Welcome back to our annual year-end awards column!
[Part 1 of this column ran last week, just in case you missed it.]
Before we begin with this week's awards, we have a few odds and ends to get out of the way first. Last week's list had the "Best Photo Op" category, and we missed a few that deserve mentioning. There was the image of South Carolina's official flag being flown at half-staff after the Charleston shooting, with the Confederate flag in the foreground, flying at the top of its pole.
In a more positive light was the photo of the White House lit up in the colors of the rainbow flag, after the Supreme Court decision was announced which guaranteed marriage equality. That was a pretty good photo op, and deserves mention.
On purely amusing grounds, Ted Cruz pretending to audition for The Simpsons deserves some sort of mention, especially him quoting (while twirling, of course) Kang and Kodos: "Forwards, not backwards! Upwards not downwards! And always twirling, twirling for freedom!"
There was a headline from Huffington Post blogger Paul Ollinger which would have won "Funniest Headline," if the category actually existed. It measures one corporation's success on a very unusual yardstick. The title, as all outstanding headlines should, really speaks for itself: "Apple's $178 Billion In Cash Would Buy SO MUCH WEED." Heh. Hats off to Paul for that one!
OK, that's enough old business, let's get on with the remaining 2016 best and worst awards. One warning: it's a very long column, so we encourage readers to pace themselves.
Destined For Political Stardom
Nah, that'd be too easy. Heh.
Destined For Political Stardom is a category to shine a light on the up-and-comers in the political world, of course, and we have to just note that last year's winner Gavin Newsom is indeed striving for higher office next year as he makes a run for California governor.
On the Republican side, Paul Ryan is certainly a contender, and will likely be a major force in the 2020 Republican nomination fight (assuming Hillary wins next year, of course). Hillary Clinton could certainly be a qualifier in this category, despite her not being exactly an up-and-comer, since it certainly now seems like she's about to skate into the White House. Of course, things could change fast, but "political stardom" certainly can be defined as "winning the presidency," so she's got a better-than-average chance.
But we're going to expand our horizons, here, and predict that John Bel Edwards is this year's winner of Destined For Political Stardom, after defeating the heavily-favored Senator David Vitter in the Louisiana governor's race. Edwards is a Southern, pro-life Democrat, but any Democrat in Louisiana these days is a rare breed, so he's worth watching. For this year, and for giving Democrats a win in a race they never thought they'd even be competitive in, Edwards deserves the Destined For Political Stardom prize this year.
Destined For Political Oblivion
Plenty to choose from in this category, this year. Since the Republicans fielded so many presidential candidates, there were more to choose from on the GOP side, of course. Scott Walker, once the Great Midwest Hope of the party, crashed and burned early on in the nomination race. Perhaps it was his suggestion of also building a wall across the U.S./Canadian border? We'll never know for sure....
Bobby Jindal was one of the first to try the "full-frontal attack on Trump" strategy, and one of the first to crash and burn as a direct result (the other was Rick Perry). Carly Fiorina, who rode the "I can viciously attack Hillary Clinton better than anyone else, because I am female" pony just about as far as she could. Ben Carson also deserves mention, because he (for some reason) spiked way upwards in the polls -- this one's still inexplicable to us, because he's always been so obviously and completely unhinged, but then we don't exactly vote in the Republican primaries.
Over on the Democratic side, we have both Jim "I killed a guy in 'Nam" Webb, and Lincoln Chafee. Oh, and the million bucks (of other people's money) that Lawrence Lessig spent on riding his poly-sci hobbyhorse, can't forget that.
Outside the presidential race, we had the ex-Speaker of the House John Boehner, who will now have all the time in the world to smoke cigars, play golf, and reminisce about what might have been, as well as David Vitter, who (after losing to John Bel Edwards) announced he'd be stepping down from his Senate seat.
But the big winner of the Destined For Political Oblivion award this year was the House member from California Kevin McCarthy, who was (for a time) the anointed successor to Boehner to lead the House.
McCarthy had it in the bag. He really did. He was supposed to be the magic glue which would hold together all the various GOP factions and lead them into some sort of Promised Land, right up until he uttered the worst "Kinsley" gaffe of the year (defined as "inadvertently speaking an inconvenient truth in Washington"), in a television interview:
Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she's untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened, had we not fought.
Oh, Kevin, didn't anyone tell you that you weren't supposed to admit this sort of stuff in public? This one quote not only sunk his prospective speakership, it also may have sunk his entire political career. And that's pretty much the definition of political oblivion, isn't it?
Best Political Theater
You could take the big-picture view here, and award this to Bernie Sanders's campaign, because it certainly is the best political theater we've seen in a while. Or you could go micro, and give it to the Jamaican senate, for passing a marijuana decriminalization bill on Bob Marley's birthday.
In other marijuana political theater, we had a Drug Enforcement Agency spokesperson testify that it would be dangerous to legalize marijuana because it would lead to (we are definitely not making this up) stoned bunny rabbits. No, seriously.
Elena Kagan indulged in a bit of theatrics in an opinion written about a "Spider-Man" case. In it, she used the phrases: "[I]n this world, with great power there must also come -- great responsibility," and "The parties set no end date for royalties, apparently contemplating that they would continue for as long as kids want to imitate Spider-Man (by doing whatever a spider can)." Points for style, Justice Kagan!
The folks that registered CarlyFiorina.org, and then filled it up with 30,000 frowny-faces, to represent all the people Carly laid off? Priceless! Or you could take the high road and award Best Political Theater to Pope Francis I, for his address to Congress (which, if his own statements can be believed, spurred John Boehner to step down).
The fracas over John Boehner stepping down was pretty good theater for Democrats, all around. For a while there it seemed like nobody wanted the job, which is a pretty astounding plot twist indeed.
We have two runners-up for Best Political Theater this year. The first goes to Missouri legislator Stacey Newman, for the bill she introduced in response to the terrorist attacks in Southern California. From the story about Newman's bill:
State Rep. Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis) has pre-filed a bill for the state legislature's 2016 session that would require buyers to wait 72 hours to make a gun purchase, which they would only be able to do at a store at least 120 miles from their home. Women in the state must wait 72 hours before they can get an abortion and the 120-mile restriction is intended to draw attention to the long distances that women must travel to have one.
. . .
Under Newman's bill, the gun purchaser would be required to tour an emergency trauma center between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. on a weekend when firearms victims are present and meet with at least two families affected by gun violence as well as two people who have officiated the funerals of minors who were shot dead.
Now that's an impressive act of political theater, combining two issues in a very poignant manner!
Our second runner-up award goes to the John Kasich campaign, for making the best anti-Trump ad we've yet seen. Here is the text of the ad, which is obviously an homage to a very famous World War II statement:
You might not care if Donald Trump says Muslims should register with their government, because you're not one. And you might not care if Donald Trump says he's going to round up all the Hispanic immigrants, because you're not one. And you might not care if Donald Trump says it's okay to rough up black protesters, because you're not one. And you might not care if Donald Trump wants to suppress journalists, because you're not one. But think about this: If he keeps going, and he actually becomes president, he might just get around to you. And you better hope there's someone left to help you.
But the real Best Political Theater this year was pretty obviously the Black Lives Matter movement. It appeared on the scene early in the year, and has since become a major protest movement, taken seriously by all Democratic presidential candidates. Their tactics were debated (shouting down politicians at rallies), but they certainly were effective at getting their issue talked about and addressed in some fashion or another by Democrats. Republicans, for the most part, could afford to ignore the movement entirely, but that may not be true in the general election (we'll see). For being so effective at getting their message out, and for creating a movement which spread like wildfire, Black Lives Matter was the Best Political Theater of the year.
Worst Political Theater
There were far too many of these to choose from, so we're just going to list them all before handing out the award.
The Planned Parenthood videos.
Donald Trump's entire campaign.
The Baltimore riots.
Netanyahu's speech to Congress.
A gyrocopter landing near the Capitol in protest of something or another.
Pamela Geller's art exhibit of cartoons insulting Mohammed.
That last one almost won the prize, we should add. But there was one that was even worse. In California, a man filed a ballot initiative called the "Sodomite Suppression Act," which read, in part:
Seeing that it is better that offenders should die rather than that all of us should be killed by God's just wrath against us for the folly of tolerating wickedness in our midst, the People of California wisely command, in the fear of God, that any person who willingly touches another person of the same gender for purposes of sexual gratification be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.
It further states that, should the state government fail to properly act, the citizens of the state could take it upon themselves to go around shooting gay people in the head, without fear of any legal penalty for doing so. When we heard about it, we called it "absolutely breathtaking in its medievalism." Thankfully, the state attorney general ruled that it wouldn't be allowed on the ballot due to its seriously unconstitutional nature, but the fact that it was even proposed makes it the absolute Worst Political Theater of 2016.
Worst Political Scandal
Unfortunately, a category with plenty to choose from, as usual. The biggest scandal involving a politician this year was likely the revelation by former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert that he had molested young boys while coaching a wrestling team and had recently been paying out a lot of blackmail money to keep the story under wraps. However, Hastert's been out of politics for a while and the nature of the scandal really had nothing to do with politics at all. Likewise, Bill Cosby's scandal continued to metastasize, but he doesn't have much to do with politics at all.
The Drug Enforcement Agency was in a class by itself this year, what with sex parties (with bonuses handed out afterwards), and a truly disgraceful case involving a stolen truck. These two stories merely scratch the surface, we should add, which is why Michele Leonhart had to step down from heading the agency this year.
We considered the Republican senators' letter to Iran to be pretty scandalous, but we've already handed out an award for that one. Likewise the scandal over the Planned Parenthood videos, which has been noted elsewhere.
There were other scandals that didn't really rise to the yearly-award level, including David Petraeus, the exit of Oregon's governor under a pretty dark cloud, and that recent kerfluffle between the Democratic National Committee and Bernie Sanders. Hillary's emails were in a category by themselves, the category of "scandals" as opposed to scandals. That pretty much sums it up, in fact. A particularly outrageous scandal was the fact that the Pentagon paid professional sports at least 6.8 million taxpayer dollars so they would celebrate the military at their games. That one was disturbing on multiple levels, really. From local politics, a Democratic officeholder in California's state government, Leland Yee, pled guilty to not only extortion and accepting bribes but also "gun-running," which is truly in a category by itself.
We know readers hate this, but we are going to have to award a three-way tie for Worst Political Scandal this year, because we find it impossible to choose from between them. They're all bad, and they all deserve calling out.
The first was the swamp of corruption known as Albany, New York. Federal agents have been arresting and indicting multiple major players from both parties in the New York state government all year long, for all sorts of sleazy arrangements and shenanigans. Now, New York isn't usually the first place people think of as leading in local government corruption (there are plenty of others that spring to mind more easily, from New Orleans to Chicago, or perhaps the state of New Jersey). But Albany very quietly has accommodated more than its fair share of state government corruption over the past few decades (remember Eliot Spitzer?). So we have to lump all the indictments and investigations into the generic label "Albany" and hand them one of our Worst Political Scandal awards this year.
Our second award goes to Rahm Emanuel, who conveniently fought in court to keep a video of a black man being shot by police out of the public's eye for long enough for Rahm to be re-elected. That's downright shameful, but it's entirely expected when you consider that Rahm Emanuel was behind it. Rahm is the modern personification of "Chicago-style politics," in fact. But to delay the release of evidence of a police officer committing a crime merely to further your own political ambitions certainly takes things to a new level, even for Rahm. Worst Political Scandal -- not the video itself, but the 13-month delay so Rahm could continue being mayor.
And our final Worst Political Scandal goes to an organization which used to be one of the most trusted and admired in America, but which now is no more than a punchline to a raunchy joke: the Secret Service. The agency seems to have been run for the past decade or so as a frat party. The most recent scandal -- only one of too many to list, sadly -- involved an agent trying to convince what he thought was an underage girl to have sex with him while on guard at the White House. The Secret Service obviously has a long way to go to gain any shred of respect from the public, and we only hope that this rebuilding begins quickly, so the constant pipeline of scandals which the Secret Service has been spewing (for far too long now) is soon shut down for good.
Most Underreported Story
There were many of these to choose from, as the mainstream corporate media all but ignored stories they didn't think would help them sell ads. Overtime pay was vastly expanded by President Obama this year, updating standards that hadn't been adjusted in decades. The old standard was so low that most employers could essentially require 50 or 60 hours of work per week without having to pay a dime extra ("salary" instead of "hourly pay"). The new standard bans this for anyone making less than just over $50,000. This was done with the stroke of Obama's pen, and it was a welcome change to weekly paychecks for millions, and yet the story got barely a mention on the evening news.
The economy continued to get better during 2016, which was also woefully underreported. The unemployment rate hit five percent -- half of the peak which happened at the depths of the Great Recession (in Obama's first year in office), and the media mostly just yawned. This is nothing really new, as the media always prefers stories of economic disaster over "things are getting better."
The coalition against the Islamic State made solid progress throughout 2016, reclaiming territory and shutting down Islamic State supply lines to the cities they still hold. Nobody's claiming victory yet, but 2016 was a marked shift from 2015 -- instead of the Islamic State expanding quickly, the expansion was not only halted but turned back, in both Iraq and Syria. Somehow the media turned a blind eye to all of this news, though.
Saudi Arabia publicly flogged a blogger for writing things the government didn't like, and it got pretty much zero coverage in the mainstream media.
But the real Most Underreported Story of the year is an easy pick: the Bernie Sanders campaign. Earlier in the year, statistics showed that the three broadcast networks devoted a total of 504 minutes to the presidential campaign. Of this total, 145 minutes covered Trump, 165 minutes for Hillary Clinton and her emails, and a whopping eight minutes for Bernie. Jeb Bush never got close to the polling numbers Bernie regularly has been getting (to say nothing of the huge crowds Bernie pulls), but Bush managed to get 43 minutes of coverage. More recent figures show this bias has continued -- Republicans with little-to-no chance of winning holding only a few percentage points of support get multiple times the coverage Bernie Sanders has gotten, even though he's supported by about a third of Democrats.
Even when he does get covered, the stories almost never mention any of his actual political positions, choosing to treat Bernie as a joke instead. One of the first articles the Washington Post wrote about Bernie called him a "humorless aging hippie peacenik Socialist from Brooklyn," and gasped: "Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) could be our first socialist hippie president." Sanders does call himself a Democratic Socialist, but I've never heard him use the word hippie.
Bernie Sanders has tapped into real concerns Democratic voters have, and he has more detailed plans than pretty much any other candidate in the race -- from either party. Media types (those that style themselves "journalists") always complain about how there are too many shallow horserace stories and not enough emphasis on policy ideas, but when a man comes along with policy ideas that crowds of people are loudly supporting, they just shrug and choose to ignore it. Bernie Sanders's campaign was without doubt the Most Underreported Story of the year.
Most Overreported Story
We began 2016 with "It snows in wintertime!" as the clear frontrunner for the Most Overreported Story, but that quickly faded. Benghazi was a contender for a while, even though no actual new scandal was uncovered. Hillary's emails ate up a big chunk of the summer, along with the inane "Hillary Is Toast" storyline that accompanied it (with actual calls for her to just quit her presidential race, based on nothing more than that's what the Washington insiders' cocktail party chatter had agreed should be done).
But, and we truly do regret this, the Most Overreported Story of the year was "Will Joe Biden Run Or Not?" Now, we remain neutral on how much of this should be blamed on Joe and how much of it should be blamed on a bored political media in the summertime, but whosever fault it was, it got far too much attention and took far too long to resolve. I've never seen such a frenzy before over a candidate who is not an actual candidate. Pretty much every Democratic poll threw Biden's name into the list, just to see what the public thought. When else has that happened, for months at a time? What other politician has gotten that much free polling without even announcing a candidacy? Perhaps there have been others, but the will-Joe-run story was still easily the Most Overreported Story of the year.
Biggest Government Waste
Well, there was that blimp that got loose and terrorized Maryland and Pennsylvania... that seemed like a giant waste of a whole bunch of money.
The federal War On Weed continues to consume zillions of dollars, even after Congress tried to use the power of the purse to zero the budget out (at least, in states with legal marijuana, medical or recreational). Sooner or later the choice will become obvious: lots of tax dollars flowing in versus lots of tax dollars flowing out fighting a pointless and unwinnable war on a plant.
But this year's winner was the Benghazi committee in the House, which has now spent five million dollars to investigate something that seven other groups have fully investigated. Their startling conclusion, after blowing five million smackeroos? Hillary Clinton had an aide called Sidney Blumenthal. That's it. That's the sum total the American people got for this entirely political attempt at a hit job on a Democrat running for president. Easily this year's Biggest Government Waste.
Best Government Dollar Spent
Sometimes we just punt on this column and give the Best Government Dollar Spent award to something like the National Park system. Sometimes we make a serious statement with the award (if we were so inclined this year, we'd give it to Planned Parenthood's funding). Sometimes we just get downright silly, by (for instance) awarding it to something like "the money spent to restore the name Denali to America's highest peak."
This year we're going to go extra-silly with large serving of snark, and award Best Government Dollar Spent on the "Jade Helm 15" military exercise. This absolutely banal military training event somehow acquired the proportion of the biggest and most official paranoid conspiracy theory of the decade, as dark warnings were uttered across the Southwest over the government's real plans. These included taking over the "hostile territory" of Texas, under the orders of President Obama, and then sending all conservatives to concentration camps. Tunnels under empty Wal-Mart stores were somehow insidiously involved. The occupation of Red America was about to begin! Ahhhh! Run for the hills!
Now, normally, paranoiacs would be laughed at and dismissed by sober politicians, but in this case the governor of Texas actually proposed using his own National Guard to keep an eye on the U.S. military exercise, just in case.
For the sheer entertainment value of watching a large swath of the country freak out about absolutely nothing -- and wind up looking as looney as the tinfoil hat crowd by doing so -- the Jade Helm 15 exercise was easily the Best Government Dollar Spent this year.
Boldest Political Tactic
We have two winners in this category this year.
The first is obvious: Donald Trump's xenophobia. This wasn't just some minor part of his campaign, after all, it was the absolute bedrock foundation of Trump's run. In his campaign announcement he used terms like "criminals" and "rapists" to describe the Mexicans coming into America. His one shining policy idea is to build a "big, beautiful wall" across our southern border, and somehow make Mexico pay for it. Trump seamlessly shifted gears after the recent terrorism, saying he'd essentially shut America down to any Muslim wishing to enter. His brilliant vetting process would be to ask each visitor to America "Are you Muslim?" and then not let in the ones who respond "Yes." No, really -- that's his plan. This is somehow supposed to shine a light on how flawed our regular vetting process is, which is a real head-scratcher when you think about it.
Poke all the fun you want (and we do want to, and have been poking lots of fun over the year), but Trump is tapping a deeply disturbing nativist vein in American politics, which other Republicans have been scrambling to either denounce or jump on board with. Trump's campaign would not have been so successful, to put this another way, without being centered on xenophobia. It was an incredibly bold tactic to try, which is why it gets a Boldest Political Tactic award.
Our other Boldest Political Tactic award goes to President Barack Obama. Obama did an extraordinary job of stealing the "honeymoon" period from the Republican Congress at the start of 2016, and rather than Congress setting the agenda, they had to settle for following Obama's agenda instead. The most brilliant tactic during this period -- the one we're handing the award to -- was to rig the congressional vote on the Iran nuclear deal. Months before the deal was finalized, Obama got the Republican House and the Republican Senate to agree to hold one single vote that had to get an astronomically-high veto-proof majority to stop the deal.
Congress, amazingly, went along with this plan. What this acquiescence meant was that when the plan was finalized and announced, all Obama had to do was get 34 senators to support him -- which he easily did. Obama -- with the Republicans' own approval -- absolutely rigged the Iran deal vote so it was near-impossible for him to lose it.
It was an incredibly bold tactic and it worked like a charm. For pulling this one off, President Obama wins his own Boldest Political Tactic award.
There were many good ideas up for consideration this year, including:
Free college -- Obama's call in his State Of The Union address for free community college and Bernie Sanders's unequivocal call for all state universities to be free as well.
Scrap the Social Security cap, and make it a true flat tax on all wage-earners, instead of the most regressive tax possible.
Obama's commutation of a record number of drug sentences.
The Iran nuclear deal, and opening up Cuba.
Two ideas stood out, but we judged that one of them was more important. Up until this year (it may have started earlier, but this year is when it began to be talked about in earnest among politicians), the most marijuana advocates have hoped for was a "rescheduling" of marijuana, down from Schedule I to perhaps Schedule II. The most optimistic called for it to go down to Schedule III. But, not unlike how the cries for gay marriage rights superceded the calls for domestic partnerships, this year a clear and rational plan was seriously considered: not just "rescheduling" marijuana down, but "descheduling" it all together. Remove it from the banned drugs list once and for all!
This makes perfect sense, when you think about where marijuana should reside in the federal pantheon of agencies. We have an agency who shares regulation for two other recreational substances, after all. It's right there in the name: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. All we need to do is stick "Cannabis" or "Marijuana" in there somewhere. This would make far better sense than treating marijuana any other way. Over half the states have legalized medical marijuana of some type or another. Four states and DC have legalized recreational use -- a number which could double (or even triple) next year, when voters in many other states are going to get a chance to weigh in. The time has come for the feds to admit defeat and start thinking rationally about marijuana. One presidential candidate (Bernie, of course) is even touting the idea in his speeches.
But, good as that idea is, there's another that is still better. The Best Idea of 2016 (again, it started earlier, but it really proved itself this year) was "putting cameras on cops." Cameras don't lie. Sometimes citizens lie, and sometimes police officers lie, but cameras don't. Video evidence of exactly what happens in an altercation have become an absolute necessity. Videos have shown the public exactly what takes place in contested situations. All cops should wear cameras all the time, with allowable exceptions very narrowly defined (for personal breaks and confidential informants only, perhaps).
We as a society are already in the digital age, in a big way. Policing is catching up. It should soon be unacceptable for any police officer to be doing normal duties without recording evidence of what is happening, all across this country. A lot of conflicts will be avoided as a direct result.
Cameras on cops really came into its own this year, which is why we're calling it the Best Idea of 2016.
There was a bumper crop of bad ideas in 2016, beginning with pretty much anything Trump proposed ("ban all Muslims" would have to take the cake, there).
Congress refusing to pass an Authorization for the Use of Military Force for the war against the Islamic State was a monumentally bad idea.
Requiring Americans to upgrade their credit cards to add a computer chip, but then falling short of reaching the international standard for such cards (which, I might add, have existed in Europe for a quarter century already, with PINs) was an incredibly stupid idea.
Keystone XL was a pretty bad idea that finally died in 2016.
John Kasich's idea to beam broadcasts featuring America's "Judeo-Christian values" into the Middle East, to solve terrorism, was a profoundly idiotic idea, for so many reasons.
The Ohio marijuana initiative -- which would have legalized recreational marijuana, but also created an oligopoly of only 10 farms allowed to grow it for the entire state -- tried to hijack the movement for clean legalization, but failed.
But the real Worst Idea of 2016 was Jeb Bush's campaign plan. It wasn't supposed to be this way, you can almost hear Jeb telling himself these days. Bush raised a mountain of campaign cash very early on, which was supposed to clear the field of competitors and hand him an easy path to the nomination. Political pundits everywhere were writing about how inevitable a "Bush versus Clinton" campaign would be. Unfortunately, no matter how many silver spoons you cram in Bush's mouth, he was still a terrible campaigner who was far out of touch with the mood of his own party (Bush hasn't run for office in a long time, it's worth pointing out). In another year, in another election cycle, Bush's campaign plan might have been a brilliant one and might have overcome the flaws of the candidate. Not this time, though, which is why Bush's campaign plan was easily the Worst Idea of 2016.
Sorry To See You Go
We've always wanted a companion award for "NOT sorry to see you go," which we would give this year to either outgoing Education Secretary Arne Duncan, or to Michele Leonhart, former head of the Drug Enforcement Agency. Not sorry to see either leave their post this year.
Of course, there are two meanings to this, one professional and one funereal. Notable deaths this year in the political world included Beau Biden, Jim Wright, Julian Bond, and Mario Cuomo. In the non-political world, we lost Yogi Berra, B. B. King, and Wes Craven. We'll personally miss more than all of these both Grace Lee "Yeoman Rand" Whitney, and Leonard "Mister Spock" Nimoy, both icons of the original Star Trek series. Oh, and the guy that came up with the Pet Rock, too.
Career-wise, we will miss Eric Holder (who started rather weak as Attorney General, at least on the marijuana issue, but ended his term in a much better place), Harry Reid, and Barbara Boxer. A lot of people are missing Jon Stewart on late-night television, as well.
The one remaining Sorry To See You Go candidate was the Iowa Straw Poll, just because it was such a nakedly corrupt event, where Republican candidates poured money into the practice of the outright buying of votes. It finally collapsed this year of its own corrupt weight, but we have to say we will indeed miss all the fun.
15 Minutes Of Fame
Since the very category celebrates brevity, we're just going to provide a short list of all those who achieved their 15 Minutes Of Fame over the course of the year:
Kim Davis (county clerk who refused to marry gays),
The boy who put together a clock that was treated as a bomb, for some reason,
The three Americans who bravely prevented a terrorist attack on a French train,
Pamela Gellar, who provoked a terrorist attack with a public exhibition of Mohammed cartoons,
Rachel Dolezal, who was not actually black,
Joyce Mitchell, who helped two prisoners escape in New York,
Run Warren Run, a political group that took a long time to take Elizabeth Warren at her own word that she wasn't interested,
and Kevin McCarthy, who did not wind up being speaker of the House.
This one is pretty easy this year. Republicans everywhere have been patting themselves on the back -- in a big way -- over how they are now the party of diversity. No, really! That's what they tell each other, honest!
Their rationale (or spin) goes something like this: "Just look who's on the stage of the Republican debates. We've got a black man, a woman, and two Hispanics! The Democrats just have old white people. We're obviously better at diversity than Democrats."
This all will be revealed as ethereal political spin next November, when (especially if Donald Trump is the nominee) the election results will show record levels of support from all minority groups for the Democratic candidate.
Still, until the results are in, the Best Spin award clearly goes to the GOP's delusion that they're better on diversity because of their presidential slate. Putting diverse candidates up isn't the same as actually supporting policies that would help minorities, in other words.
Most Honest Person
This one is an easy one, because nobody else really even comes close to Bernie Sanders in the honesty department. Bernie tells you what he believes. On most subjects, he's been standing up for what he believes for decades now.
Whether you love Bernie or hate him, whether you love his ideas or think they're stupid, you still have to admit that he presents those ideas honestly. To give just one gigantic example, Bernie refuses to run away from the "socialism" label, because he does believe America would be better with some of the socialistic ideas that work wonders in European countries. An other American presidential candidate would have tried to run away from the label, in an effort to be more "electable." Bernie didn't. He is who he says he is, and in most cases that hasn't changed in a very long time -- mostly because the rest of the country is still catching up with all the progressive policies he supported as a younger man.
Bernie Sanders is -- easily -- the Most Honest Person of 2016.
There were four clear candidates for Most Overrated, and all of them were presidential candidates as well. What might be called the "Jon Huntsman Consolation Prize" would have to go to either Martin O'Malley or John Kasich this year. Both men were touted by the inside-the-Beltway types as the "perfect candidate" for the respective parties. O'Malley was going to catch fire for hitting the sweet spot between Hillary's untrustworthiness and Bernie's far-out ideas. Kasich was (as was Huntsman before him) the media's "Here's the type of Republican that should be nominated!" candidate. After all, "He's so moderate and downright sane!" As with Huntsman, this hasn't exactly translated into voter support for either man, much to the disappointment of what might be called the false equivalence gang in the media.
But this year, there were actually two others more deserving of Most Overrated. The first is Jeb! Bush, who was vastly overrated by all. But since we've already given him an award, we're going to instead hand Most Overrated to Scott Walker. Walker was supposed to be the Great Midwestern Hope, a man who had survived a recall election in a blue state who could get the whole country to work with him. Or some such nonsense.
Of course, it didn't work out that way, and Walker crashed and burned very early on (only Rick Perry exited the race before him). Walker crushed a lot of inside-the-Beltway dreams when he announced his campaign was over, but this was largely due to him being the Most Overrated candidate to begin with.
Only two names were even in the running for this one. Bernie Sanders was extremely underrated by all, and he continues to be. But his story pales in comparison to the winner's.
Donald Trump was -- easily -- the Most Underrated candidate of the year. His candidacy was laughingly dismissed as a joke by pretty much the entire spectrum of political thought. The Left thought it was the funniest joke they'd ever heard. The Huffington Post even banished him for months to the "Entertainment" page. The Right was angrier (of course), but equally as dismissive. Washington insiders told themselves over and over again that Trump would -- of course! -- explode soon, and that his support was in no way real. Some continue to underestimate him to this day, ignoring pretty much every poll that has been conducted so far.
We thought Trump was a joke when he started off too, we fully admit. But we were a little quicker to realize that something was going on even if everyone inside the Beltway had their head buried in the sand. In July, we wrote an article titled "Thinking The Unthinkable: Donald Trump, GOP Nominee." Since that point, we've been taking him very seriously indeed, and we now think the nomination is basically Trump's for the taking.
But whenever the light dawned that Trump's support wasn't going to magically melt away, it's pretty easy to see that Donald Trump was the Most Underrated candidate of the year.
Finally, we approach the end! As usual, anyone still left reading deserves some sort of award for sheer stamina....
Before making 2016 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:
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.
Well, that was a little better than last year's score! The Pi Day one doesn't really count, because it wasn't so much a prediction as pointing out an inevitability.
Still, I got the two Supreme Court cases right, although I whiffed badly with that prediction about the House. John Boehner finally got taken down by the unruly Tea Partiers, which is the complete opposite of what I thought would happen. We even got part of it wrong, as another equally fun Pi Day will happen in 2115 -- as it will every 100 years, not every thousand.
I made a total of 30 candidate predictions, both in and out. I got all the Republicans running right except Mike Pence and Paul Ryan. I didn't do so well in the Republicans I thought would sit out, as four of the seven people I named did eventually jump in the race. Democrats who were in was a better category, as only Brian Schweitzer turned out to be a bad pick. And I was perfect in the Democrats out category. All told, a score of 23 right to only seven wrong, which I consider not too bad at all.
OK, enough looking backwards, let's haul out the old crystal ball, dust it off, and try to see the future.
I'm doubling down on a bad prediction made last year, and once again predicting that Paul Ryan will be successful in reining in the Tea Partiers. This will mean Congress begins to function in a much more normal way that it has for the entire Boehner speakership. Ryan will be cut much more slack by the Tea Partiers, and things will get done without all the pointless drama.
The economy will continue to slowly improve, so much so that it becomes a secondary issue (at best) in the presidential campaign. Voters will start caring about other issues more than the economy, in other words.
Sadly, the frequency of mass shootings will not abate, meaning we get a big one every couple of weeks, as some sort of hellish "new normal."
The Islamic State will keep losing ground (in Iraq, especially), and will lose two of their three biggest Iraqi cities (Mosul, Fallujah, and Ramadi). Ramadi is close to being liberated even now, so this may actually happen in 2015. But the main "capital" of the Islamic State in Syria will not be liberated next year.
Barack Obama will get a big setback next summer, as the Supreme Court rules against his plans to revamp immigration and deportation policy. The conservatives on the court will argue he is overstepping his prosecutorial discretion, and they will decide against Obama.
And I've saved the biggest ones for last: election predictions!
Donald Trump will easily become the Republican presidential nominee, shocking many inside the Beltway. He will name an outsider for his veep choice (Jesse Ventura, maybe?), and the Republican National Convention will be the most interesting in decades, as the party establishment rends its garments and pulls its hair in one way or another.
Hillary Clinton will also skate to her own nomination. She'll pick someone from a swing state to be her running mate (Ohio, or maybe Florida?).
Five states (including, at the very least, California and Maine) will legalize recreational marijuana use by ballot initiative. One other state (Vermont or Rhode Island, most likely) will legalize marijuana through their state legislature.
Democrats will take back the Senate, although their margin will be very thin. Democrats will pick up seats in the House, but they will fail to retake the chamber.
And, lastly, Hillary Clinton becomes President-Elect Clinton, with a landslide in the Electoral College where she gets over 350 (but not as high as 400) out of 538.
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:
2015 -- [Part 1]
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Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant