Three words have been weighing heavily on my mind lately: unconscionable, outrage, and cynicism. I haven't used unconscionable too often in my life; it's an extreme and unforgiving descriptor. But in the last year (okay, the last decade really, but you have to let go sometime), unconscionable has been a steady mantra cycling through my brain. When unconscionable crosses my mental landscape, its fellow travel companion, outrage, is always at its side. And their favorite destination these days is the state of cynicism.
Unconscionable is the judgment I make when seeing the brazen acts that certain individuals and institutions have perpetrated on the American people. Outrage is the emotion I feel by their acting with such wanton disregard for reason, respect, and just plain decency. Given that such behavior does not occur in a vacuum, cynicism is the attitude that arises in me causing me to have serious misgivings about the zeitgeist within which this unconscionable and outrageous behavior takes place.
These three words have driven me to create the American Hall of Shame (Motto: Have You No Shame? Obviously Not), devoted to highlighting (or rather lowlighting) the individuals and institutions that have triggered the appearance of those three words most frequently and most strongly in me during the past year. After a thorough vetting from the Hall's induction committee (of one), the 2009 inductees who have been selected have distinguished themselves by their egregious behavior (even by America's supersized standards) that has brought shame on themselves and soiled all those who have been touched by them.
With that preface, I introduce to you, in five categories, the 2009 inductees into the American Hall of Shame:
Category #1: Popular Culture
Kanye West: Beyonce lost. Sit down and shut up! I'm never going to illegally download your songs again (never have actually).
Richard Heene: For concocting your "balloon boy" hoax in a frantic attempt at prolonging your already-expired 15 minutes of fame. What kind of father would allow his son to be a part of such a deception?
Tareq and Michaele Salahi: For your equally desperate Gatsby-esque attempt to climb the social ladder by crashing a White House dinner. Just demonstrates where on the social food chain you two belong.
Category #2: Sports
Michael Vick: For abusing puppy dogs (induction delayed until he was released from prison so he could attend the induction ceremony). At least you chose to play a violent game; your doggies didn't have that choice.
Tiger Woods: 'Nuff said. Okay, not 'nuff said. I have one question for you: What were you thinking? Answer: It's not what you were thinking, but rather which part of your anatomy was doing the thinking.
Category #3: Government
Joe Lieberman: For your flip-flops on expanding Medicare and party loyalty (you were for them before you were against them), and filibusters (you were against it before you were for it) that may derail the current health-care legislation. May you spend the rest of your days ballroom dancing with Tom DeLay.
Rod Blagojevich: For using your governorship as your own personal ebay. And for continuing to make an ass out of yourself long after everyone stopped caring. Do you really believe what you've been saying or are you just trying to fool us?
Michele Bachman: For your endless litany of truly stupid public statements. Please go back to the back bench where you belong.
President Obama: For continuing to play nice in the government sandbox when the opposition party (and some of your own party) just want to mud wrestle. Step into the muck, Mr. President, and start grappling.
Category #4: Business
Bernie Madoff: For living a lie for so many years that cost so many people so dearly. How could you look at yourself in the mirror every morning?
Larry Blankfein: For saying that your firm is doing "God's work." Missionaries do God's work, you sir do not.
Bailed-out banks: For rushing to return bailout money to the federal government (even though these banks are hardly stable) just so you can pay big bonuses to your executives again. If the Great Recession was caused by the Best and the Brightest, I think we should give the Good and the Pretty Smart a shot at it.
Mortgage lenders: For being unwilling to now make loans to people who are creditworthy when, just a year ago, you were overjoyed to provide loans to those who were decidedly uncreditworthy. And for being equally unwilling to modify customers' loans so they don't have to face foreclosure. Are greed and heartlessness in your mission statements?
Big Pharma: For raising drug prices before the new health-care legislation kicks in and holds prices down. And for saying that the increases are justified to ensure continued research and development of new life-saving drugs. You've been drinking too much of your own pharmaceutical-laced Kool-Aid.
Credit-card companies: For raising interest rates before new financial-reform legislation takes effect. People already can't afford to pay their credit-card balances. Where's the sense in making it even harder?
Health insurance companies: For raising premiums at a rate well above inflation (my perfectly healthy family's premium has risen 60% in the last 18 months). You need to get a check-up because you are sick. At least you can afford one.
Category #5: News
Lou Dobbs: For going from being a serious newsman to a egomaniacal bloviator. Please run for President.
Glenn Beck: For living by the rule that you should never let the truth stand in the way of a good rant. And for having the highest word-to-substance ratio (courtesy of David Segal) in America. Please check the facts before you open your mouth.
To all of the 2009 American Hall of Shame inductees, I say, "Congratulations! And you ought to be ashamed of yourselves."
Which individuals and institutions would be on your list? Should I add new categories in 2010?
P.S. Addendum 12/21/09, 3:00 pm PST: As you'll see if you read the comments, interesting that the vast majority of suggestions for inductees are in the political realm. Unfortunately, that creates a political battlefield with lines clearly drawn and a lot of grenade launching from both sides.
Pretty much everyone else I inducted (I first mistakenly typed indicted; Freudian slip!) outside of the Politics category was ignored (or I was attacked for trivializing shame).
At the same time, that's why I have categories and there are varying degrees of shame. Plus, with some of the other categories, we can get some bipartisan consensus (unlike in Congress). And we can have some fun with them too.
So don't forget to comment on the other categories' inductees.