Have a happy Thanksgiving tomorrow. Sit yourself down, grab the serving fork, stab a few slices of turkey…but before you ingest, let’s first remember all that we have to be thankful for. Looking back at the long ’08 campaign, here’s my Top Ten:
Katie Couric. Her patient, persistent, low-key questioning of Sarah Palin convinced millions of Americans that John McCain’s understudy was an incoherent lightweight who had no business running for higher office. Thanks to Katie, we will forever treasure gems like this: “Our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, there in the state that I am the executive of...As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right next to our state.”
Colin Powell. While endorsing Barack Obama on the final weekend of the campaign, he not only condemned the Republican-abetted lies about Obama’s purported Muslim faith, he took the extra step of pointing out that, even if the rumor had been true, there is nothing sinister or unpatriotic about being Muslim-American. As virtually the only major political figure to take this stance, Powell performed a valuable public service.
The early Democratic voters. During the quartet of early contests last winter - in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina - these voters drove John Edwards out of the race. If they had not done so – indeed, if they had anointed him the front-runner – Edwards might well have emerged as the top alternative to Hillary Clinton, and perhaps as the nominee. Just imagine how the election trajectory might have been different if the Democrats had been saddled in August with a fresh sex scandal, starring a standard-bearer outed by the tabloids for cheating on his cancer-stricken wife. So thank you, early Democrats.
Open Republican primaries. Many states – including New Hampshire, Michigan, and South Carolina - allow independents and even Democrats to cast ballots in GOP contests. Republicans should be thankful for that rule, because otherwise the early party contests would have been dominated by religious and social conservative voters…and Mike Huckabee might well have been the prime beneficiary. Instead, McCain broke through, harvesting the votes of independents and crossover Democrats. Mac was hardly the perfect autumn candidate, but just imagine how the Republicans might have fared in November if they’d wound up nominating a guy (Huckabee) who doesn’t believe in evolution, and who says that his poll rating is controlled by God.
Mayhill Fowler. Give thanks to the “citizen journalist” (granted, a nebulous term) for scoring a couple big scoops on the Democratic trail. She’s the one who recorded Obama’s private fund-raiser remarks about how “bitter” small-towners “cling to guns or religion,” and she posted them on a liberal blog. She accessed the event without flashing any press credentials (is everybody a journalist now?), but that’s another discussion. The bottom line was, Obama’s poor phrasing suggested either that he was clueless about the nuances of small-town life, or that he wanted to curry favor with the affluent California donors in attendance. Whichever, Fowler provided us with a character clue about the candidate – just as she did on another occasion, about another noteworthy Democrat, when she goaded Bill Clinton into launching a rope-line rant about Vanity Fair political writer Todd Purdum (“sleazy!” “slimy!” “scumbag!”). Admittedly, though, this was not big news, because, by that point in the primary season, we already knew that Bill had become unhinged.
Joe Lieberman. Forget James Bond; it's Joe who gives us a quantum of solace. Joe gets our thanks for demonstrating the fine art of knifing somebody in the back, and twisting the blade for good measure. Pretty impressive, for a guy who prides himself on moral rectitude. In 2006, when Joe was besieged by antiwar critics in Connecticut, and his seat was seriously threatened, he asked for Obama to help save him. Obama dutifully showed up to help. So this year, Joe chose to repay the favor by slicing up Obama on the campaign trail. Last April, when McCain’s sidekick was asked by Fox News (natch) whether Obama is a “Marxist,” Joe replied: “I must say that’s a good question.” Given his knife skills, I bet Joe can carve a turkey with ease.
Seamus the dog. He’s long gone, but his legacy lives on, if only to illustrate Mitt Romney’s crisis management skills. Nothing better illustrates the fact that a candidate’s life is laid bare than the now-famous story of Seamus. Back in ’83, the future Republican aspirant packed the family station wagon for a 12-hour road trip, and decreed that Seamus would ride in a dog carrier strapped to the roof of the car. For 12 hours. It wasn’t long before liquid dog poop began to cascade down the windows (“Dad! Gross!” yelled one of the boys), whereupon Dad cooly exited the highway, found a car wash, cleaned up Seamus…and returned him to the roof of the car. Thanks, Seamus, for the memory of businesslike Mitt at his most efficient.
The McCain message mavens. We should be thankful for their tips on how not to run a campaign. They scraped the bottom of the barrel on any number of occasions – heck, they kept lowering the bottom – but my favorite was this July memo: "Only celebrities like Barack Obama go to the gym three times a day, demand MET-RX chocolate roasted-peanut protein bars, and bottles of a hard-to-find organic brew -- Black Forest Berry Honest Tea." In their minds, there’s apparently something sinister about rigorous exercise (as opposed to, say, the kind of obesity that contributes to our soaring health costs); there’s something exotically weird about eating protein bars (as opposed to, say, full-fat cookies and ballpark hot dogs); and there’s something odd or unmanly about drinking Honest Tea, which, in point of fact, is owned by the Coca Cola Company and is sold at convenience stores in manly neighborhoods everywhere. Let's give thanks to the Mac message mavens for expanding the parameters of campaign juvenilia.
Joe the Plumber gets our thanks for expanding our book-buying options during this holiday season. That’s because he has a book of his own coming out, "Joe the Plumber – Fighting for the American Dream.” I’m serious about this. He has a ghostwriter and everything. What’s next for this guy – a new show on the Fox News Channel, Hannity and Wurzelbacher?
The 22nd amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Let us give thanks to the provision that establishes term limits for U.S. presidents. Without that provision, maybe George W. Bush would have insisted late this summer that his dispirited party nominate him for a third term - and then we would’ve had to listen to him for eight straight weeks. But thanks to term limits, Bush is merely the lamest of ducks, wandering around Peru in an alpaca poncho. Is he gone yet?
BONUS: Palin and the turkey guy. You'd swear it's Tina Fey with Dan Aykroyd (Saturday Night Live, circa 1978) as the turkey guy, but no. Nobody could possibly dream up this juxtaposition of verbal prattle and goofball visuals. See for yourself, give thanks to true-life humor, and try not to lose your anticipatory appetite.
I'm gone for the holidays; back here on Monday.