The main political event of 2010 took place in November when Republicans seized Congress, grabbed gobs of statehouses, and put the kibosh on Barack Obama’s designs for America. Off stage, there were tears and tickles. Awesome pranks and telephone cranks. In honor of the year’s great and not-so-great moments, The Daily Beast presents the year’s awards in politics.
The Muskie Award
Given to the person whose tears flowed like melting snow.
Winner: John Boehner
The future Republican speaker was given a run for his money by fellow GOP panjandrum Mitch McConnell, Kentucky’s senior senator, who got misty-eyed when saying farewell to his departing colleague, Judd Gregg. When it comes to the waterworks, Boehner is a national treasure, a Niagara Falls of tears, who bawled on election night, bawled when TARP passed, and bawls at even the thought of school children. As exhibited in his recent 60 Minutes star turn, the Ohio congressman cries when asked about crying.
The Lazarus Award
Given to the politician who best resurrected his career.
Winner: Harry Reid
The Nevada Democrat was over; his career dead; his reign atop the Senate caput. Sarah Palin visited his hometown to dance on his grave. But somehow Reid eked out an unlikely win, unleashing scores of sweet-science metaphors about the former boxer delivering a knockout in the final round. In the runner-up category: Nancy Pelosi—for leading her troops to a ghastly loss on Nov. 2 and then deciding to trade in her speaker’s gavel for the minority leader’s office.
The Paul Hogan Award
Given to the Australian who most captured the American imagination.
Winner: Julian Assange
Not since Crocodile Dundee graced our movie screens has a man from down under turned our world so upside down. The WikiLeaks boss was on the run for most of the year while his websites dropped batches of confidential diplomatic and military information on the world. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates may have brushed Assange off as no big deal, but many of his fans and critics believed him to be the most influential person of the year.
The Reverse Roosevelt Award
Given to the person who spoke the loudest but carried the smallest stick.
Winner: James Jones
The canned national security adviser turned Chatty Cathy for Bob Woodward’s chronicle of the White House war-machine. According to The Daily Beast’s Richard Wolffe, Jones never found a way to influence White House policy but seemed to have much to say to reporters like Woodward.
The Elmo Award
Given to the most noteworthy tickler.
Winner: Eric Massa
Former New York Democratic Rep. Eric Massa ended up in hot water this spring when allegations emerged that he behaved inappropriately with male staffers. Massa went on Glenn Beck’s show to defend himself, chalking the whole thing up to a big misunderstanding. “Now they’re saying I groped a male staffer. Yeah, I did,” Massa said. “Not that I groped him; I tickled him until he couldn’t breathe, then four guys jumped on top of me.” Massa said the tickle fight broke out in honor of his 50th birthday.
The Phil Bengtson Award
Given to the most unenviable successor.
Winner: Pete Rouse
Who’s Phil Bengtson, you ask? Exactly. Bengston had the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of NFL legend Vince Lombardi, the quotable coach of the Green Bay Packers. Famously retiring Pete Rouse was tapped to succeed Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff when the notoriously profane and combustible Emanuel set off to run for mayor in Chicago.
The Pat O’Brien Award
Given to the person who left the most ill-advised voice mail message.
Winner: Virginia Thomas
“OK, have a good day.” That was the sign-off for the year’s strangest phone call, part of a message delivered by the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Thomas was calling Anita Hill, nearly 20 years after Hill testified before the Senate that Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her. Out of the blue, Virginia Thomas rang, “I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did.” Hill, now a professor at Brandeis University, isn’t apologizing.
The Throw the Bums in Award
Given to the politicians least deserving of a return ticket to Washington.
Winner: Charlie Rangel and David Vitter
Boy, voters were angry this year! They had it up to here with politicians going native in Washington and losing their way. Except when they weren’t. Charlie Rangel and David Vitter proved that some politicians can get away with almost anything and be returned to D.C. as public servants. In 2007, Vitter was caught using his office line to arrange liaisons with a prostitute. The next year a host of allegations—from unpaid taxes to illegal rent-controlled apartments—began to plague Democrat Charlie Rangel. He was censured by his colleagues in the House but given an “Attaboy, Charlie!” by his district.
The Bluto Award
Given to the most successful college prankster.
Winner: Rand “Aqua Buddha” Paul
Rand Paul seemed less Tea Party than frat party when word of his adolescent antics emerged. Turns out the ophthalmologist was a member of a secret society in college, the Noze Brotherhood. Paul and his bros kidnapped a young co-ed, dragged her down to a creek, and commanded her to worship their divinity called, “ Aqua Buddha.”
The Bill Laimbeer Award
Given to the politician with the sharpest elbows.
Winner: Rey Decerega
Despite its pretensions to civility, Washington’s always been a fighter’s town, the sort of place where the vice president commands a senator to perform an anatomically impossible feat on the Senate floor. That toughness leaked onto the basketball court during a friendly run featuring the president over Thanksgiving. Decerega, a staffer for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, pivoted into Obama, connecting his elbow with the presidential kisser.
The Prince Harry Award
Given to the most improbable Nazi impersonation.
Winner: Rich Iott
Congressional candidates do the darnedest things. Ohio Republican Rich Iott likes to dress up in a Waffen SS uniform and pretend to be a Nazi soldier on the weekends. Iott says his antics are “purely historical” and belie neither interest nor belief in the tenets of National Socialism. Also, Iott said he joined one re-enactment group because he’s a good family man. The fake Nazi business started “as a father-son bonding thing.”
The Sally Field Award
Given to the most begrudgingly admired politician.
Winner: Joe Lieberman
They like him! They really like him! Joe Lieberman found himself in a strange position during the last week of the Senate’s lame-duck session: liberal hero. Lieberman, who was primaried out of the Democratic Party in 2006, was bathed in adulation from the left for his role in guiding legislation to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” through the Senate. (OK, not every liberal likes Lieberman: “It's still totally OK to hate the guy,” says Salon’s Alex Pareene.)
The Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky Award
Given to the freshman congressman who went down swinging.
Winner: Tom Perriello
Like the award’s namesake, this freshman Democrat voted for legislation which he knew would make for a tough fight come election time. The representative from Virginia’s fifth district was put into office with the help of young voters who turned out for Obama in 2008. Perriello returned the favor by voting for the major planks in Obama’s agenda (stimulus, health care, extending unemployment benefits). Democrats say these votes make Perriello a profile in courage. Republicans say Perriello got his just deserts, losing to GOP businessman Robert Hurt in November.
The National Chain Appreciation Award
Given to the corporate giant most appreciated by local shoppers.
Winner: Burlington Coat Factory
New Yorkers are fiercely loyal to their local institutions and tend to see incoming chains as predators, harming mom and pop shops they love. But there’s one national behemoth that they were sad to see withdraw from an outpost in the city. If the Burlington Coat Factory could just have held onto its spot in Lower Manhattan, the Great National Mosque Handwringing would have been avoided.
Got another award to give out? Please leave it in the comments.
CORRECTION: The original version of this story mistakenly claimed Rep. Tom Perriello, Democrat of Virginia, had voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program ("TARP"). Perriello joined Congress in Jan. 2009. The TARP bill was passed in the previous session.
Samuel P. Jacobs is a staff reporter at The Daily Beast. He has also written for The Boston Globe, The New York Observer, and The New Republic Online.