Welcome back to our annual year-end awards column!
Part 1 of this column ran last week, just in case you missed it. We've got a lot to cover, so let's jump right in with no further introduction.
Destined For Political Stardom
There was one obvious choice on the Democratic side for the Destined For Political Stardom award: Elizabeth Warren. After the midterm election, she was granted "a seat at the table" in the Senate leadership -- they actually made up a new leadership position just to let Warren have a voice in the direction of Senate Democrats over the next two years. But in actual fact, we awarded Warren the Destined For Political Stardom award way back in 2011, and the way we see it, she's just fulfilling that previous award, so we're going to go with a less-prominent candidate.
There were two we considered this year, beginning with Julián Castro, who is definitely an up-and-comer in the Democratic Party. In 2009, he became the youngest mayor ever of one of the 50 largest American cities, and he has won re-election as San Antonio's mayor twice since then. He was the first Latino to give the keynote address to the Democratic National Convention. This year, he was called by President Obama to join his cabinet as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He seems to be in a race to political stardom with his own twin brother Joaquín, who is currently serving in the House of Representatives.
But while America's own Castro brothers are impressive indeed, and both seem destined for some kind of political stardom, we instead chose a Californian who seems likely to step into the shoes (so to speak) of either Dianne Feinstein or Barbara Boxer: Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom.
You may remember Newsom's name from back when he was mayor of San Francisco. In 2004 -- very early on in the struggle -- he defied state law and instructed the city's clerks to start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. This bold act put him at the forefront of the marriage equality fight, and in normal times he would probably be sitting in the governor's office by now. These are not normal times in California, though, as we have our version of F.D.R.: Jerry Brown -- who just won an unprecedented (and, due to term limits, never-to-be-repeated) fourth term as governor of the Golden State.
California's Senate delegation has been stable since 1992. In 2016, Barbara Boxer will either run for another term or decide to retire (she will turn 76 years old in 2016). What is even more likely, however, is that Dianne Feinstein will decline to run for re-election in 2018. Feinstein's already the oldest current member of the Senate, and she will be 85 years old in 2018. One way or another, in the next few years California will likely have an open Senate seat. Whenever it happens, Gavin Newsom will likely immediately become the frontrunner, in an election he'll probably win with ease. Newsom already achieved minor stardom on the national stage with his bold move on gay weddings, but we think he's Destined For Political Stardom on an even bigger stage.
Destined For Political Oblivion
Plenty to choose from in this category, from minor celebrities who
(wrongly) thought they might enter politics (Victoria Jackson, Clay Aiken) to people retiring from politics (Michele Bachmann) to politicians who may be headed for a loss in the next election (Harry Reid) to a convicted felon currently serving in Congress (Michael Grimm). All perhaps worthy of the Destined For Political Oblivion award this year.
Instead, though, we're going to hand the award to someone who has already made his exit from political office. Not so much for being beaten in the primary by a Tea Partier, but for how far he had to fall. Eric Cantor became the first House Majority Leader in American history to lose a primary election to a challenger. He really should have won, by any measure of conventional wisdom. He outspent his opponent Dave Brat by a stunning 40-to-1. Cantor thought he would win by a large margin (say, 30 points), but wound up getting beaten. The most shocking factoid from the campaign finance reports: Cantor spent more on campaign steak dinners than Brat spent for his entire campaign.
After a loss of that magnitude, Eric Cantor -- once thought of as a future Speaker of the House -- more than earned the 2014 Destined For Political Oblivion award.
Best Political Theater
The field of nominees in this category was pretty big, too, and varied in nature. There were the St. Louis Rams players who ran on the field with their hands up (to bolster the "Hands Up Don't Shoot" protests) -- that was pretty good political theater from a place where you don't normally expect politics to arise.
Also from the world of sports (kind of), there was the hilarious South Park Redskins episode, which (as usual) turned the entire issue on its head in ironic fashion.
In the world of congressional hearings (always ripe for political theater), there was the shaming of the drug warriors in a House hearing on marijuana, which surely deserves at least some sort of "biggest hypocrisy exposed by political theater" award.
Our runner-up in this category was President Obama's appearance on the "Between Two Ferns" video web series. The interview by Zach Galifianakis was both hilarious and effective, which is why it was arguably the Best Political Theater of the year. Released towards the end of Obamacare's first open enrollment sign-up period, it did exactly what Obama intended -- it got the Obamacare message out to young people, as evidenced by an enormous spike in HealthCare.gov traffic immediately afterwards. At the very least, it was the most effective political theater of the year.
Call us juvenile if you will, though, but we're going to give Best Political Theater to an ad from a losing candidate in the midterm primaries. Mostly because it was the funniest campaign ad we saw all year long.
Tea Party candidate J. D. Winteregg ran in Ohio in an attempt to defeat John Boehner. The ad he produced was so funny he actually lost his job teaching at a Christian university because of it. The Winteregg campaign took a very funny clip of Boehner cracking the obvious joke about his own last name and then got very creative with it. I wrote about the ad when Winteregg was fired, and described it as "well-produced and funny on multiple levels":
Satirizing Cialis ads, it purports to offer a cure for "electile dysfunction." It begins: "Your electile dysfunction, it could be a question of blood flow. Sometimes when a politician has been in D.C. too long, it goes to his head and he just can't seem to get the job done." The message is mostly a "throw the bums out" type of outsider theme, but the ad is so hilarious that I urge everyone to view it, to see for yourselves how humor can be brilliantly used in a campaign ad.
The ad shows a series of couples (including, to Winteregg's credit, one interracial couple) frolicking about, and then "prescribes" a vote for Winteregg to cure their electile dysfunction problem. It spoofs the fine print of such drug ads both in a super-fast crawl text at the bottom of the screen as well as in an increasingly squeaky voice warning of such side effects as "golf." But what probably was a step too far for Winteregg's employers occurs at the end of the ad, which shows a recent clip of John Boehner joking around with a reporter who misidentified him. Boehner helpfully mispronounces his own name in the fashion he must have heard umpty-gazillion times as a schoolchild. Not clear enough? How about: "BOH-ner" instead of "BAY-ner." Yes, even though this ad is indeed a brilliant work of satire, at its core it is nothing more than a boner joke.
View the ad for yourself, and see if you agree that it was the funniest ad of the 2014 political season. It obviously didn't work (Boehner won the primary), but that doesn't mean the ad didn't qualify as the Best Political Theater of the year.
Worst Political Theater
There was an enormous amount of bad political theater to choose from in 2014. We'll just briefly list the ones we considered:
Chris Christie and "Bridgegate."
Edwin "dead girl or a live boy" Edwards tries to make a political comeback (and fails).
John Boehner sues the president.
The Ebola nurse fiasco (the one who refused to be quarantined).
Vladimir Putin offers his coat to China's First Lady.
The Keystone XL vote Democrats manufactured in a pathetic attempt to save Mary Landrieu's Senate seat, between the election and the runoff.
Ted Cruz, on general principles (OK, specifically: Harry Reid snookering him by moving forward on nominees at the end of the year -- pretty bad theater for Cruz).
The entire Cliven Bundy saga in Nevada.
Democratic House member Joe Garcia filmed during a hearing picking something out of his ear and then eating it. That was pretty cringeworthy, but we're not sure if it qualifies as actual "political theater."
The Idaho Republican governor's primary debate (hoo boy).
While that last one was pretty amusing to watch, there was another governor's debate in the Republican Party which really took the prize this year. The debate was titled "Women and Colorado's Future," and was part of the Republican outreach to women voters. What could go wrong with such an idea? Well, pretty much everything. As I wrote back then:
The emcee begins by stating that the moderator failed to "implore the ladies" on the panel to come up and seat themselves onstage at the panel table. He followed this up with: "It's so much more ornamental if the three... four of you would be on the stage with the four of us." After calling out the women on the panel by name and inviting them to come up on stage, he paused and said "we were supposed to have a little of The Dating Game theme..." which did indeed soon begin to play over the loudspeakers. As the music swelled, the moderator tried to be funny, by announcing "Bachelor One, Bachelor Two, and Bachelor Three." This was right before he felt it necessary to tamp down any possible eruption of female hormones by admitting "actually their wives are all here tonight."
No, seriously. That happened. In the year 2014. Don't believe me? Watch the video clip. Easily the Worst Political Theater of the year, if not the decade.
Worst Political Scandal
Even after ignoring all the fake GOP scandals that Darrell Issa was incompetently trying to gin up, there were quite a few real scandals this year:
The fence-jumper at the White House, and the Secret Service's inadequate response.
The C.I.A. spying on members of Dianne Feinstein's committee investigating torture.
The report that Feinstein finally was able to release, admitting unequivocally that America did indeed torture.
In Virginia, a Democratic office-holder was essentially bribed to step down from his position, in order to save the Republican Party's bacon.
Federal judge Mark Fuller, who was caught on a 911 call's tape beating his wife and who still holds his job (he refuses to step down, meaning Congress would have to impeach him to get rid of him).
From history, we had the release of Warren G. Harding's love letters to his mistress, in case anyone was wondering what our former president called his penis, in tender moments.
But the biggest and most valid scandal of the year was without a doubt the problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The V.A. scandal was huge, and caused Eric Shinseki to resign. The way the V.A. hospital system was treating veterans (or, more literally: "not treating veterans") was nothing short of a national disgrace. The problems were quickly addressed, both in Congress and in the White House, and things seem to be improving now. But, without question, the V.A. situation was this year's Worst Political Scandal.
Most Underreported Story
Let's see... there was an employee of the Drug Enforcement Agency who, with her husband, staged the fake kidnapping of American children in Columbia. Seems like a pretty juicy scandal, right? Well, the mainstream media certainly didn't think so. The Justice Department even put out a press release, but the media mostly just yawned.
I wrote three columns (a book review in two parts, and an interview with the author) on the new book The Burglary, which details an episode from America's past which should be of interest to anyone concerned with the federal government's abuse of power. Back in the 1970s, when J. Edgar Hoover was still around, an F.B.I. office was broken into and cleaned out. The burglars were never caught. The papers they stole were then revealed to the press and the public, which brought COINTELPRO to light for the first time, as well as many other of Hoover's excesses. It's an extraordinary story by an extraordinary author (Betty Medsger, who was the Washington Post reporter who received the documents in the mail, and broke the story to the public). This episode doesn't really qualify for a 2014 award, but it's still worth mentioning in the age of Edward Snowden.
Getting back to the present, there were two good-news stories that were almost completely ignored over the course of the entire year by the media at large. This is a prime example of how the media only really loves to obsess about bad news, while ignoring the good.
Throughout the entire course of the year, Obamacare chalked up success after success. The statistics kept coming in, and they were almost universally a story of the program working to do exactly what it was designed to. Once the website had been fixed, however, the media almost completely lost interest. Compare the obsessive reporting about the broken website at the end of 2013 with the coverage of Obamacare news in all of 2014 to see my point. Obamacare is so successful, in fact, that even many Republican governors are finally getting over their ideological hissy fit and signing their states up for Medicaid expansion. The rate of uninsured Americans continues to drop. And, when the second open enrollment period began in November, the web site didn't even experience a hiccup. But you wouldn't know it from listening to the mainstream media.
The other story not getting full attention from the media was "the American economy continues to get better." This one is really partially the fault of the Democrats, though, since they could have made optimism the centerpiece of their campaign, but decided not to, out of fear. Unemployment is under six percent. More jobs were created this year than at any time since Bill Clinton was in office. Gas prices are way, way down. Housing is recovering. The stock market hit record high after record high, all year long. Sure, we've still got a ways to go, but that doesn't mean you can't talk about how things have indeed gotten better for millions.
Our two winners for Most Underreported Story are the improving American economy, and the improvements and successes of Obamacare.
Most Overreported Story
An early candidate, at least on CNN, was the plane that disappeared in Malaysia. Breathless "breaking news" when there was no news to break went on for far too long.
But that paled in comparison with the obvious Most Overreported Story winner: Ebola crisis (in America). In fact, we should have included the Ebola crisis (in Africa) as one of the underreported stories, given the relative amount of airtime spent on the two separate stories -- one of which was truly a humanitarian crisis, and one of which was not.
It's patently obvious that this was nothing more than shameful fearmongering to sell newspapers and attract eyeballs to the media screens. The barons of the yellow journalism era would have been proud, in fact. The Ebola "crisis" in America was, easily, the Most Overreported Story of 2014.
Biggest Government Waste
This one is kind of counterintuitive, because it was born from an effort to avoid waste.
With the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq winding down, the Pentagon suddenly had a whole lot of extra war equipment that they didn't really know what to do with. Sell it for scrap? That seemed kind of wasteful, so somebody got the bright idea to essentially just give all this stuff to America's cops. We're talking about MRAPs -- vehicles designed to withstand I.E.D. attacks -- and other battlefield equipment. Given to police departments (for free) all over the country.
After Ferguson, Missouri, such cost-savings looks mighty short-sighted indeed. The militarization of police forces has been transformative, and not in a very good way. So -- even though initially designed to avoid wasting all that equipment -- militarizing America's cops by handing them war zone equipment truly was the Biggest Government Waste.
Best Government Dollar Spent
In a general way of speaking, "ending the War On Weed" is the real winner here. Again, counterintuitively -- since it represents the end of dollars spent on a very wasteful decades-long bout of governmental windmill-tilting.
But we decided that was too vague. We were tempted to give this award to one tiny case, just for the amusement factor alone. Walking through the airport in Colorado Springs with a bag of weed in your pocket is, technically, still illegal (since the federal government controls airport security). But the airport knew that with the recent legalization, "weed tourists" would be flying back home and might be a little forgetful (insert your favorite stoner joke here). So they went ahead and set up "marijuana amnesty" boxes right before the security checkpoint to the gates. If you forgot that baggie in your pocket, you could just deposit it in the bin, no questions asked, no arrests made. This is a reasonable solution to a problem, which is why it stands out -- because there has been so little reason in the entire history of the federal War On Weed.
But even that is overshadowed by the state of Colorado passing a budget item to spend upwards of $10 million on serious medical research of the effects of marijuana. Again -- this is a new thing, because "serious medical research" means "medical research conducted without the foregone conclusion that 'marijuana is evil,' in other words research which actually studies the possible benefits of marijuana without politically-based preconceptions." That right there is a first.
But while such studies are now moving forward (after the feds stalled approval for decades, in some cases), the extraordinary thing is that the state of Colorado is going to fund some of the studies with taxpayer dollars.
That is easily the Best Government Dollar Spent.
Boldest Political Tactic
Our first inclination for Boldest Political Tactic was to give the award to Harry Reid for "dropping the nuke" on getting rid of filibusters for presidential appointees, but then we checked and that actually happened last year (although the aftereffects were more profoundly felt at the end of 2014).
The ballot initiatives in Oregon and Alaska to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults were pretty bold, since all the other states held back until the presidential election year of 2016. Both passed handily, rewarding such political boldness.
Likewise, putting minimum wage on the ballot in many locales was a bold way to cut the politicians out of the process entirely. Again, most such efforts easily won at the ballot box.
But the Boldest Political Tactic of the year was President Obama's refusal to curl up into a ball and whine after the midterm elections. Obama came out of the gate -- finally freed of worrying about electoral politics for the rest of his term -- and stunned Washington with the breadth of his executive actions. Obama cut an emissions control deal with China, came out strongly for net neutrality, got a budget through Congress that funds most of the federal government until next October, singlehandedly changed deportation policy for undocumented immigrants, and -- just as icing on the cake -- reversed a half-century of America's failed policy towards Cuba.
That's a pretty impressive list of accomplishments, and when you consider that they all happened in about a month's time, it's even more noteworthy. Of course, Republicans are chomping at the bit to fight Obama on many of these fronts, but our guess is that the sheer number of them means that Republicans won't be able to gin up their base's anger on all of them. But whatever the ultimate outcome, President Obama easily wins the Boldest Political Tactic for everything he's done since the midterm election. He did not roll over and cower, he came out swinging for the fences.
There were a lot of good ideas to choose from this year. All worthy of consideration:
Ending the War On Weed.
Not shutting the government down.
Raising the minimum wage.
The announcement that Apple and Google would be providing encryption for their users that was so strong the federal government would have a hard time breaking it.
But the Best Idea for 2014 was requiring police to wear body cameras. This idea was so good it actually cut across the lines of the protestors and the supporters of police. Many on both sides of that divide support the idea, for what boils down to the same reason: the camera doesn't lie. Of course, the two sides would disagree about whose lies they were interested in exposing, but the idea itself is a sound one.
Knowing that a police officer had a camera on his or her uniform means that everyone involved in any incident with the police knows full well that they won't be able to lie about what happened afterwards. The cops know it, and the citizens know it. This leads to both a reduction in excessive force by the police and a reduction in excessive belligerence from those dealing with the police in any given situation.
Because the idea is such a win-win all around, it easily qualifies as the Best Idea of 2014. It's not guaranteed to solve all problems with the police (or with grand juries for that matter), but it will go a long way towards providing more evidence of what really happened in any incident.
There were a lot of pretty bad ideas in the last year as well. Here's a quick list of the runners-up:
Continuing the efforts to pass "personhood" laws.
Continuing the efforts to pass "Turn Away The Gays" laws which would allow businesses to practice blatant discrimination.
A ballot measure which would have split California into six separate states.
The C.I.A.'s spying on Dianne Feinstein's committee members.
Harry Reid refusing to even attempt passing a Democratic budget.
The "cromnibus" bill. Please, can we never have to use that word again?
Inserting an amendment into the cromnibus bill to allow Wall Street banks to gamble -- on derivatives, no less -- with taxpayer-guaranteed money.
The abject failure of the allies (America included) to follow through on previous promises to sell Iraq planes and helicopters so they can create a real air force. This was a monumentally bad idea, and everyone involved should be ashamed.
But we're going to go more conventional and award the Worst Idea of 2014 to the decision in the Hobby Lobby court case, where the Supreme Court essentially ruled that corporations can exercise freedom of religion. This sets such a bad legal precedent that it was easily the Worst Idea of 2014.
Sorry To See You Go
If a "NOT Sorry To See You Go" category existed, on the top of the list would be Kathleen Sebelius, who resigned from her Health and Human Services cabinet position this year. Likewise, David Gregory leaving Meet The Press.
We realize the category is really to mark important deaths, but we are indeed sorry to see a few people move on to other things. Topping this list is Craig Ferguson, whose last show aired one week ago, and who is already missed. Also worth noting was the retirement of Rush Holt. When he announced his exit from the House of Representatives, a news article described him thusly:
Holt, a Jeopardy! champion with a doctoral degree in physics, recently re-introduced a "Darwin Day" resolution on the House floor, advancing a proposal to designate British naturalist Charles Darwin's Feb. 12 birthday as a day of recognition for "the importance of science in the betterment of humanity."
We handed him a "most impressive" award on his way out, and gave as our reason:
Pretty much that entire paragraph is impressive as all get out, but the thing which we found more impressive than the Darwin Day resolution -- or even the doctorate in physics -- was "Jeopardy! champion." Now that's impressive in a legislator!
So our first-ever Most Impressive Retiring Democrat goes without qualification to Rush Holt. We'll be sorry to see a man of your caliber leave Congress, because the average I.Q. of the institution is obviously going to drop with your exit. You have set a high bar for our new MIRD award, one that no one else may ever reach.
But enough of this levity. Here is our serious and solemn list of who we'll be missing in the future:
Rubin "Hurricane" Carter
Miss Beazley (we are strictly non-partisan in our appreciation of First Pets)
Otis Pike (House member who chaired their version of the Church Committee)
And, finally, the voices of Edna Krabapple (Marcia Wallace) and Manjula Nahasapeemapetilon (Jan Hooks) from The Simpsons.
15 Minutes Of Fame
Another catch-all category. I'm sure everyone has a whole bunch of other ideas for this one, so chime in down in the comment section. Here is what sprang to mind for 15 Minutes Of Fame this year:
The Super Bowl as Weed Bowl -- played between teams from the only two states to have legalized recreational marijuana (the Seahawks versus the Broncos). This will never happen again with the "only two states" qualifier, so the exclusivity of the Super Weed Bowl has had its 15 minutes of fame.
The "ice bucket challenge."
Clay Aiken (at least, in politics).
And finally, most everyone's already forgotten Cliven Bundy, the rancher in Nevada who refuses to pay his grazing fees and had a standoff with plenty of other gun-toting anti-government types. This is a rare one where you can actually identify when the 15th minute of his fame happened -- when he expressed some awfully racist views that had nothing to do with his standoff. The media quickly dropped both him and his cause immediately afterwards, thankfully.
We have two candidates that really should have won a "Best Slogan" or "Best Soundbite" award. Since these awards do not, in fact, exist, we had to stick them here. The first is "Hands Up Don't Shoot," for its powerful message alone. The second was a church sign that George Takei ("Mr. Sulu") helped go viral this year -- a message that really should be picked up by someone as a wonderful banner to rally around: "We support the separation of church and hate." That is the best slogan we've heard since "the 99 percent," in fact.
But we're going to hand this award out in a rather negative fashion, since sloganeering and spin are not quite the same thing. The Best Spin of the past decade -- measured solely on how well it worked -- was to call torture "enhanced interrogation techniques." Now reduced to an acronym (E.I.T.s), pretty much the entire American media bought this spin for an entire decade. Few newspapers actually used the word "torture" before this year. It took Feinstein's report to convince people that this euphemism was nothing more than spin -- we did torture, as a country. Yes, "torture."
Because this disgusting example of spin lasted so long and worked so well (for Dick Cheney and all the rest of the torture apologists), we must reluctantly award it Best Spin.
Most Honest Person
As anyone who has read this far (and who read last week's article as well) can tell, our awards have been a wee bit marijuana-centric this year. We are going to continue this theme by awarding our Most Honest Person award not for a year-long shining example of honesty, but for one single honest interview.
In January, The New Yorker ran an extensive interview with President Barack Obama. Within it, Obama said the most honest thing any president has ever said about marijuana in the last 100 years:
When I asked Obama about another area of shifting public opinion -- the legalization of marijuana -- he seemed even less eager to evolve with any dispatch and get in front of the issue. "As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol."
Is it less dangerous? I asked.
Obama leaned back and let a moment go by. [...]
Less dangerous, he said, "in terms of its impact on the individual consumer. It's not something I encourage, and I've told my daughters I think it's a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy." What clearly does trouble him is the radically disproportionate arrests and incarcerations for marijuana among minorities. "Middle-class kids don't get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do," he said. "And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties." But, he said, "we should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing." Accordingly, he said of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington that "it's important for it to go forward because it's important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished."
As is his habit, he nimbly argued the other side. "Having said all that, those who argue that legalizing marijuana is a panacea and it solves all these social problems I think are probably overstating the case. There is a lot of hair on that policy. And the experiment that's going to be taking place in Colorado and Washington is going to be, I think, a challenge." He noted the slippery-slope arguments that might arise. "I also think that, when it comes to harder drugs, the harm done to the user is profound and the social costs are profound. And you do start getting into some difficult line-drawing issues. If marijuana is fully legalized and at some point folks say, Well, we can come up with a negotiated dose of cocaine that we can show is not any more harmful than vodka, are we open to that? If somebody says, We've got a finely calibrated dose of meth, it isn't going to kill you or rot your teeth, are we O.K. with that?"
For this honesty -- a lot more honesty that our previous two pot-smoking presidents could ever manage ("Didn't inhale"? Really, Bill?!?) -- President Barack Obama wins the Most Honest Person award this year. We need a lot more of such refreshing honesty from politicians on the subject, in fact. For leading the way, Obama is to be congratulated.
This one is pretty easy.
Liz Cheney, daughter of Darth Cheney (ahem), decided that she wanted to be a U.S. senator. So she packed her bags, and moved to a state where she thought it'd be easy (and cheap -- no big media markets to worry about) for her to do so. Unfortunately for her, Wyoming didn't cotton on to her carpetbagging, and Cheney was finally forced to withdraw her candidacy at the beginning of 2014.
Liz Cheney -- even if you only count what goes on in her own mind -- was easily the Most Overrated person of the year.
This one's easy, too, because we're going to get extra-snarky and interpret the award's title quite literally.
David Gregory was the most underrated person of 2014.
Get it? His ratings were so bad, he was bounced out of his sweet gig moderating Meet The Press, the longest-running television show of all time. The show's ratings were fine when he took over, then took a deep dive because everyone in the country simultaneously agreed that Gregory was an intellectual lightweight who couldn't think his way out of a paper bag and couldn't ask an intelligent follow-up question if his very life depended on it.
We weren't sorry to see him go, that's for sure.
Finally, we approach the end! Anyone still left reading deserves some sort of award for stamina....
As always, before making 2015 predictions, we always review our own record to see how we did last time around. Here are our predictions for this year, from last year's column:
There will be a visible protest over Russia's laws against gay rights -- on the medals podium -- by at least one Olympic athlete. This will be on a par with the "black power" closed-fist salute from 1968. Perhaps a rainbow flag will be involved.
Edward Snowden will be pardoned. This will involve a complicated deal where he returns the data he filched, and it will be extremely controversial. But the Obama administration will be forced into giving Snowden some degree of legal immunity in order to secure the data.
Pope Francis will call for a Third Vatican Council. The Catholic Church will be shocked, but Vatican III will be even more revolutionary than Vatican II was, back in the 1960s. After Vatican III concludes (it may take years), priests will be able to get married, divorce will be allowed, and contraception will no longer be a sin. The Church won't, however, sanction gay marriage or abortion.
Obamacare will not be the biggest issue in the 2014 elections. Raising the minimum wage will be.
The Tea Party will successfully "primary" two sitting Republican senators. Neither winning candidate, however, will be named "Liz Cheney." Both of these candidates will then go on to lose in the general election. The Tea Party will lose a lot of their power as a direct result.
Democrats will lose two seats in the Senate, but retain control. Harry Reid will announce he is stepping down as Majority Leader right after the election, due to advanced age. The fight for leadership will be between Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin. Schumer will win.
Republicans will retain control of the House, but they will lose six seats, meaning their majority margin will shrink. John Boehner will stay as Speaker of the House.
We didn't do so well last year, as you can see. There was no big gay protest at the Olympics, sad to say (we actually had a high degree of certainty on this one, mistakenly so).
Snowden's still in Russia.
We're going to award ourselves a point for the Vatican III prediction, because while it has not been labelled so, Pope Francis did indeed convene a group with the same goals: reform the church to make it more relevant to more people. This year, they merely decided on a list of possible things to consider, but by the end of next year, they are going to recommend actual changes to be made. This will be the biggest shift in church policy since Vatican II, so as we said, we're going to call this one correct in essence.
The next one we got half right. Obamacare was not the biggest most-contentious issue in the midterm elections, even after Republicans decided to build their entire campaign strategy around this one plank. But, sadly, the minimum wage was not what took its place. So, like I said, a half-point here.
The next one contained four real points, and two of them turned out to be correct (Liz Cheney not winning, and the Tea Party losing power). But the Establishment Republicans scored a clear victory by not having any Senate candidates who were too wacky this year. No Tea Partier successfully primaried a sitting Republican senator. So, overall, another half-point.
I really blew the next one, about the Senate. 'Nuff said.
The House grew to historic Republican proportions, but Boehner did keep his speakership. A half-point.
Total score: two-and-a-half points out of a possible seven. That's pretty bad. Maybe I can do better next year.
Which brings us to our predictions for 2015:
We're going to cheat a bit on this first one, because outside of some wonky mathematicians we don't think anyone else has noticed. Next year's "Pi Day" will be the biggest in all history (or, at the very least: "for the next 1,000 years"). Pi Day is celebrated every year on March 14th, because when written in American format, the date becomes "3/14." Now, pi (as you'll recall from school) has a value of 3.141592653. What this means is that in about three months, pi enthusiasts will be celebrating precisely, at around nine-thirty in the morning. Why? Because it will be the grandest Pi Day ever -- 3/14/15 at 9:26:53 in the morning! Woo hoo!
OK, enough silliness. In a more serious vein, the Supreme Court will come down definitively and decisively for marriage equality for all Americans. It will remove the issue from state law and declare that the U.S. Constitution demands equal treatment for all at the altar. Marriage equality rights will then never be taken away, forever. Furthermore, I predict that the response from savvy Republican politicians will be nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders, because the party at large has realized what a losing issue it is for them.
Another court prediction: the Supreme Court will toss out the lawsuit against Obamacare that is trying to deny health insurance subsidies to people who live in states that use the federal HealthCare.gov exchange. John Roberts will once again shock conservatives by being the deciding vote in favor of Obamacare.
The Tea Party's center of gravity will shift from the House to the Senate. In the House, they will find themselves with less power as John Boehner rallies the Establishment Republican wing. But over in the Senate, Mitch McConnell is going to be run ragged by Tea Party nonsense, as three members of his caucus get busy running for president. As Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz all try to outflank each other on the right, nothing much will be accomplished by the Senate next year.
And finally, my lists of who will and who will not decide to run for president (in no particular order).
Republicans who will run for president: Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Mike Pence, Rick Perry, Paul Ryan, John Kasich.
Republicans who will not run for president: Donald Trump (although he'll make a bunch of noise about it first, of course), Michele Bachmann, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, Sarah Palin, Susana Martinez.
Democrats who will run for president: Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley, Bernie Sanders, Jim Webb, Brian Schweitzer.
Democrats who will not run for president: Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Howard Dean, Andrew Cuomo, Mark Warner.
OK, that's it for this year! Have a happy new year, everyone. To end in true McLaughlin fashion, we say to all of you:
-- Chris Weigant
If you're interested in traveling down Memory Lane, here are all the previous years of this awards column:
2014 -- [Part 1]
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