EMPATHIC RATIONALIST AWARDS – 2010 EDITION
It’s that time again, boys and girls. Time to look back at the last year and give credit where credit is due, or blame where blame is due. It’s awards time.
So without further ado, let’s give out some cyberspace hardware.
MAN OF THE YEAR: MITCH McCONNELL
It wasn’t the greatest of years, was it? So it seems fitting to give out some awards to the people who made it what it was … a bust!
Let’s start with the man who gave us Republican solidarity in the Senate and the ability to turn 40 or 41 seats into absolute parity. Give him and his minions credit for all but annulling the election results of 2008, though frankly, he had plenty of help from the Democrats.
For years, I’ve underestimated this man, thinking about him solely in terms of his penchant for pork. But now, he has pivoted away from pork and toward an embrace of the Tea Party’s pro-fiscal conservatism policy. Of course, if you were lucky enough to find yourself in a smoke-filled room with the guy, he’d probably tell you that fiscal conservatism, 21st century style, does have a caveat: we’re fiscally conservative only insofar as spending is concerned. On the revenue side, we believe that less (for the Government) is more. And thanks to Mitch and his minions, we now start the next year with a mind-boggling deficit. But hey. At least all the folks on Wall Street and in the polo clubs will be getting huge tax cuts!
So let’s hear it for the New Fiscal Conservatism. Let’s hear it for Mitch McConnell, co-President for another two years.
WOMAN OF THE YEAR: SARAH PALIN
Remember that scene in Scarface when Al Pacino orders the killing of his boss, claims his boss’ girlfriend (Michelle Pfeiffer) for himself, and then looks up, with that sleazy smile on his face, to see a Pan-Am blimp with the words “The World is Yours”? That was fiction. But in reality, you’d have to forgive Sarah Palin if she thought that slogan applied to her and her alone.
One minute, she’s a lackluster student transferring from one college to another and to another, and the next thing she knows, she’s elected mayor of her town. One minute, she’s running a little town, and the next thing she knows, she’s the Governor of a State. One minute, she’s known only in cities like Juneau, Anchorage and Nome, and the next thing she knows, she’s nominated by the GOP for Vice President of the U.S., and she has almost singlehandedly catapulted her ticket into the lead. One minute, she’s back in Alaska, bored silly at the thought of running her State for another two years, and the next thing she knows, she’s quitting her job – only to find people everywhere willing to throw millions of dollars in her direction just to hear her speak or read her prose. One minute she’s trying to identify every possible Mini-Me who is wiling to run for elected office, and next thing she knows, she’s helping these people capture Republican nominations – and either win general elections or at least scare the crap out of the old-line Republicans who are not very enamored with Sarah’s brand of populism.
Pacino’s character, Tony Montana, used to say that the one thing about his boss that bothered him was that he was “soft.” He lacked “balls.” Well, if that’s what Montana respected, then Sarah Palin would have been his type of politician. She may be thoroughly ignorant about the issues, not terribly intelligent, and willing to say whatever her far right-wing base wants to hear, but damned if she doesn’t have balls. In fact, right now, she seems to be contemplating a run for the Presidency in 2012. Imagine her and Obama, mano-a-mano. He would try to speak polysyllabically about economic and foreign policy. She would challenge the guy to a cage fight. If he had his way, the election would turn on which candidate was better able to enunciate a path for fighting unemployment, reaching a Middle East Peace deal, or achieving energy independence. If she had her way, the election would turn on whether, in their cage match, the candidates would be confined to the Marquis de Queensberry rules, or would be permitted to bite, scratch, and kick in the nads.
That’s our Sarah. She’s scaring me less these days, because now even the mainstream Republicans seem to be tiring of her act. But hey, for sheer entertainment value, you can’t beat her. And let’s face it, she might not be as beautiful as Michelle Pfeiffer, but she’s a hell of a lot prettier than Tony Montana.
SPORTS FIGURE OF THE YEAR: GINO AURIEMMA
Please don’t tell me you’ve never heard of this guy. He was born in Italy 56 years ago and moved to Pennsylvania when he was seven. He has been the head coach of the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team since 1985. Since then, he was won seven national championships and nearly 750 games, including a streak of 90 in a row. That streak finally came to an end last night, but not until it became the largest winning streak in the history of men’s or women’s college basketball.
I won’t lie to you and call myself the world’s biggest fan of women’s basketball. But I happened to watch the game because Stanford was the opponent, and if the Stanford tiddly-winks team was on TV, I’d probably watch it. More interesting than the game was the post-game interviews, in which the interviewer kept wanting to talk about the team with the historic streak (U Conn) and the interviewees kept wanting to talk about the team that won the game. But before Auriemma graciously sang Stanford’s praises, he pointed out what had to be said: that a 90-game winning streak can’t be fully appreciated until you’ve seen it broken and you realize just how easy it is for a team of college kids to lose a game on any given night, when the opponent might be on their game.
Stanford was one of the best teams in the country and was playing at home. So why shouldn’t it have a good chance to win? But Auriemma’s implicit point was that during the previous 90 games, U Conn played a number of top teams, and frequently played them on the other team’s turf … or at least on a neutral surface. It’s an accomplishment to win 50 percent of those games. Or 60 percent. Or 70 percent. But this team won them all, including more than 30 games in a row against nationally ranked opponents. That’s just insane.
I have no idea how Auriemma would stack up as a basketball mind against the top men’s coaches, like Phil Jackson and Mike Krzyzewski. But I suspect he’d hold his own. In any event, now that his team has finally lost, it’s time to give the guy and his players the credit they deserve.
Oh, by the way, go Stanford! Not only did they win last night, but they were the last team to beat Connecticut before the streak started, and my hope is that they’ll be the next team to beat Connecticut – at the end of this year’s NCAA tournament.
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR: JEFF BRIDGES
Earlier this year, Jeff Bridges won his first academy award for his role in the film Crazy Heart. Now he’s on the screen again and is receiving critical acclaim. Bridges will surely be in the hunt for a second Oscar in a row for playing Rooster Cogburn in True Grit, the only role that won the statue for John Wayne.
How cool would that be to see the Motion Picture Academy permanently link two figures as disparate as Jeff Bridges and John Wayne? One evokes whiskey, the other weed. One evokes the power of guns, the other the power of flowers. One rides, the other abides.
To me, Jeff Bridges has become so associated with one character that it’s difficult to see him in another role. We see this phenomenon particularly clearly in our TV stars -- William Shatner will always be Captain Kirk, Leonard Nimoy will always be Spock, and Carol O’Connor will be Archie Bunker. We also see this play out with movie stars. Malcolm McDowell will always be the ultra-violent Little Alex from A Clockwork Orange, Linda Blair will always be the possessed Regan from The Exorcist, and Louise Fletcher will always be the soulless Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Even an actor as accomplished and decorated as Anthony Hopkins has trouble moving beyond a certain role, and I suspect he will be forever associated with Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter from Silence of the Lambs.
I point that out because it’s difficult to imagine too many better movie characters than Bridges’ “Dude” from The Big Lebowski. That has to be one of the top 10 or 20 movie comedies of all time, and he was clearly the star of the show. In light of that, I can’t wait to see if Bridges’ own little hot streak last year and this year can catapult him into truly rarified Hollywood air: actors who have played truly iconic parts … multiple times. I already mentioned Pacino. He wasn’t just Tony Montana, he was Michael Corleone. Jack Nicholson was Randall McMurphy and Jack Torrance. Dustin Hoffman was the Rain Man and the Graduate. I probably could go on, but it’s not that long a list.
And don’t bother to check the names who’ve won the Oscars. Those awards are given out every year, but in most cases, nobody in their right mind would call the winning characters “iconic.” Just look at the career of Sean Penn. He’s won the top Oscar for playing Jimmy Markum in Mystic River and more recently for playing Harvey Milk in Milk. He’s also been nominated for playing Sam Dawson in I am Sam, Emmett Ray in Sweet and Lowdown, and Matthew Poncelet in Dead Man Walking. He truly has had a decorated career. But for me, and I suspect the Dude would wholeheartedly agree, he’ll always be Jeff Spicoli.
So, from the Empathic Rationalist, have a happy New Year, and please – whether you tend toward weed, like the Dude and Spicoli, or prefer alcohol, like the original Rooster Cogburn -- stay safe.