I'll have you know that (as a rule) I never watch any of what I call the "screamfests" -- the snarling dogfights which pass for "news commentary" on cable television. My position has always been: if O'Reilly and Scarborough and Hannity and Colmes and all the rest of their ilk annoy you; then just stop watching them and the problem is solved. The triumph of the free market!
But I must admit that I do watch The McLaughlin Group on PBS every week. Sure, it can be a "screamfest" at times; but watching Tony Blankley and Pat Buchanan froth at the mouth is worth it, in order to hear what John McLaughlin has to say each week.
And, while I do try to be creative with the columns I write, I've come to the conclusion that I really can't improve much on the categories of the yearly "McLaughlin Awards" (now celebrating a 25-year run, given out each December).
So, as an homage, this week I hand out my own selections for winners of the McLaughlin Awards.
[Note: This is a two-part column. Part 2 will run tomorrow. See the transcript of this week's McLaughlin Group to read their selections for each category.]
Howard Dean. In one year, he turned the Democratic National Committee (DNC) around, successfully raised a pile of money, and then spent it on what he believed in -- to spectacular effect. It should be noted that Dean is a winner in multiple award categories this year, for his "50-State Strategy," which paid off handsomely by winning both the House and Senate for the Democrats.
Tom DeLay. Not only did he lose his leadership position, he also lost his House seat, and (with it) the opportunity to lead the Republican House to a bigger and better majority. But the most embarrassing loss for "the Exterminator" this year was losing his own House district to a Democrat. Almost as big was the surprise upset in the Texas 23rd district by the Democratic challenger. Both of these losses, importantly, were made possible (to some degree) by DeLay's own Texas redistricting efforts. The irony's so thick here, you can bale it up and feed it to the cattle.
Nancy Pelosi. She did a wonderful job of shepherding in a huge victory in the House for the Democrats, and (in my humble opinion) will surprise all the naysayers by being both a shrewd and effective Speaker next year. Pelosi has lived and breathed politics her entire life, and will use her political skills to great effect, after being seated as the first female Speaker in American history.
Karl Rove. Hey, Karl... what happened to your October Surprise? You even bragged about it in late September... but then you never pulled it off. A slightly shady land deal by Harry Reid? Saddam Hussein's verdict delivered just days before our election? That was it?!? Karl's stature as "boy genius" and "Bush's brain" was severely tarnished by the midterm election fiasco he engineered for the GOP. Fearmongering worked well in 2002 and 2004; but in 2006 his "always play to the base" strategy couldn't overcome the reality of Iraq, which Americans saw on their televisions each night.
MOST DEFINING POLITICAL MOMENT
Bush firing Rumsfeld (excuse me... "accepting Rumsfeld's resignation") was a defining political moment. The midterm election was also a defining political moment. However, both of these followed the point when the tide truly turned for good in the election: the Mark Foley page scandal. Pre-Foley, the pundits were all saying: "Well, the Democrats may have a chance this year, but it also looks like the Republicans are coming back significantly, with only one month to go before the elections." Pundits just love a good horse race. But post-Foley, conventional wisdom had the Republicans irreversibly losing the House, with few dissenting voices in the media. Pastor Ted Haggard put the icing on the cake, but the Foley revelations sank the Republican domination of the House more than any other factor. Sure, only five percent or less of the Republican base (evangelical Christians, for instance) were so disgusted with the scandal that they stayed home and didn't vote; but in a close election, that's all it took for Democrats to win big everywhere -- and not lose a single seat in Congress.
TURNCOAT OF THE YEAR
Joe Lieberman. No question whatsoever about this one.
Harry Reid. Look for Nancy Pelosi to absolutely eclipse Reid next year in terms of press coverage.
Barack Obama. No surprise here. This one is almost unanimous at this point, but keep in mind he could wind up being just a flash in the pan. Next year will be the proof.
George W. Bush, before the election: "...the Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses." Got that? A vote for Democrats is a vote for the terrorists to win in Iraq. As Samuel Johnson famously said, "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," and George W. Bush certainly proved that in his pre-election speeches last year. Thankfully, the voters saw through his jingoistic smokescreen, and they voted the Democrats in anyway.
George W. Bush is the worst president ever. He should give up his delusions that history is going to treat him as kindly as Truman. If he's not at the absolute bottom of the "worst" list (Nixon is indeed hard to beat in this category), he is most assuredly going to be in the bottom five.
Joe Lieberman. With special mention for both Howard Dean as DNC chair, and also for Arnold Schwarzenegger who went from the bottom of the political heap to getting reelected as Governor of California (quite a feat for a Republican, in a very blue state, in a very Democratic year). But, however much Lieberman raised the ire of the online community, he did win back his Senate seat on the strength of his name alone (as an independent candidate). This is an almost impossible feat for anyone to pull off, and he must be recognized for doing so.
MOST ORIGINAL THINKER
Howard Dean (once again), for his 50-State Strategy. Instead of endless voter triangulation, Dean had a vision of not just campaigning in a handful of "battleground" states; but instead of building the party's foundation across all of America -- in the hopes of reaping some votes in the future. Even Dean himself probably didn't anticipate how well it would turn out this year. He (most likely) was thinking more about the long term, and about building nationwide support for the 2008 presidential contest. But the stunning and immediate success of his efforts should be recognized, for the brilliant and original thinking that it was.
MOST STAGNANT THINKER
George W. Bush. His "inside the bubble" thinking was finally acknowledged by even the mainstream media this year. Nowhere was this more evident than his Iraq plan, which could be summed up as: "If we truly believe we're winning, and if we can convince the media and the American public that we're winning... then we really are winning." No matter what the facts on the ground say. Don't look for Bush to change this thinking much early next year, as he's already publicly shot down most of the Baker-Hamilton report recommendations. Special mention in this category also goes to Karl Rove for trying to use the same election tactics this year that worked so well for him in the past, without realizing that the political winds were obviously blowing in a different direction.
Bush stepping on a flag image on the fifth anniversary of 9/11.
Special mention also to the Bush/Lieberman "kiss" which was used very effectively by the Lamont campaign in the primaries.
The Republican echo-chamber news. Enough already with the big fat lie that Republican values are more "mainstream" -- because voters just love Republicans and conservatives so much. Poll after poll keeps showing that over 60% of the American people now don't trust the Republicans on any subject. The mainstream media needs to pick up on this, and start calling such anti-GOP views "mainstream thinking;" rather than buying the Fox News mantra that it is some sort of "fringe" position. 60% isn't fringe. 60% is the mainstream. Get over it. Enough already!
All the different variations of Bush saying: "absolutely, we're winning in Iraq." We're not. Deal with it. The first step on the road to recovery is admitting you've got a problem. And when "the problem" is an absolute refusal to acknowledge reality... and you're the President of the United States... then it becomes a problem for us all.
CAPITALIST OF THE YEAR
Al Gore. It's not easy (even in the best of times) to get Americans to pay attention to bad news. Or to science. Or to go see documentary films, for that matter. Al Gore's outstanding success with An Inconvenient Truth deserves the award in this category. I don't even care whether he gave the money to charity or just kept it -- it's just so astounding (to me) to see anyone actually make money by telling Americans they have to change their habits. He deserves this award hands down. It's like getting people to pay you to tell them to eat their broccoli.
YouTube.com. Not for being sold for gazillions of dollars -- but for providing instantaneous public scrutiny to so many different video events over the past year. From stupid celebrity foibles all the way to Senator George Allen's "macaca" moment, YouTube created a new channel for video clips to be distributed to the public, to great effect. Ned Lamont's political team in Connecticut should be noted for being the one of the first political campaigns to recognize the power of this new media channel, and to attempt to exploit it.
PERSON OF THE YEAR
Jack Murtha. He's been right about Iraq all year, and he has not wavered from his position one tiny little bit. He missed out in the leadership battle after Democrats took the House, but I expect to see him as the point man marshalling Democrats in Congress into a political tidal wave to get our troops out of Iraq next year.
In true McLaughlin fashion, until tomorrow's column, I bid you all: "bye-bye!"
[Apologies for the late posting today, my power was out for several hours this morning.]