My 2013 'McLaughlin Awards' [Part 1]

Worst politician: There was no shortage of nominees in this category, as usual. Reince Priebus, Anthony Weiner, Trey Radel and crack-smoking mayor of Toronto Rob Ford all did their best to claim the title of Worst Politician, in fact.
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Welcome everyone to our year-end awards columns! Every year, we pre-empt our normal "Friday Talking Points" columns for two weeks, in order to take a look back at the year that was.

As always, we will be using the categories created by The McLaughlin Group for their own year-end show, as an homage (our lawyers inform us that this is much better than saying we're ripping McLaughlin's categories off... ahem).

We've got a lot to get to (warning: this column is going to be a LONG one), so we'll get started right away, but not before inviting everyone who disagrees with these choices to chime in below, in the comments section. Also, if you're interested in making nominations for next week's "Part 2" awards, you can do so over at my site, where there is a full list of categories (Part 2 starts after the "Person Of The Year," which is the final award we're going to hand out today).

OK, that's enough, let's get on with it.

Biggest Winner Of 2013

A case could be made for Bill de Blasio in New York, but we're going to make that case later, in a different award. Although de Blasio won a local election, 2013 was an off-year, so in the grand scheme of things was of less importance on the national stage.

The real "Biggest Winner" of the year was an intangible: gay marriage. Or perhaps you could phrase it "gay rights" or even "marriage equality." The big win, of course, was at the Supreme Court, where Proposition 8 in California was buried for good and the Defense Of Marriage Act at the federal level was so eviscerated as to be never enforced again. But this wasn't the only victory for gay rights during the year, as the Boy Scouts Of America relented on their anti-gay stance enough to allow gay scouts to exist peacefully. They didn't go as far as to allow gay scout leaders, which leads one to wonder what gay scouts are supposed to do when they hit the age of majority, but for the Boy Scouts, even half a loaf was astonishing enough. When 2013 dawned, 10 states allowed gay marriages. When it concluded, seven more states had joined in the effort -- an astonishing amount of progress in a single year. What was most striking about this was how non-newsworthy each additional state to allow marriage equality has been. In one two-week period, three states changed their marriage laws, for instance, and it barely made the headlines.

The real measure of the impact of how big marriage equality won this year is the fact that when the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was brought up for debate in the Senate (legislation to protect L.G.T.B. employees), there wasn't a single voice raised against it. That's right -- although Republicans did vote against it, none of them -- not one -- dared to go on record opposing the bill, in (obvious) fear that any statements they made could be used against them politically later.

Republicans are slowly learning that opposing gay rights is a losing cause. Which is just one small result of the fact that gay marriage was the Biggest Winner Of 2013, from the Supreme Court down to local politics.

Biggest Loser Of 2013

There were many nominees to choose from in this category. Intangibles led the list, such as "gun control legislation," which not only lost on the national scene, but took down several Colorado legislators in a recall election later in the year. Sandy Hook? Sorry, don't recall the name.

People living in states which are attacking voting rights were big losers this year, as were women who unfortunately live in states which have limited their health care choices due to the overwhelming need of Republicans to dictate what happens between a woman and her doctor. One big group of Americans who lost big this year were all of those who now have fallen into the "donut hole" (folks who really should have gained Medicaid coverage but who were instead used as pawns in the Obamacare fight). People in states which declined the Medicaid expansion who fall below the level of the subsidies offered by Obamacare are pretty much out of luck. "Tough cookies -- you are merely a pawn in a much larger political game," is essentially what their (mostly) Republican governors had to say to them.

Elizabeth Colbert Busch qualifies for nomination of this award as well, as she won the Democratic primary and then lost the special election to none other than Mark "Appalachian Trail" Sanford, down in South Carolina. As does Larry Summers, who had to withdraw his nomination for chairman of the Federal Reserve, when opposition to such a Wall Street sycophant grew.

But the real biggest loser of the year was none other than the Tea Party. While throughout the first half of the year it was on the ascendancy, after the government shutdown the simmering resentment within the Republican Party boiled over in dramatic fashion. Establishment Republicans are now fighting back, loudly and publicly. Karl Rove is gathering money to fight the Tea Party primary candidates which have been nothing but a ball and chain for the party in so many notable elections (mostly Senate candidates) that the GOP really should have won. The Tea Partiers are fighting back, of course, as evidenced by one photo circulated of Rove wearing a Nazi uniform (just to give one example). John Boehner ended the year by standing up to the Tea Party bullies in his own party, and refusing to dance to their tune any more. We'll see where this goes next year, especially during primary season, but when the year is taken as a whole, the biggest loser -- in prominence, in power, and in respect -- has been the Tea Party.

Best Politician

While we did consider Elizabeth Warren for this award (just because), we have to reluctantly admit that she didn't actually sponsor any important bills which passed and subsequently changed anything. We do look for her to be more productive in the future (she's fairly new to the Senate, after all), but cannot really consider her a candidate for Best Politician this year. She asked some pointed questions in committee hearings, it is true, and did propose and advance several interesting proposals, but without a whole lot of actual legislative result.

We also considered Texas legislator Wendy Davis (she of the pink shoes), but we're going to address her fame later, so you'll have to just wait for it.

Instead, we are awarding "Best Politician" to a local guy, of sorts, who handily won the mayoralty of New York City this year -- Bill de Blasio. De Blasio ran on an unashamedly progressive platform, speaking of the "two cities" of New York and highlighting inequality every chance he got. He emerged victorious from the Democratic primary, and then went on to trounce the Republican by a margin of almost fifty points. That's pretty impressive, and it's more than enough to win Best Politician for Bill de Blasio.

Worst Politician

There was no shortage of nominees in this category, as usual. Reince Priebus, Anthony Weiner, Trey Radel, and crack-smoking mayor of Toronto Rob Ford all did their best to claim the title of Worst Politician, in fact.

But one man stood out among the crowd. For over 20 hours straight, in fact. Senator Ted Cruz easily beat out the other contenders in this category, by not only annoying the opposing party, but also by enraging many in his own party. Whether fair or not, he became the face of the government shutdown movement, by mounting a "fauxlibuster" in the Senate, for no apparent reason. His talk-a-thon was incapable of stopping any bill (it wasn't a real filibuster at all), and in the end he wound up voting against the position he had staked out anyway.

For leading the entire Republican Party off a cliff, with no plan for what he'd do on the way down, Ted Cruz was savaged by members of his own party. Here is just one representative example, from John Podhoretz (who is about as rabidly conservative as you can get):

That's what has happened with segments of the Right this year; they have blinded themselves. And since they've fashioned themselves leaders of others, in their blindness they have marched themselves and their followers off a cliff.

It gives me no pleasure to say this. I am no less an opponent of ObamaCare than those who have raged against it. I've written thousands of words against it and (in a magazine I edit) published tens of thousands of words dismantling it. I enjoy hearing arguments against it made as fluently as Sen. Ted Cruz made them last week in his pointless pseudo-filibuster.

But what these blind fools have done is make the case against ObamaCare more difficult to advance. They've made it less likely that ObamaCare will eventually be revoked and replaced. In seeking to extirpate the president's signature piece of legislation, they've played into the president's hands and weakened their own.

And they've done so, moreover, while insisting that people who warned them against this idiocy were sellouts and weaklings.

That's not even the worst example of what fellow Republicans were saying about Cruz, and about the shutdown crusade. There are dozens of worse examples, in fact. What Democrats were saying was almost immaterial, because Republicans were being so brutal to Ted Cruz at the time.

Nothing exemplified the idiocy of the Ted Cruz-led shutdown more than the instant-classic quote from Republican House member Marlin Stutzman, uttered during the shutdown's darkest days: "We're not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don't even know what that is." Clueless, just absolutely clueless.

For leading his political party over a cliff, for not have the slightest clue of what to do when they all followed him, for enraging a significant portion of his own party, and for being too dense to understand why picking Green Eggs And Ham to read to his children as part of his fauxlibuster (since the book's moral is exactly the opposite of what he was supposedly fighting for) -- for all these reasons and more, Ted Cruz wins Worst Politician this year.

Most Defining Political Moment

There are several things which could have qualified as "most defining" this year -- the revelations made by Edward Snowden, the launch of the Obamacare website -- but we're going to take the award title a little more literally.

The Most Defining Political Moment was President Barack Obama refusing to give in during the government shutdown crisis. Previously, in such hostage-taking episodes by the Republicans, Obama tried to meet them halfway. This inevitably led to his "caving" on important legislative measures, to some degree or another. Since the Republicans took over the House, Obama has repeatedly dealt away his position of strength in negotiation after negotiation. Not this time, however. Obama said at the start that he wasn't going to deal -- he wasn't going to suddenly kill Obamacare just because the Republicans were holding the entire economy hostage. He wound up not giving an inch on this pledge.

Which redefined his presidency. From this point on, Republicans know that Obama will hold firm even under extraordinary circumstances. Which changes the entire nature of the debate, in fact. Obama sticking to his guns in the government shutdown was indeed the Most Defining Political Moment of the year.

Turncoat Of The Year

Lincoln Chafee completed his cross-aisle journey this year, by announcing he's now a Democrat (previously, he had moved from the Republican Party to being an Independent). Also noteworthy was Senator Rob Portman being one of the first (and certainly the most prominent, to date) sitting Republican politician to declare his support for gay marriage, after his own son came out to him (well, two years earlier, but who's counting?).

But while both of these were notable, the person who turned his coat the most this year was none other than Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio had a good racket going, where he was constantly "working on" (but never actually "completing") comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Because he never actually came up with a bill, he avoided the slings and arrows from his fellow Republicans, while at the same time postured as a "leader" for even tackling the issue. That worked for a while, but this year he was forced (by Obama stating that if Rubio didn't move, the White House was going to) into actually coming up with a bill. Which, to his credit (and the other seven members of his senatorial "gang"), Rubio finally did. Even more astonishingly, this bill actually made it to the Senate floor and garnered a huge bipartisan majority.

For putting his stamp of approval on a pathway to citizenship, Rubio was excoriated by the reactionary members of his own party. He was, in fact, labeled a turncoat (and much worse). But then Rubio, in an extraordinary move, turned his coat back again (since he's keeping his eyes on the prize in 2016, of course), and announced that he couldn't support the House of Representatives voting on his own bill. He is, once again, trying to have it both ways. Without much notable success, one might add. But for this double-reverse turning of his coat, Rubio has to be seen as the Turncoat Of The Year. Especially since his final coat-turn was against himself.

Most Boring

Our go-to nominees for this category are always Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, both of which could put a roomful of boisterous toddlers asleep within minutes, just by speaking in front of a microphone.

But this year saw the return to the political spotlight of another extremely boring speaker. Secretary of State John Kerry has had a pretty good year in his new job, so we're not knocking his abilities as a diplomat, but when it comes to public speaking there are few as downright dull as Kerry. So even though he is in the middle of several rather exciting developments in American foreign policy (and has been, all year), John Kerry is also simultaneously the Most Boring when he steps to the microphone to inform the public about what he's been up to. Again, we're not denigrating his skills as a diplomat, but hearing Kerry speak is about as exciting as watching paint dry.

Most Charismatic

This one is pretty easy, when you expand the field beyond the United States. The Most Charismatic person of the year, easily, was the new Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis. The new Pope is a breath of fresh air in an institution which is not exactly (to put it mildly) used to such charisma in its leaders. His focus on serving the poor (and his focus away from other contentious theological issues) is reviving the Catholic Church in ways not seen in at least a half-century. In fact, this award needs no further explanation, because it should be crystal clear to all that the Most Charismatic person of the year was indeed the new Pope.

Bummest Rap

It seems there were a lot of bum raps tossed around this year, sadly. There were bum raps that didn't even make national news, such as the 10-year sentence handed to Aaron Sandusky for obeying his state's laws and providing medicine to patients, or the bum rap that some "marijuana growers" were responsible for the gigantic Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park (it turned out the fire was lit by a hunter, but only after days of media speculation about the fictional evil pot growers). There were bum raps for leakers, from Bradley Manning to Edward Snowden. Obamacare got a lot of bum raps (as usual), the worst probably being " is the entirety of Obamacare." There were "scandals" that were nothing more than bum raps, from Benghazi to Obama somehow trying to "pack the court" by nominating justices to fill vacancies, which was just laughably inaccurate.

But the biggest, bummest rap this year was "Obama used the I.R.S. to target his political opponents!" The I.R.S. scandal exploded on the scene in late spring, and at first glance it seemed pretty damning. There is a history (see: Nixon, Richard) of the White House using the I.R.S. in such underhanded fashion, of course, so that's the storyline everyone ran with for weeks. Not so prominently featured in the media were the later stories which quite clearly showed that (1) nobody outside of the I.R.S. was involved at all, much less the White House or President Obama, (2) political groups from across the spectrum were involved, not just from one side, and (3) there was not "targeting" at all -- no group was denied status, and no group was fined or otherwise penalized. The I.R.S. was trying to follow the bizarre post-Citizens United rules, in fact, not making rules up as they went along or anything nefarious. The entire "scandal" was nothing more than a gigantic bum rap. But retracting the initial story never seemed to adequately happen in the mainstream media, making it the Bummest Rap of the year.

Fairest Rap

There were also, it seems, a lot of fair raps this year. There were politicians caught doing bad (and occasionally criminal) things, such as Jesse Jackson Jr., Bob McDonnell, and Bob Filner, to name but a few. There were political raps laid down which were entirely justified, such as the unprecedented abuse of the filibuster, hostage-taking rather than budgeting, the ongoing War On Women waged by Republicans, and the GOP civil war between the Tea Party and the Establishment Republicans. There was even a historical rap which was proven fair this year -- the Jamestown settlers did indeed turn cannibal. This Congress is going down in history as the do-nothing-est Congress in modern American history, which is about as fair a rap as can be imagined. Democrats had a few fair raps laid at their feet as well, such as "the Obamacare website sucks" (for two excruciating months) and "the White House is waging a legal War On Journalism" for spying on AP and Fox News reporters (which was scandalous, and not at all some sort of fake scandal or bum rap).

But the fairest rap of all this year, in our eyes, was "Kathleen Sebelius needs to resign in disgrace." And we'd bet that most people have even forgotten that there are two reasons to call for her to step down. The most obvious, and the one on everyone's mind, is the Obamacare website's disastrous launch. Sebelius, to her credit, took full responsibility by refusing to allow a subordinate to take the heat, but then didn't take the next step, of resigning herself -- even after the "nuclear option" change in the Senate which would allow an easy confirmation of a successor.

If the disaster had been the only rap on Sebelius, she might have escaped winning the Fairest Rap award. But there was an earlier episode which Sebelius was much more closely involved in which showed her at her worst -- the fight against legalizing the "Plan B" morning-after pill as an over-the-counter medication for all women (without age restrictions). Sebelius and the Obama administration have been -- for some bizarre inexplicable reason -- playing politics for years with the Plan B situation, after Obama ran on "we're going to use science to dictate policy, not politics." In the final fight with a federal judge, the opinion handed down wasn't just against Sebelius, it was downright scathing in ripping her arguments apart.

Both of these episodes, added together, equal the conclusion that Kathleen Sebelius is the wrong person for the job she occupies. Which means "Sebelius should step down" is, in our eyes, the Fairest Rap of 2013.

Best Comeback

The obvious candidate for Best Comeback this year would have to be Mark Sanford (R-Appalachian Trail). After his sexual shenanigans were laid bare while he was in the governor's office (or, more accurately, while he was in South America with his mistress when he was supposed to be in the governor's office), many thought he was gone from politics forever. But he ran for his old House seat in a special election, and he beat out Stephen Colbert's sister to the surprise of a whole lot of folks.

But we're still annoyed from writing the last award's explanation, so we're going to give Best Comeback to the morning-after pill. We would say "Plan B," but that's merely one brand name (there are others), so we wanted to be more inclusive. The morning-after pill should have been available over-the-counter from the first day it was sold -- to all, regardless of age -- but it got entangled in politics from both Republican and Democratic administrations. Bringing a federal court case just brought on more politics, and more unnecessary delays. The Obama administration fought tooth and nail against Plan B, and they lost. Over and over again. They were finally forced into dropping their appeals, when they could see it was pointless to continue. In the end, the morning-after pill was victorious, making it the Best Comeback story of the year.

Most Original Thinker

Well, there was that time when Bob Dole suggested the Republican Party shut its doors for the rest of the year and put up a "closed for repairs" sign....

There was also a little-noticed major pushback from a state Republican on sexual matters, which was (for the Republican Party) some pretty downright original thinking.

There were technological ideas floated, such as drone delivery from Amazon, and cars that can drive themselves from Google.

But the Most Original Thinker was a group effort, by a class of students in Oregon who not only proposed but actually got passed into law an astoundingly original plan for students to pay for college, by "paying it forward." Oregon students will now be able to go to public university and pay for it by giving up three percent of their earnings for the twenty-year period after they graduate. Call it a rolling-scale price for an education. This means it won't matter how much money you make (freeing students to go into fields like teaching), you'll still only pay a fraction of your earnings for a set period of time. For coming up with this idea, and (more importantly) for following through and making the experiment reality, the class led by instructors Mary King and Barbara Dudley is, collectively, this year's Most Original Thinker.

Most Stagnant Thinker

As usual, there is no shortage of contenders for Most Stagnant Thinker. People like Phyllis Schlafly, who counseled the Republican Party to just ignore minorities and instead concentrate on beefing up the white vote, for instance. Liz Cheney's campaign for Senate in Wyoming, proving that her thinking is just as stagnant as her father's.

In a category by itself was the entire "Repeal Obamacare!" effort, as the House held at least 42 votes on the subject. Thinking "This time's the charm!" for so many dozens of votes is not just stagnant, but downright swamp-like.

But we have to give the Most Stagnant Thinker award to Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee (and whose name, amusingly enough, when stripped of vowels, reads: "RNC PR BS"). Priebus tried some original thinking early in 2013. He really did. He decided that the Republican Party needed an "autopsy" (their word, not mine) after their disastrous showing in the 2012 election. That's original. Even more so, the autopsy (when it appeared) did indeed correctly identify major problems for the party among women, youth, minorities, and a whole passel of other groups. But then the stagnant thinking came into play, and ruined what could have been a defining political moment. Because the autopsy then went on to offer recommendations for change. Not change in any policy, mind you, but how to change their messaging. Seriously. They concluded that there was not a single thing wrong with their party's platform, but that they could do a much better job of communicating it. "I'm telling you in a very polite and engaging tone of voice why my political party believes America must screw you and everyone like you" is just not enough, Reince.

He really tried to be an original thinker. The report was a good idea, and it accurately laid out the problems. But then by essentially concluding "nothing's wrong, we just need to talk better," it showed an astounding depth of stagnant thinking. So our Most Stagnant Thinker of the year is none other than Reince Priebus.

Best Photo Op

There were minor good photo ops this year worth mentioning. The whole Nelson Mandela funeral, complete with a handshake between Obama and Fidel Castro's brother, for instance. The military releasing a video of what can only be called a "phaser" weapon, that can burn a plane out of the sky and only costs a single dollar per shot -- that was a pretty good photo op.

Most amusing photo op had to have been the Seattle police handing out bags of Doritos (complete with information about their website spelling out the new legalities, amusingly named "Marijwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use In Seattle") to a group of open-air marijuana enthusiasts. Hard to top that one, really. Well, unless you count fake ones in the Onion.

But all of these paled in comparison to the Best Photo Op of the year. In fact, it needs no explanation at all, other than one short name. Just six letters, and everyone will lapse into "awwww..." moments of their own memory. Don't believe me? Here goes:


Worst Photo Op

To get serious for a moment, there was one "worst photo" of 2013, but we don't feel that the Boston Marathon bombing really fits the category. It wasn't planned as some sort of "photo op" in other words, no matter how horrific the entire experience was to the town of Boston (and America).

Photo ops, though, are their own sort of category. There were bizarre ones, such as the mayor of Jersey City, Jerry Healy, nude on his front porch (and his even-more-bizarre explanation of what had happened). And there were downright creepy ones, such as those "Burger-King-like mask-wearing" Uncle Sam ads to convince young people not to sign up for Obamacare, which we still shudder to think about (and refuse to link to).

But the Worst Photo Op of the year happened very early on in 2013. In response to the State Of The Union speech, Senator Marco Rubio gave the biggest speech of his life. Nobody now remembers a single word he said. Because what everyone remembers instead is the awkwardness of him reaching off-screen for a tiny bottle of water, in the middle of his speech. Because the entire thing was a photo op from the very start, and because he showed how amateur he truly is in such a spotlight, Marco Rubio's sip of water is our Worst Photo Op of the year.

Enough Already!

This category is just a free-for-all, as always.

Hastert Rule -- Enough already!

Budget brinksmanship and hostage-taking -- Enough already!

War On Women -- Enough already!

Michele Bachmann -- Enough already!

The name "Redskins" -- Enough already!

The royal heir -- Enough already!

Shopping on Thanksgiving (and Black Friday) -- Enough already!

N.S.A. spying -- Enough already!

Third Way Democrats attacking populism (and Elizabeth Warren) -- Enough already!

George Zimmerman -- Enough already!

Sharknado -- Enough already!

...and finally, Wolf Blitzer asking a woman (over and over again) who had survived a tornado whether she "thanked the Lord" when she didn't want to answer (being an atheist) -- Enough already!

Worst Lie

Well, there were all those handshake agreements between Harry Reid and Senate Republicans where they promised to stop filibustering Obama's nominees (and then almost immediately resumed filibustering everyone in sight). Outside the world of politics, there was Lance Armstrong's entire career.

Then there was the testimony the Director of National Intelligence gave to Congress, answering "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" with "No sir... not wittingly." That was a pretty big whopper.

Of course, everyone else in the political universe is handing this award out to President Obama, for his "if you like your insurance, you can keep it -- period" statements. Getting trapped in a talking point like that is tough for any politician to recover from, and (to date) Obama hasn't really bounced back -- likely meaning that twenty or thirty years from now, people will still remember it.

But we've got a different Obama lie for Worst Lie, as a surprise. In fact, surprise was what led to this one. The surprise of the Edward Snowden leaks. In response to all the revelations about the enormous scope of the N.S.A.'s spying, Obama named a commission to study it (this commission has just issued its report, by the way). But the jaw-droppingly false way Obama presented it was what gave us some side-splitting laughter, as Obama wanted us all to believe that he truly "welcomed the debate" over spying.

Puh-leeze, Mister President. You did not "welcome" this debate, in fact you would have preferred it never had taken place. Otherwise, you would have been free to instigate this debate, at any point in the past four or five years. Not doing so shows that in no way did you "welcome" this debate at all. Which is why we're giving it Worst Lie of 2013, in fact.

Capitalist Of The Year

Um, whoever came up with the trillion-dollar platinum coin idea? I'm just saying, that's a pretty astounding volume of capitalism, right there.

The Tea Party, for raising mountains of cash from the gullible, who believed their promises?

Fast food corporations who refuse to pay their workers above minimum wage?

Kanye and the Kardashians? OK, sorry, but they do seem to mint their own money, almost.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, hitting high mark after high mark this year?

Jeff Bezos, for buying the Washington Post?

The most obvious choice would be Janet Yellen, who is about to be confirmed as what might be called "Capitalist-in-Chief."

But we're going a little afield for this one, and awarding Capitalist Of The Year to the Public Broadcasting Corporation, for caring more about money from a donor named Koch than for the quality and editorial freedom of their programming. The entire sorry story of the documentary Citizen Koch is a sad moment in the history of PBS, and one we hope never to see repeated ever again. Squashing a documentary because a donor doesn't like it is not what public television is supposed to be about, to put it mildly. So we feel we must award -- in disgrace -- Capitalist Of The Year to PBS for allowing this sorry episode to happen in the first place.

Honorable Mention

Another catch-all category. There was the amusing fray over Jack Lew's signature, which he changed so it would look more dignified on United States currency. Mississippi ratified (only a century and a half late!) the Thirteenth Amendment.

John Dingell became the longest-serving member of Congress of all time, after breaking a record with his 57 years, 5 months, and 26 days of service (and counting, that's just where he was when he broke the record...).

There were notable anniversaries this year, as we saw the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech (given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial), and also of John F. Kennedy's assassination. We're still in the 150th anniversary period of the Civil War, which meant the anniversaries of both the Battle of Gettysburg and (months later) the Gettysburg Address.

In the "WTF?" sub-category, we had Louie Gohmert accusing a colleague of "casting aspersions on my asparagus" (which we're still scratching our heads over), and of course Steve King's marijuana smugglers with "calves the size of cantaloupes" (who could forget that one?).

For public service, the guy who bought the domain name just so it couldn't be used by conspiracy theorists -- he deserves an Honorable Mention, that's for sure. Barack Obama (speaking of conspiracies) recently became the first president to mention "Area 51" in public (at least, the first we're aware of).

At year's-end, there were several notable groups of people having fun with the whole "seasonal displays on public property" thing, from the Pastafarians (followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, may you be touched by his noodly appendage) to those who celebrate Festivus. We certainly expect to see more of this sort of thing in the coming years, in statehouses across the land.

Person Of The Year

Whew! We come to the final award of Part 1, and have to congratulate any readers who have shown the intestinal fortitude to make it to the end, and are thus still reading this.

Our Person Of The Year for 2013 is Edward Snowden.

Love Snowden or hate him -- in fact, no matter what you think about him -- Snowden's release of N.S.A. information was a defining moment of the year. The national conversation (as we've noted) changed enormously because of Snowden. Presidential commissions were launched, investigations begun, congressional hearings happened, laws were proposed, and a national debate did indeed take place, all due to the actions of one man. Well, Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian also deserve some credit (or blame, depending on your point of view), but you have to admit that it is rare when one person affects history and politics in such dramatic fashion.

We simply would not be having the conversation about N.S.A. spying right now, if it hadn't been for Snowden. The American government reacted as harshly as I've ever seen (who else -- even throughout the Cold War, for Pete's sake -- ever had their American passport stripped from them so fast without ever being charged or convicted in a court of law?). But slamming the barn doors in anger did nothing, because the horses were long gone.

It wasn't just one story, either. We have been getting a constant stream of stories of what the federal government is doing when it comes to spying on both its own citizens and other people around the world. It's been a drip, drip, drip sort of thing, with each new revelation as breathtaking as all the previous ones.

President Obama, next month, is going to announce what changes he will be making in response to the report he just received from his blue-ribbon commission on the issue. This would not be happening if Edward Snowden hadn't decided to leak what he did. Snowden has influenced leaders all over the world (think: Angela Merkel), and he has heavily influenced political leaders here in America, all the way up to the top.

Which is pretty much the definition of the award category, when you think about it. For being this influential and for opening the eyes of the world to what America has been doing, Edward Snowden is our Person Of The Year.

[See you next week, for the conclusion of our 2013 awards!]

If you're interested in traveling down Memory Lane, here are all the previous years of this awards column:

2012 -- [Part 1] [Part 2]

2011 -- [Part 1] [Part 2]

2010 -- [Part 1] [Part 2]

2009 -- [Part 1] [Part 2]

2008 -- [Part 1] [Part 2]

2007 -- [Part 1] [Part 2]

2006 -- [Part 1] [Part 2]

Chris Weigant blogs at:

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