In a year when everyone was looking for a bailout, politicians did more for political comedy than any other industry. We had governors gone rogue, reverends gone wild, shoe-throwers, imaginary snipers and, of course, everyone's favorite mavericky, Prada-wearing hockey mom. As a salute to those who made this the funniest year since, well, last year, here's a look back at 2008's most memorable feats and foibles, in words and glorious video:
Worst photo op: Sarah Palin's turkey pardoning fiasco -- a.k.a. "wattlegate" -- in which she pardoned a turkey at a farm in Wasilla, and then gave an interview while other turkeys were shoved into a cone of death and slaughtered in the background. As David Letterman joked, she can see Russia, but she can't see what's going on five feet behind her:
Least likely to be invited for a sleepover in the Obama White House: Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was caught on an open mic talking about pitching Obama's voice an octave higher, in a manner of speaking. Jackson was taking offense at Obama's suggestion that African-Americans needed to take more responsibility for things like fatherhood and being responsible husbands. To which Jay Leno quipped, "Jesse thought it was insulting, not only to him, but to his former mistress and their love child."
Best typo: In a story about potential vice presidential picks, the AP referred to Joe Lieberman as "the Democratic vice presidential prick in 2000."
Shortest fuse: John's McCain's brother, Joe McCain, who called 911 to complain about being stuck in traffic. When the dispatcher asked if that was seriously why he was calling an emergency hotline, Joe the Hothead cursed him out and hung up. We might have never known about the incident, except when the dispatcher called the cell phone back, he got this message: "Hi, this is Joe McCain. I can't take this message now because I am involved in a very important family political project." And to think, he came within 8.5 million votes of becoming the next Roger Clinton:
Worst exit strategy: John Edwards, who, upon being confronted by a National Enquirer reporter at the Beverly Hills Hilton after paying a late-night visit to his former mistress and her child, did what any self-respecting ex-Senator and presidential aspirant with nothing to hide would do. He fled into a bathroom and tried to hold the door shut. Edwards later admitted to the affair, but denied fathering her child. Or, as the humor site Fark reported it: "John Edwards: Billie Jean IS my lover, but the kid is not my son."
Best moment of Palinfreude: The prank call Palin received from a Canadian comedy duo, who convinced her she was talking to President Nicolas Sarkozy of France. Palin didn't pick up on any of the hints that the conversation was a joke, even when the faux Frenchman said, "From my 'ouse, I can see Belgium," or when he complimented her on the documentary about her life, Hustler's "Nailin" Palin." "Ohh, good, thank you, yes," she replied:
Worst attempt to woo the Fox News demographic: Barack Obama, who was heard at a San Francisco fund-raiser saying that small-town voters are "bitter" and "cling to guns or religion." The remark was so offensive to armed churchgoers, they didn't know whether to turn the other cheek or lock and load.
Most notorious member of the Hypocrites' V.I.P. Club: Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York, who rose to power as a sanctimonious crusader against ethics violations and corruption, but didn't let that get in the way of his taste for high-priced hookers. As Attorney General, Spitzer had famously busted prostitution rings, apparently so he could keep them all for himself. Spitzer was forced to resign after being outed as Client No. 9 at the Emperor's V.I.P. Club. Jay Leno was confused: "He's the governor -- who were the eight guys in front of him? You'd think as governor, you'd at least get to go first."
Worst con artist: Joe the Plumber, who John McCain called his "role model," even though it turned out he didn't have a plumber's license, was unemployed, had cheated on his taxes, and his name wasn't even Joe. As Jimmy Kimmel put it, "He's the Sarah Palin of plumbing."
Best reflexes: President Bush, who dodged two shoes hurled at him by an Iraqi journalist with a dexterity that conjured comparisons to Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. Although, as David Letterman noted, "Too bad he didn't react that way with bin Laden or Katrina, bin Laden or the mortgage crisis, bin Laden or Afghanistan, bin Laden or the Lehman Brothers":
Most courageous under imaginary fire: Hillary Clinton, whose account of dodging sniper fire after landing in Bosnia was debunked when video footage showed her being greeted on the tarmac not by gun shots, but by a young girl's poetry reading. "If only she had channeled that active fantasy world into her marriage," quipped Bill Maher.
Biggest wardrobe malfunction: Palin's $150,000 shopping spree, for which she was reimbursed with an endless barrage of jokes, like this one from Letterman: "The difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull: lipstick, Prada shoes, a Gucci handbag, and a few $3,000 suits."
Biggest talking-point malfunction: Obama's run-in with Joe the Plumber, in which he gave a shout-out to Karl Marx by saying, "I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody." Off in the distance, his Teleprompter wept.
Best use of expletives: Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, who, while allegedly trying to sell Obama's Senate seat, was recorded saying, "I've got this thing and it's [bleeping] golden," "I'm just not giving it up for [bleeping] nothing," and "Give this [bleep] Obama his senator? [Bleep] him. For nothing. [Bleep] him.'" Better still, a day before his arrest, the Governor invited authorities to tape his phone calls, huffing, "I can tell you that whatever I say is always lawful." Not to mention bleeping insane.
Best use of a Viking Grill, a vibrating Shiatsu massage lounger, and $250,000 in other gifts: Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, who became the nation's highest-ranking convicted felon after lying on Senate financial disclosure forms. Naturally, Stevens received a 56-second-long standing ovation after delivering his farewell speech to the Senate, which, as Rachel Maddow of MSNBC noted, worked out to "eight seconds of heartfelt standing applause for each of his felony convictions."
Most brutal Palin insult: It was humiliating enough when McCain aides called Palin a "diva" and a "whack job," while accusing her of "going rogue," throwing temper tantrums, and not knowing that Africa was a continent. But the most devastating sound bite came from a McCain aide who described her shopping spree as "Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast."
Best attempt to win imaginary delegates: Barack Obama, who said at an Oregon campaign stop, "I've now been in 57 states -- I think one left to go."
Best train wreck: The Sarah Palin-Katie Couric interview, which featured one laughable gaffe after the next, including Palin's failure to think of any Supreme Court decisions other than Roe v. Wade ...
... her failure to name a single newspaper or magazine she reads other than "all of 'em, any of 'em" ...
... and her claim to foreign policy expertise because Vladimir Putin likes to rear his head and fly over Alaskan airspace. It teetered on such self-parody that all Tina Fey had to do on Saturday Night Live was repeat parts of Palin's answers verbatim, gosh darnit, and also there too, you betcha!
Worst campaign surrogate: Bill Clinton, who had to be muzzled during the Democratic primaries after playing the race card and the patriot card against Obama, growling and snapping at reporters, and saying unfortunate things like, "The country is groaning and moaning and screaming for change." As Jay Leno joked, like a lot of women in Washington, Hillary soon realized she had slept with Bill Clinton for nothing.
Cheapest campaign stunt: John McCain, who "suspended" his campaign to go save the economy, said the presidential debate had to be canceled, flew to Washington, screwed up the bailout deal, then un-suspended his campaign and flew to the debate, even though there was no deal. "Usually when a 72-year-old man acts this way, this is when the kids start calling nursing homes," quipped Bill Maher.
Best smackdown following a cheap campaign stunt: When McCain told Letterman he was canceling his appearance on the show because he had to fly to Washington, and then showed up instead for an interview with Katie Couric, Letterman mocked him mercilessly. "Hey John!" Letterman shouted as he aired the live CBS feed of the interview for his audience. "I've got a question: You need a lift to the airport?" It got even uglier for McCain, with Letterman saying: "This is not the way a tested hero behaves. Somebody's putting something in his Metamucil":
Least likely to prevail at a sanity hearing: Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who burned up YouTube with his fiery rants imploring God to damn America for perpetrating genocide against chickens that came home to roost on 9/11 (or something like that). Despite being widely disparaged as a crackpot, Wright said he received over a million emails and phone calls telling him to keep on speaking out -- "all of them from Hillary Clinton," joked Jay Leno.
Creepiest Palin crush: Rich Lowry, National Review editor, who reacted to Palin's performance in the vice presidential debate thusly: "I'm sure I'm not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, 'Hey, I think she just winked at me.' And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America." Which left everyone wondering the same thing: When did National Review turn into Penthouse Forum?
Creepiest Obama crush: Chris Matthews of MSNBC, who said that while listening to Obama speak, "I felt this thrill going up my leg":
Best evidence that the next four years may not be a total disaster for political comedy: While on the campaign trail, Joe Biden referred to his running mate as "Barack America"; implored a wheelchair-bound politician to "stand up"; recalled how Franklin Roosevelt addressed the nation on TV when the stock market crashed in 1929 (even though F.D.R. wasn't president and few had even heard of TV at the time); and said Hillary Clinton would have made a better V.P. pick because she was more qualified than him. Thanks to Biden, comedians appear to be getting a stimulus package, too.
Best epitaph on the Bush years: In his parting words at his final G-8 Summit, President Bush ended a private meeting with world leaders by saying, "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter." According to press reports, he then punched the air and grinned widely as the rest of those present looked on in shock. Who said he never had an exit strategy?
This piece originally appeared in the New York Times' Laugh Lines blog.
Daniel Kurtzman edits the Political Humor page of About.com, which is part of The New York Times Company. He is author of the books "How to Win a Fight With a Conservative" and "How to Win a Fight With a Liberal."