EMPATHIC RATIONALIST AWARDS FOR 2009
Strange, but it really doesn’t seem appropriate to give awards for 2009. I think we can all agree that a year that started with such incredible promise has turned into a severe disappointment. To put it differently, and at the risk of disagreeing with the President who I worked so hard to elect, I would hardly give this year – or his performance -- a B+.
This year has been particularly disappointing for progressives. You know, the folks who are affectionately known as the President’s “base.” To relieve some of the pain, I offer my first two awards to members of their fraternity.
MAN OF THE YEAR: Anthony Weiner.
The Congressman representing much of Queens and Brooklyn isn’t yet a household name, but he’s rapidly becoming one. Political junkies sure know him, for he’s just about the only congressman these days who is getting any play on the left. Weiner has been one of the most passionate advocates of health care reform. He started out as a strong single payer advocate. Then, when that idea lost its traction, he became a champion of the “public option,” and I do mean a champion. Weiner didn’t come across as someone who just wanted a bill to be passed for political reasons – he fought for the public option like he actually cared.
Once the Administration decided to strike a compromise aimed to please Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, you’d expect Weiner to join many other progressives in the “kill the bill” chorus. But that’s not Weiner. He’s now arguing, pragmatically, that even this sell-out bill is better than none at all. And do you know what? I suspect he’s right. So does Paul Krugman.
Weiner is definitely a politician worth watching in the years to come. He’s still only in his mid-40s. He’s a known workaholic. He’s articulate. He’s diplomatic when he needs to be. And most importantly, he comes across as one of the few statesmen in Washington who might actually put principle above politics.
Of course, I have to say that for a “Man of the Year” winner, Weiner hasn’t exactly pitched a perfect game. His statements on war have been lukewarm at best. Weiner voted against the funding of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars in May, only to vote for it in June. And while he appears to oppose the surge in Afghanistan, I don’t detect the same degree of passion from him on that issue as I do on health care. After all, we’re talking about the same knucklehead that supported the Iraq War in 2002. We could have paid for a whole lot of health care with the money tossed away in that debacle.
WOMAN OF THE YEAR: Arianna Huffington.
It’s an old saw that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. And I guess that makes a one-eyed woman queen. Fitting then, that in a genuinely wretched year, I should give this award to the proprietor of a website that, in some respects, has become genuinely wretched.
The Huffington Post is part news, part National Enquirer. If you want a little T & A, you can always find it on the Huffington Post. Tiger’s babes? You got ‘em. Lindsay, Britney or Madonna strutting their stuff? No problem. For some reason, what started as a blog for political progressives has turned into a tabloid, with a little progressive punditry mixed in between the legs and the breasts. Perhaps those at the Huffington Post would argue that the readers come for the sex, and once they’re at the site, then they can read the articles. I’m not buying it, though. I just think Arianna and her minions are getting greedy.
So why give her this award? Once again, it’s a statement that says more about the alternatives than it does about the winner. Arianna is just about the only progressive voice on television – or at least the only effective one. Joy Behar is also a progressive who speaks out, but she’s less a pundit than a comedienne. Rachel Maddow has a lot of talent, but she inexplicably has decided to waste it. The Rachel Maddow show is now devoted largely, if not primarily, to petty, hatchet jobs on Republicans who act stupidly. At a time when the real problem with this Government is the DEMOCRATS, not the Republicans, Maddow has made herself largely irrelevant.
Arianna is a serious observer of the domestic and international policy arenas who, like Weiner, presents the progressive point of view palatably to a moderate audience. She has no trouble taking positions that are politically unpopular. And she comes across as sincere and not full of herself.
I enjoy listening to Arianna whenever I see her on a cable news telecast, and I take what she says seriously. I only wish our elected officials would do the same.
ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Kobe Bryant.
At the end of last season, Kobe was cutting down the nets as he led the Lakers to their 15th Championship, and their 30th appearance in the NBA finals, in the last 60 years. Those are amazing numbers – particularly being one of the top two teams in the league for half of the last 60 seasons. And now, as I type this, Kobe is leading the 2009-2010 Lakers to the best record in the NBA so far. What’s more, he’s accomplishing this despite having a broken finger and needing to make two game winning jumpers in the last week alone. That’s what I call a banner year.
Frankly, though, Kobe Bryant gets the nod here for two other reasons. First, at a time when the country is just now giving up its obsession with Tiger Woods’ sex life, Kobe is a reminder that athletes can indeed survive their sex scandals and get back to their legitimate business, which is sports, not endorsements. (The only products Tiger and Kobe should be endorsing is condoms.)
Second, I remember watching the NBA playoffs last season and thinking about just how much punier Kobe was than such competitors as Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and Dwight Howard. I’m not suggesting that those latter three guys are on steroids, but when I see a guy without their musculature out-performing them, it at least reassures me somewhat that Kobe ISN’T on the juice. These days, when I see a sculpted body on an athlete, it doesn’t make me admire the athlete so much as wonder (a) if he’s taking something, (b) if he’ll get caught, and (c) whether anyone else will care if he does. I hope I never grow so jaded as to become apathetic about steroids in sports. This is a scourge that must be stopped.
EVENT OF THE YEAR: Obama’s Presidential Inauguration.
Remember how amazing that was? How many adoring people came together in freezing weather to the National Mall? How beautiful and graceful the First Family looked? How many cynics had to eat their words and admit that a black man was actually elected President? How much it appeared that we were about to enter an era of profoundly progressive changes – for the first time in several decades?
I realize that things haven’t quite worked out the way we planned. But that doesn’t prevent us from looking back and remembering that, at least for one day, we were a people of hope.
Let’s not lose that. No matter how disillusioned we get with our President, or with the Congress, let’s please not lose that hope. We owe it to folks like Washington, Adams and Jefferson to continue to believe in this American experiment. But they would be the first ones to remind us that to make our republic work, “we the people” can’t just get involved once every four years. We need to make our presence felt whenever things aren’t working in the nation’s capital. And right now, I think we all can agree that things are very much NOT working.
QUESTION OF THE YEAR: Why were W and Reagan so successful in ramming through their right-wing legislative proposals even though they didn’t have 60 Republican Senators behind them, whereas Obama has been unable to ram his proposals through even though he DID have 60 Democratic Senators?
Lots of answers can be given, including that the Democrats are more fractured than the Republicans. But I really believe that the most important answer is that the Democratic leadership in the White House and the Congress lacks balls. Sometimes, the truth is just that simple.
WIFE OF THE YEAR: Kathy Spiro.
For putting up with me and all my neuroses, she deserves more than I can possibly give. But alas, all I can offer her right now is this award … and about 17 inches of snow, with more to come. When I pointed out that this sure doesn’t look like “global warming,” she responded that part of our climate change problem is that our storms get worse. To be sure, this is one of the worst snowstorms in my 4+ decades as a Washingtonian. Cabin fever, here we come!