Well, this is what happens when I take a holiday break: I missed the circulation, among Republican National Committee members, of "Barack the Magic Negro," and I missed the latest Machiavellian manueverings of Blago the Tragic Nitwit. There will be plenty of time to recoup on those sideshows, and address more serious business, in the days ahead. Today, however, I'll simply look back with bemusement on the historic year just completed. In no particular order, here are the 2008 Prizes for Public Misconduct:
Worst Presidential Candidate. Despite the tough competition, the award goes to Rudy Giuliani, the so-called hero of 9/11 who at one point took a cutesy cell phone call from his wife in the middle of a speech to the NRA. The more the Republican voters saw him, the less they liked him - to the point where he hid out in Florida, hoping that the New York transplants would rescue his candidacy. Instead, they drove him out of the race. Ultimately he spent nearly $60 million, and captured exactly one delegate - a financial record that only Bernard Madoff could love.
Most Creative Reference to Candidate Genitalia. The landslide winner is Jesse Jackson Sr., who, during a July appearance on Fox News, fumed off camera (but into an open mike) that he was not very happy with Barack Obama. He thought that Obama was "talking down to black people," and therefore, "I wanna cut his nuts off." Jesse was so ticked, he couldn't even come up with a rhyme. But the thing was, Jesse had become so politically marginalized that he was in no position to lay a finger on Obama. He was even rebuked by his own son, Jesse Jr. Fortunately for the elder Jesse, his election-night tears on national TV will surely trump the memory of his summer outburst.
The Herbert Hoover Self-Destruction Award. In the midst of economic crisis, Republican cluelessness abounded. One runner-up is McCain economic advisor/international banker Phil Gramm, who infamously dubbed us "a nation of whiners." John McCain himself could easily win this award simply for declaring, in the wake of the Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch meltdowns, that "the fundamentals of the economy our strong." But McCain deserves the win for his summer assault on Social Security. McCain complained: "Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace." Oh really? What McCain considered a "disgrace" are actually the rules that have governed the popular program since its inception. Current workers are always taxed, via the payroll levy, to support the retirement security of current seniors. That's how the pay-as-you-go policy has always worked. That's not a "disgrace," that's the law. What better way for a Republican to lose an election than to assail the fundamentals of Social Security?
Worst Democratic Albatross. Hands down, the winner is Jeremiah Wright, who knocked Obama off his game during the spring, and who at one point ranted at an April press conference that the federal government might have plotted to infect black people with AIDS ("I believe our government is capable of anything"). Obama finally had to throw Wright under the bus, if only to mollify nervous white voters, but the candidate never did satisfactorily explain when he first learned about his pastor's 9/11 views (i.e. we brought 9/11 on ourselves), and why he had stayed silent about those views.
The George W. Bush Incoherence Award can only be given to Sarah Palin. She makes Bush sound like Cicero; repeatedly, she demonstrated in '08 that she had no business taking up valuable space in a national race. One example should suffice. When Katie Couric attempted to probe Palin's conservative philosophy by asking her whether the Wall Street pirates deserved a federal bailout for their sins, Palin replied thusly (and this is verbatim from the video): "That’s why I say, I, like every American I am speaking with, we’re ill about this position we’re put in, where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to shore up the economy. Um, helping, oh – it’s got to be all about job creation too, shoring up our economy and putting it back on the right track. So, health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions, and tax relief for Americans, and trade, we’ve got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive, um, scary thing, but one in five jobs being created in the trade sector today. We’ve got to look at that as more opportunity. All of those things under the umbrella of job creation. This bailout is part of that."
The P. T. Barnum "There's a Sucker Born Every Minute" Award goes to the journalists and cable TV news bookers who got suckered into giving endless free publicity to PUMA (Party Unity My Ass), the supposedly mass movement of ticked-off Hillary Clinton fans who were supposedly poised to embrace John McCain. PUMA was probably no more than a few dozen people, led by a woman who had donated money to McCain in 2000. Notwithstanding all the press attention paid to PUMA, it was laughable that Hillary's followers would leave the Democratic party en masse and embrace a GOP ticket that represented everything Hillary had long opposed. And sure enough, by the time Obama won female voters on election day by 13 percentage points (surpassing John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000), nary a word was being uttered anymore about PUMA, one of the great summer frauds.
Best David Letterman Quip about Mitt Romney. There were so many apt impressionistic assessments, but I liked this one best: "He looks like the medical expert in a Victoria Principal infomercial."
Best Impression of an Effete, Elite, Arugula-Eating Democrat. Obama wins for his off-the-cuff comment at a private San Francisco fundraiser: "You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them...And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them..." In a different kind of election year - the kind of year when Lee Atwater and Karl Rove were at the top of their games - that comment might have helped doom a Democrat, especially among culturally conservative voters. Fortunately for Obama, a record number of Americans, embittered by Bush, were disinclined to cling to the GOP.
It Depends on What the Meaning of the Word "Sniper" Is. The top prize for Clintonian rhetorical excess goes to Hillary Clinton, for her thrice-told whopper: "I remember landing (in Bosnia, 1996) under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base." Unfortunately for Hillary, the video of that arrival clearly showed that she sauntered across the tarmac, bent down to engage a Bosnian child in conversation with daughter Chelsea in tow, and then continued to saunter, with nary a shot fired. When confronted with her lie, Hillary at first made excuses, before finally admitting that it "proves I'm human." True that. Politicians, self absorbed by nature, often tend to believe whatever they say.
Most Hilarious Hyperbole. The runaway winner is McCain, for his desperate claim, during one of the presidential debates, that ACORN, the voter-registration and community group, was "maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy." I am still waiting for the McCain alumni to supply post-election proof that ACORN potentially destroyed the fabric of democracy. Or perhaps such a complaint would look silly, given the fact that McCain lost the election by roughly 10 million votes, the worst popular-vote deficit for a Republican since 1964.
Most Creative Excuse for Use of Candidate Genitalia. The clear winner is John Edwards, who sought to minimize the revelation of his affair with videographer Rielle Hunter by explaining that he had taken the plunge, as it were, during a period of time when his cancer-stricken wife had been "in remission." Hence the advent of the Remission Defense, a rationale that was not available to Eliot Spitzer. No word yet on whether Edwards has any kind of political future. We are left instead with this unintended witticism from the recent past. Back in 2006, after Hunter told Newsweek about her duties as campaign videographer, the magazine reported that "she says she sees the untucked John Edwards coming more and more to the fore."