Thursday, December 21, 2006


It’s time to dole out the first annual Empathic Rationalist Awards. These awards go to the people who have made 2006 what it is – for better and for worse.

Man of the Year: Barack Obama.

Or perhaps I should say: Barack Hussein Obama. This man promises to do to American politics what Eldrick Tiger Woods did for golf and Ervin Magic Johnson did for basketball. The man is a natural. He performs at the highest level of his game and he does it almost effortlessly. Bill Clinton had some of the same characteristics, but he also had the oversized flaws that made him almost suitable for Greek tragedy. B. Hussein Obama appears to be as solid as the Rock of Gibralter.

The satirists are trying to make fun of the guy, but they can’t. The best Jon Stewart can do is lampoon him as an icon and alleged miracle worker – a man who not only makes women swoon, but is also able to turn paper into metal. But that’s not really making fun of B. Hussein. It’s making fun of our hero-worshipping the guy before he’s really accomplished anything. Substantively, what can you say to criticize a man who (a) transcends race, (b) was called by Lawrence Tribe one of the best students he’s ever had at Harvard Law School, (c) always seems to tackle issues in the most positive, constructive way possible, (d) is progressive without taking on the baggage of the “knee-jerk” liberal, (e) not only talks about religion, but actually seems to be truly religious, and (f) is a born unifier, not a divider?

Lampoon him at your peril. Like Tiger and Magic, Hussein seems to be the real deal. And yes, all his middle name does is point out how racist this society is against Muslims, a characteristic that we had better lose if we hope ever again to win over the so-called “Arab street”.

Schmuck of the Year: Scott Howell

If any creature could successfully turn B. Hussein into an object of hatred, it’s Scott Howell. What, you’ve never heard of this creature? Why would you? It’s the type of animal who only comes out at night – when the people are asleep and the dogs are in their crates. But anyone who’s had a rodent problem know that such animals can make a big impact on your house. And Scott Howell very nearly made a HUGE impact on your country. In fact, if Senator Johnson doesn’t survive the bleeding in his brain, Howell might be singularly responsible for having tipped control of the Senate to the Republicans.

OK, I’ll stop dehumanizing the man. And yes, Scott Howell is the name of a human being. A very “successful” human being, if by success you are referring to the ability to acquire money and wield power. He’s a political consultant who is largely responsible for electing Senators Chambliss, Coleman and Thune. Moreover, he was the evil genius who masterminded the election of Bob Corker over Harold Ford. You remember that race: it turned on an advertisement in which a bare-shouldered blonde winked at Ford, a black man, and said “Harold, call me.” That message went over well to the target audience – racists from Tennessee – and, as a result, Ford lost his slight lead and Corker never looked back. In an election in which virtually every hotly contested Senate seat went Democratic, Corker was the one Republican candidate who survived.

Howell is a disciple of the late, and anything-but-great Lee Atwater. Howell’s firm is based in Dallas, a city known for its shopping malls, churches and titty-bars. He plies his trade on behalf of politicians who appeal to “family values,” and yet the central value that he brings to a campaign is the ability to assassinate the character of any opponent.

Congratulations, Mr. Howell. You earn the only award named after a body part – a very powerful body part.

Amnesiac of the Year: Harry Reid

You didn’t really think I was simply going to praise Democrats and criticize Republicans, did you? Empathic Rationalists are equal opportunity critics.

Harry Reid, the upcoming Senate Majority Leader, wins this award for his recent announcement that he’s willing to support an increase in U.S. troops in Iraq – as long as the “surge” is only for a limited amount of time. Art thou kidding? This is eerily reminiscent of when the President asked the Congress for a blank check to invade Iraq in the first place and the Democrats were more than willing to oblige. But then, the donkeys had a bit of an excuse. That was before (a) we all had graphic proof that the Iraqi people really don’t want us there and are prepared to kill, kill, kill until we leave, (b) even our own Generals were saying that ratcheting up our presence was a bad idea, and (c) the Democrats took over control over the Congress. So why, then, would Reid possibly want to add more targets to the shooting gallery?

Amnesia. That’s my only explanation.

The Jack Torrance Award: John McCain

This award goes to someone who is a nice likeable guy, but not someone you’d want to be trapped with for the winter at the Overlook Hotel. McCain gets the nod because it’s finally beginning to dawn on me (and others) that the dude is just a little trigger happy. Just a tad.

This is a guy who called Vietnam “a noble cause” – but you can forgive him for that line given his experiences there. In 1994, he suggested with respect to the North Koreans that we “bomb ‘em back to the Stone Age.” “I know what they understand,” he added, “and that is the threat of extinction.” In 1999, he wanted Clinton to flood Kosovo with ground troops – contrary to the views of the military. And now, once again, he wants a major increase of troops in Iraq; in fact, he’s the most prominent cheerleader for the policy of “when you’re in a hole, grab some friends and dig more furiously.”

Somehow, I’m beginning to sense a pattern.

I respect John McCain. Who doesn’t? But is this the guy this world needs with his finger on the red button? I would sincerely like to see him in the next Administration, Republican or Democrat, but I’d like him to stay the heck away from foreign policy. Let him be the Secretary of Transportation or Education or Labor. And if he keeps wanting to talk about war, we can send him to Gettysburg and have him join in one of those battle re-enactments. He can be doing the Rebel Yell during Pickett’s Charge.

The Mirror, Mirror Award: Dick Vitale

For those of you who aren’t Star Trek addicts, Mirror, Mirror was an episode in which Captain Kirk and a few fellow crewmen were transported into a parallel universe that looks an awful lot like ours except that the people are crazy. And not in a good way.

Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to place Vitale in with that crew. He seems benign enough. I’ve never heard him advocate gratuitous violence, for example, and he doesn’t seem to be crazed with power-lust. Still, when I’m watching him, I feel that if he belongs in this universe, then maybe I don’t.

Dickie V, as he’s affectionately known, is a former basketball coach turned talking-head. As football season fades away and roundball comes to dominate the American sports scene, Dickie becomes a fixture on ESPN. By March, he’s positively ubiquitous. The man is the Platonic form of the exuberant, narcissistic motor mouth. He never met hyperbole that he didn’t like. And while it’s one thing to hear him announce a game – he’ll exclaim “Awesome Baby” 15 times, and throw out almost as many references to “PTPs” (Prime Time Players) and “Diaper Dandies” (freshmen who don’t suck) -- what’s particularly surreal is listening to him do commentary about an event that transcends sports, such as when athletes become violent. Invariably, when I’m watching this guy run his lips I’m asking myself this question: Other than the fact that we both love moms, green grass, and blue skies, do we agree on anything?

In Vitale’s universe, Bob Knight – the very same right-wing icon who once brandished soiled toilet paper to show his players what they played like – would be the drug czar. Heck, he might even be named President. In Vitale’s universe, we’d probably walk into shopping malls and listen to motivational speeches pumped over the loudspeaker. Whatever this dude is selling, clearly a lot of people are buying – I just don’t happen to be one of them. If I had to choose the bearded Mr. Spock from the parallel universe or the bald and beautiful (if you don’t believe it, just ask him) Dick Vitale from this universe … I’d take the bearded Vulcan any time.

Entertainer of the Year: Dave Matthews

This award is clear cut. Here’s a guy who’s under the age of 40 and I actually like his music. That’s right. I say those words and yet can’t believe I just said them. But it’s true. And for that, he deserves some recognition.

It’s always nice when someone reminds you that you still have a pulse.

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