raise the minimum wage to a realistic level. Some stories are told in this struggle, but not nearly enough. From a town in Washington state raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour to fast-food workers staging strikes in dozens of cities across the country, the media largely shrugged in indifference. This may become more prominent next year, as some Democrats are highlighting raising the minimum wage as a key campaign issue for the midterm elections (look for it in Obama's State Of The Union address, in fact). But up until now, it's been underreported in a noticeable way.
But there has been plenty of good news on the economy as well -- which also gets short shrift in the media. We've lost count of the number of times we've seen the following presentation in the media, in fact -- no matter whether in right-wing, left-wing, or corporate media: "Unemployment number drops... here's why this is really bad news." You can find plenty of examples just about every month, in fact.
There were many positive economic stories in 2013, but the only one that really got any airtime was "stock market hits all-time record high... once again." Medical costs, for instance, are going up at the slowest rate in fifty years, but you never hear this fact mentioned on the news. Personal taxes are also at the lowest point they've been since World War II. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been doing a bang-up job of reining in the big banks, handing out fine after fine -- even if you don't hear about it much on the news. The unemployment rate is falling, of course, lower than it was when Obama took office. And to top it all off, Obama made good on his promise to cut the annual deficit in half, but I guess the media didn't get that memo or something.
So for 2013, the Most Underreported Story (outside of the daily stock close) was the American economy.
Most Overreported Story
Um, Angelina Jolie's breasts? Ashley Judd almost (but not quite) running for the Senate in Kentucky? Twerking? Miley Cyrus? Miley Cyrus twerking?
Sigh. Yeah, there's always a whole bunch to choose from here, sadly enough.
But the most overreported story by far (especially on one particular network) was none other than Benghazi. No matter how hard and long Fox and the Republicans beat this particular drum, there was just nothing to really report. Even 60 Minutes got sucked in, by rumor and unsupported allegation. The entire exercise could in fact be labeled "Republican pre-emptive strike against Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign." Because, when you got right down to it, that's really all it was about.
Biggest Government Waste
Our favorite is always the federal helium reserve, built to provide this precious substance for military purposes. After World War I. For our blimps. If there's ever an Exhibit A in "government programs go on forever," this would have to be it, in our estimation.
Although incredibly small potatoes, the Internal Revenue Service spending $60,000 on a training video where IRS people dressed up as Star Trek characters was certainly a contender this year, as well.
And then there's always the generic "Congress" -- certainly a possibility this year, with the "do-nothingest" Congress of all time.
But we have to give Biggest Government Waste this year to none other than the Drug War, or as we prefer to call it, the War On (Some) Drugs. Finally -- finally -- a bit of common sense seemed to prevail inside the Justice Department, as Attorney General Eric Holder not only announced that the feds would allow the states of Washington and Colorado to go ahead with their experiment in legalizing recreational marijuana for all adults, but Holder also gave a speech on what a waste it was to spend so much money locking so many people up for such long sentences, just to make politicians feel like they're "doing something."
While 2013 was indeed a tipping point for the issue of gay marriage, it didn't quite reach that point in the War On (Some) Drugs. The drug warriors are still fighting for their unworkable and proven-to-be-ineffective methodology, so we think it'll take a few more years yet before the insanity is halted. This year, important steps were taken to dial back the "lock them all up" way of thinking, but the federal government still spends an obscene amount of money each year on a strategy that just doesn't work.
Which makes the War On (Some) Drugs the Biggest Government Waste of 2013.
Best Government Dollar Spent
We would award the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau the award for Best Government Dollar Spent this year, but when we checked we had done so last year, so we thought we'd better come up with something new this time around.
One minor contender was the idea of "hiring a woman to run the Secret Service," which (hopefully, at any rate) will solve a whole lot of that "good ol' boy" atmosphere which has led them into repeated embarrassments in the recent past.
But we have to go with the military this year, in a surprise decision. The United States Navy now has a warship with extraordinary capabilities, which it has sent to the Middle East region. They released a video showing the new capabilities of this ship, which are nothing short of astounding. Most of the public hasn't even realized this has happened, but the United States of America has entered into a new realm of warfare that used to only exist in science fiction. Because the Navy has now deployed a phaser weapon which is capable of shooting down a plane or sinking a small boat. Don't believe me? You don't have to -- just watch the video.
Now, doubtlessly the Pentagon has spent a gazillion dollars on research and development (likely reaching back to the 1950s, at the very least) of this new weapon. That pretty much goes without saying. Also doubtlessly, there won't be many civilian applications of such technology (lasers, after all, have been around for a long time now). But the astounding thing -- and what very literally qualifies it for this award category -- is that the phaser weapon costs one dollar per shot to operate.
And that, my friends, is the Best Government Dollar Spent, in 2013. How much, after all, does one ship-to-air missile cost?
Boldest Political Tactic
In a normal sort of year, there would have been several strong contenders for Boldest Political Tactic. Obama spending political capital on pushing gun control legislation (even though he knew chances for passage were slim-to-none). Harry Reid "dropping the nuke" and getting rid of filibusters for presidential nominees. Vladimir Putin cutting through the muddle and offering up a resolution to the Syrian chemical weapons standoff. Iran coming to the table with the United States, in nuclear talks which haven't happened since their revolution in 1979.
Again, if this were a normal year, we likely would have handed this award to the Republicans in Congress. Say what you want about the whole "Tea Party/Establishment Republican" civil war, and no matter your opinion on the viability of their plan -- actually going through with their threats to shut the federal government down was indeed a "bold" action. Bolder than any Republican Congress since Newt Gingrich was around, in fact. OK, sure, they didn't really have an end game when they began. And, sure, the whole thing was an intra-party spat over on the Republican side. But it was bold -- it's hard to argue against that.
But even the shutdown was upstaged this year.
The Boldest Political Tactic of 2013 was made by Pope Benedict XVI. Now known as "Pope Emeritus" or perhaps "the old Pope," Benedict resigned due to advanced age. This stunned the Catholic world, as well it should, since the tradition had been for Popes to hold office until they died.
Benedict XVI became the first Pope to resign in 598 years. Yes, you read that correctly -- the first Pope to voluntarily step down in almost six hundred years. To put this another way, the last time a Pope resigned, the journey of Christopher Columbus was still seventy-seven years in the future.
This shocked many Catholics, who assumed there was some sort of holy writ which decreed that Popes had to die in office. Many were, in fact, outraged. But there is no such sacred rule, and while there were rumors about Benedict getting out before a scandal broke, the fact that he voluntarily resigned his office and made way for the much-beloved Pope Francis was -- without any question -- the Boldest Political Tactic of 2013. For that matter, it may have been the Boldest Political Tactic of the past six centuries.
There were numerous very good ideas promoted in 2013, some of which were successful and some of which will have to live to fight another day.
The first of these I personally suggested a while back, so it is good to see that President Obama has now given the military a one-year deadline to deal with their sexual assault problem. The military understands deadlines, and with the military legal changes that were just signed into law, they've now got until next December to radically alter the situation. The Obama administration also had a change of heart on marijuana, and it now appears that the federal government will not interfere (much) with Washington and Colorado allowing a legalized recreational marijuana marketplace to exist.
Over in the legislative branch, it was a good idea for Harry Reid to pass a budget bill at the beginning of the year, since he hadn't done so in quite some time. But to have real budget negotiations, both sides have to have a starting place, so hopefully this sort of thing will continue (as it should). Reid also passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill, which is now stalled in the House. And at the end of the year, Harry "dropped a nuke" on Republicans abusing the filibuster, which was a good idea that was long overdue.
Getting rid of chemical weapons in Syria was a good idea, which has to be chalked up to Vladimir Putin, really. Talking to Iran (rather than just raining bombs down upon their heads) was another good idea in the foreign policy sphere.
Good ideas which Democrats should keep pushing in 2014: expand Social Security (and scrap the cap), raise the federal minimum wage, and the Right To Vote constitutional amendment. Republicans, as previously noted, had a good idea with their "autopsy" report, but then they pulled back from the even-better idea of "now that we've identified the problems, let's do something about them," instead going with the worse idea of not changing a single policy at all. Better luck next time, guys.
These were all good ideas, but there can only be one Best Idea. Forgive us if we went a little local on this one, but we think it's such a good idea that it could spread across the country if given half a chance. In Albany, New York, Bruce Roter is trying to get funding to build a museum of political corruption, close to the statehouse. If he succeeds in getting such a museum built, perhaps other states would follow his lead, and eventually we could have a National Museum of Political Corruption in Washington, D.C. There certainly is enough corruption throughout American history to fill more than one museum!
Seriously, though, some might think it crass or juvenile, but we beg to differ. If schoolchildren and the public at large are not exposed to examples of corruption from the past, then it skews the perception of corruption today. Americans have little perspective of scandal and politicians behaving badly, since all the juicy bits are usually ignored when schoolbooks are written. It would be of great benefit for the public to understand political corruption much better, including the fights against such corruption (after all, historical corruption examples are all the ones that were exposed). A museum would be a fun and educational way to learn this lesson. Which is why we're naming the Museum of Political Corruption the Best Idea of 2013.
Um, cell phones on airplanes? Boy, that one died a quick death when people considered the idea, didn't it?
Right when Obama was changing the Secretary of Defense, a medal got approved (by Leon Panetta on his way out) for drone pilots. The problem was, the "Distinguished Warfare Medal" somehow got ranked above both the Purple Heart and the Silver Star. That was a pretty bad idea, and it had to be rescinded by Chuck Hagel.
Health and Human Services had the stupendously bad idea not to do adequate integration testing of the Obamacare website, with the results plain for all to see after its October launch. Obama's putting Chained CPI on the table in budget talks was a pretty bad idea as well. Republicans continuing (and increasing, in some instances) their War On Women is an astoundingly bad and shortsighted idea. Overseas, Putin launching his own War On Gays just before he hosts the Winter Olympics was a really bad idea. The protests should be amusing, though.
But the Worst Idea of 2013 was to actually go ahead and shut the government down. Threats and hostage-taking are bad ideas to begin with, but they had become so normal that the Republicans (led by the Tea Party absolutists) had to go a step further this time around. They accomplished precisely nothing by making good on their shutdown threat, and hurt themselves politically by doing so. This brought the simmering factionalism into open civil war within the party, and exposed to the public the fact that the Tea Party just isn't interested in governing at all -- they literally had no plan for what to do next. All around, shutting down the government for no reason whatsoever was the Worst Idea of 2013.
Sorry To See You Go
If there were a "NOT Sorry To See You Go" category, the first name on it would be Larry Summers, who finally withdrew his name for consideration for Federal Reserve Chair. Following his name would be Max Baucus and Michele Bachmann, who both announced they would not run for re-election in 2014.
Sorry for the snark. This should be a more respectful category, so let's get back to Sorry To See You Go. On our list:
Pauline Esther Friedman Phillips (a.k.a. Abigail Van Buren, a.k.a. Dear Abby)
Marcia Wallace (a.k.a. Edna Krabapple)
Alvin Lee, lead guitarist for Ten Years After.
And, finally, the Monopoly iron, which was retired this year.
15 Minutes Of Fame
There were many contenders for this title, but we're going to hand it to HealthCare.gov, which may surprise some. The Obamacare website really got an anti-Warholian "15 Minutes Of Infamy," really, but that's within the parameters of the 15 Minutes Of Fame award, we've decided.
The Obamacare website's problems loom large in the public mind right now. But we're really into minute 14, folks. Soon enough, the website will fade from the public's view in one way or another. The mechanics of the entire Obamacare system will be much more prominent in the coming months, and it's even conceivable that more and more states will decide to get out of the federal exchange website and run their own systems -- which will further diminish the Obamacare website. After the last round of stories (through the end of March), the website won't be on anyone's mind until next October, and by that time all problems should be smoothed out. So the Obamacare website -- problems and all -- are reaching the end of their infamy and newsworthiness. When we look back, years from now, this will all be nothing more than a 15-minute blip in time.
Any year that allows us to write a headline such as "The Corpse-Like Stench Of Washington's Giant Misshapen Penis" is a good one, spin-wise, in our books. Heh.
Alan Grayson always has some amusing spin, and this year he helpfully pointed out on the House floor several things which were more popular with the public than Congress. Among these were cockroaches and dog poop, which is certainly an interesting way to measure things.
Marco Rubio would have won if the award was for "Most Spin," as he set a new standard for Sunday morning chatfesting. Breaking through the "full Ginsburg" (appearing on five Sunday shows), we now have the bar set at the "full Rubio," after he appeared on an astonishing seven Sunday morning shows (one in Spanish).
But the Best Spin award this year goes to John McCain, who fully remembers how to play the Cold War spin game. When Vladimir Putin wrote a snarky op-ed in the New York Times, McCain didn't get mad, he got even. He wrote his own snarky op-ed and had it published in Pravda (or what remains of it online). While virtually everyone else was having a collective fit of the vapors that Putin had said some critical things about America ("Why, the very idea!" you could almost hear the pearl-clutchers murmur as they swooned), McCain showed how the game is supposed to be played by making some caustic comments about Russia right back.
The entire game -- from both sides -- was about spin. It always has been. In fact, the entire episode was nothing more than Cold War nostalgia, on one level. But for remembering how this game is played, and showing all the newbies in Washington how it's done, John McCain gets the Best Spin award for 2013.
Most Honest Person
We only have one runner-up in this category, before we get to the winner. Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black made the news this year during the government shutdown, by "speaking truth to power." Now, it has been our longstanding belief that tax dollars should not even be spent on congressional chaplains, but we have to applaud the performance of Black during the shutdown. Here are just a few things he said to the senators:
Save us from the madness.... We acknowledge our transgressions, our shortcomings, our smugness, our selfishness and our pride. Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable.... Remove from them that stubborn pride which imagines itself to be above and beyond criticism. Forgive them the blunders they have committed.
But the real winner of Most Honest Person this year was Dr. Sanjay Gupta, resident medical expert over at CNN. Gupta, up until this year, has looked upon marijuana with the "drugs are bad... 'mmmkay?" viewpoint (call it the Mister Mackey school of thought). The government told him drugs were bad, the government made all sorts of claims about how bad marijuana was, and Gupta just essentially repeated these claims whenever the subject came up.
Then Dr. Gupta decided to look into the science of the situation for himself. And he had an epiphany. The government had been lying to him! The science showed a far different picture!
Now, at this point, some might have just decided not to talk about the issue further, since Gupta might have jeopardized his position as a spokesdoctor on television. But rather than taking this timid route, Dr. Gupta decided to devote an entire show to his change of thinking. He outlined what he had learned, the evidence behind it, and the ridiculousness of the government's position.
This was a refreshing change from a well-respected voice on television. Gupta refused to take the easy way out and refused to "unlearn" what he had learned. He had to issue a gigantic apology for repeating false information, which (again) he really didn't have to do. Because he had the backbone to stand up and prominently state "I was wrong," Dr. Sanjay Gupta is our Most Honest Person of the year.
Um, Miley Cyrus?
David Gregory, over at NBC's Meet The Press, seems a natural for this award, ever since he got the job in fact. I mean, the man couldn't ask an intelligent followup question to save his life, and he gets to host the longest-running television show in history? Sheesh.
But we're going to put forth a unique sort of perspective on this award, and give it to "pre-Obamacare healthcare in America." While House Republicans voted over 40 times to kill Obamacare, and while Republicans shut the federal government down in a gigantic hissy fit over Obamacare, what was lost in it all was how much the pre-Obamacare system sucked eggs. The cry of "Repeal Obamacare!" was echoed by Republicans everywhere, but nobody ever seemed to adequately ask them "...and replace it with what, exactly?"
When the website failure was made apparent to all, Republicans redoubled their efforts to make Obamacare seem like the worst idea ever -- without having to state what they'd replace it with. "People are losing their policies!" Republicans cried to the skies -- without once admitting that this sort of thing actually happened every year. "People won't be able to choose their doctor!" they bewailed, without admitting that this happened to millions of Americans on a yearly basis, as insurance plans (and employers) shifted.
The idea that the American health insurance and healthcare system was somehow perfect before the insidious Obamacare appeared on the scene was the Most Overrated idea of the year, in fact. Nobody really wants to go back to the pre-Obamacare days, which is a fact both the Republicans and the media have successfully ignored in the entire debate. There was, after all, a good reason for reforming the medical insurance market. Pre-Obamacare was not some sort of Utopia. Quite the opposite, in fact. So the idea that going back to it would be a good idea has got to be the Most Overrated idea of the year.
There was one moment during 2013 which was underrated, or perhaps "underrespected," if I may coin a phrase. While marking the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, virtually no mainstream media just allowed their audience to hear Lincoln's words. The entire speech is something like two freakin' minutes long, and instead of hearing those two minutes of immortal oratory, what we got instead was two minutes of airheaded anchors talking about the speech. Sheesh. I mean, how hard is this to figure out? Just read the speech -- the whole thing!
Pet peeves aside, the Most Underrated person of 2013 was Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry has moved America's foreign policy forward by leaps and bounds this year, although he had no huge victories... yet. But he got the ball rolling on the stalled Middle East peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and he got an interim agreement with Iran which could bear fruit next year. Even talking with Iran is an enormous breakthrough -- something that hasn't happened in over three decades.
So Kerry may later deliver on efforts he started this year, but he's already accomplished an extraordinary amount for his first year in office. For some reason (perhaps because he also won our Most Boring award this year), Kerry is almost consistently underrated in the media. So far. We'll see if he steps a bit more into the spotlight in 2014, but for this year he was the Most Underrated.
Whew! We're finally at an end, after two weeks of columns and dozens of awards handed out. The final category isn't an award, it is a free-for-all to predict what will happen next year.
As always, we are going to preface our picks this year with what we predicted last year, so you can judge our record on your own. Here were all our rash predictions for 2013, copied from last year's column:
We will indeed go over the fiscal cliff, but then a deal will be passed before the end of the 112th Congress. On January 3rd, when the new Congress first meets, John Boehner will be re-elected Speaker of the House.
John Kerry will be confirmed as Secretary of State, and Democrats will easily retain his Senate seat in the special election.
Puerto Rico will take a big step towards actual statehood at some point in the year, but the media will ignore it as it will take another voter referendum on the island before the U.S. Congress has to get involved.
A sex scandal will be big news, because for the first time on the national stage it will involve not just a politician, but a female politician.
President Obama will "evolve" on marijuana, and decide that bitter legal fights with Colorado and Washington are not worth it. He will instruct his Attorney General to lower marijuana to Schedule II, solving the medical marijuana legal problems, and he will announce that Washington and Colorado will be "laboratories of democracy" for outright legalization.
The Supreme Court will kind-of, sort-of rule in favor of gay marriage (I fully detailed this prediction in an earlier column, for those interested).
And, finally, immigration reform will be signed into law in 2013. It will not reach the "comprehensive" mark, but it will be more extensive than the DREAM Act. There will indeed be a path to citizenship, but it will be a rocky and expensive one. Republicans will actually vote for it -- or enough of them to allow it to pass both houses.
Let's take these one by one. On the first, the deal passed at two in the morning on the first of January, right at the end of the 112th Congress (and two hours after we went over the fiscal cliff). And Boehner was indeed re-elected Speaker. This one's a clear win.
Kerry was easily confirmed, and Democrats did hold his seat. So that's two for two.
Puerto Rico didn't move towards statehood in any noticeable way, so I'm counting that one as a miss. Two for three.
OK, I went out on a limb on the next one, and it snapped off under me. There was no female political sex scandal. So, two for four.
Obama and Holder did "evolve" considerably on marijuana, but not to the extent I predicted. Washington and Colorado are being given a green light (so to speak), but there was no mention at all of moving marijuana to Schedule II, so I'm awarding myself a half-point for this one. Two-and-a-half out of five.
I did, however, quite accurately predict what the Supreme Court was going to do on gay marriage, in both the cases before them. So an unqualified win here, giving me three-and-a-half out of six.
Immigration reform did pass the Senate, with more votes than I would have predicted, but then it languished and died in the House, so this one's a clear loss.
Which gives me a final score of three-and-a-half out of seven. Fifty percent, in other words, or precisely the same odds as flipping a coin. Oh well, that's better than I've done in some years....
Which brings us to predictions for 2014.
There will be a visible protest over Russia's laws against gay rights -- on the medals podium -- by at least one Olympic athlete. This will be on a par with the "black power" closed-fist salute from 1968. Perhaps a rainbow flag will be involved.
Edward Snowden will be pardoned. This will involve a complicated deal where he returns the data he filched, and it will be extremely controversial. But the Obama administration will be forced into giving Snowden some degree of legal immunity in order to secure the data.
Pope Francis will call for a Third Vatican Council. The Catholic Church will be shocked, but Vatican III will be even more revolutionary than Vatican II was, back in the 1960s. After Vatican III concludes (it may take years), priests will be able to get married, divorce will be allowed, and contraception will no longer be a sin. The Church won't, however, sanction gay marriage or abortion.
Obamacare will not be the biggest issue in the 2014 elections. Raising the minimum wage will be.
The Tea Party will successfully "primary" two sitting Republican senators. Neither winning candidate, however, will be named "Liz Cheney." Both of these candidates will then go on to lose in the general election. The Tea Party will lose a lot of their power as a direct result.
Democrats will lose two seats in the Senate, but retain control. Harry Reid will announce he is stepping down as Majority Leader right after the election, due to advanced age. The fight for leadership will be between Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin. Schumer will win.
Republicans will retain control of the House, but they will lose six seats, meaning their majority margin will shrink. John Boehner will stay as Speaker of the House.
OK, that's it for this year, folks! Have a happy new year, everyone. Or, as McLaughlin would say:
-- Chris Weigant
If you're interested in traveling down Memory Lane, here are all the previous years of this awards column:
2013 -- [Part 1]
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