Last night, I wrote that I hate year-end lists. I knew this would somehow come back to bite me, but in my defense, I don't give myself a lot of space to explain myself in the roundups. What I meant was the typical news media lists, which almost always consist of pop culture fluff bound to be completely forgotten as early as the very next year. The other kind of list is the Roster of the Fallen. I hate these, too. Yes, it's sad that we lost people like Studs Terkel and Paul Newman, but their memories are polluted when we pretend that Paul Weyrich was a wonderful and loving lamb of God and that Charlton Heston was anything other than an actor with his emotional meter pegged at "histrionic" and his volume cranked up to eleven.
That said, here's my year end list of things during the presidential campaign that are actually noteworthy. Besides, it's pretty short. As year-end lists go, this one isn't much work for the reader.
Worst presidential candidate
A man so bad that you probably forgot he ran -- if you even knew he ran. No, I'm not talking about some third party lunatic, but a major party candidate. A former Governor of a fairly consequential state. I'm talking about Wisconsin's Tommy Thompson -- not to be confused with sleepy actor Fred Thompson.
Thompson put all his chips on Iowa, hoping to win that contest and launch himself to national prominence. But, as a former Bush administration official (Thompson headed Health and Human Services), Tommy already had one strike against him. Those strikes started piling up fast. First, in a speech to the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Thompson congratulated Jews on being good at making money; "I'm in the private sector and for the first time in my life I'm earning money. You know that's sort of part of the Jewish tradition, and I do not find anything wrong with that. I enjoy that."
According to that report, "The remark caused some murmurs and disbelief in the room, according to some who were present." He ended his speech, someone talked to him, and he returned to the podium to apologize. He did it poorly.
"I just want to clarify something because I didn't in any means want to infer or imply anything about Jews and finances and things," he said. "What I was referring to, ladies and gentlemen, is the accomplishments of the Jewish religion and the Jewish people. You have been outstanding businesspeople and I compliment you for that and if anybody took what I said wrong, I apologize. I may have mischaracterized it. You are very successful. I applaud you for that."
Congrats on being Jewish stereotypes! That's just awesome...
Thompson further blundered when he answered in a debate that, yes, he it would be fine for an employer to fire someone for being gay. As governor, Thompson had signed a first-in-the-nation anti-discrimination law that included gays. He later retracted the answer and blamed it on "a dead hearing aid and an urgent need to use the bathroom."
In the end, not a single person voted for Thompson. He dropped out after a poor showing in the Iowa straw poll and never even made it to the caucuses.
Runner up: Alan "I'll draft myself to run" Keyes.
Worst political ad
"Obama wants to teach sex ed to kindergarden students." This McCain ad mischaracterized a vote for a common sense, anti-predator bill that would require schools teach the difference between "good touching" and "bad touching" to kids and tell kids who to report pedophiles to. The McCain ad included this quote; "Learning about sex before learning to read? Barack Obama. Wrong on education. Wrong for your family."
It was an awful, awful lie. Awful because, as TIME's Joe Klein put it, "[McCain] is responsible for one of the sleaziest ads I've ever seen in presidential politics." But double-awful because it's a bad lie -- why on Earth would anyone want to teach sex ed to kindergardners? Just to be evil, I guess. Otherwise, what the hell would be the point? All in all, this sucked on many different levels -- including its eventual ineffectiveness. Only gullible morons believed it.
Runner up: Barack Obama wants babies to be hit by trains.
Biggest political surprise
Sarah Palin. No one guessed that McCain would select the Mayor of Santa's Village to become his running mate. She re-energized the Republican base, but quickly was exposed as an intellectual lightweight, a political opportunist, and a complete demagogue. McCain got a quick bounce in the polls after the selection -- at one point leading Obama slightly -- but it all went to hell when McCain's response to the economic crisis was to run around like a chicken with his head cut off, while Palin toured the country trying to convince everyone that Barack Obama was a terrorist.
Despite her popularity among Republican diehards -- Pat Buchanan, for example, has an almost literal hardon for her -- she quickly alienated everyone but the conspiracy theorists and racists she attracted. Some on the right believe she's the best hope for the glorious rebirth of the GOP and lefties everywhere can be thankful for that.
Runner up: Obama chooses Clinton as Secretary of State. Seriously, you would've never guessed that just months earlier.
George W. Bush will really go away soon.
Seriously, do I have to explain this one?
Runner up: Dick Cheney will really go away soon.
Dead president of the year
Ronald Reagan. During the Republican primaries, candidates went to ridiculous lengths to out-Reagan each other -- going so far as staging one of the debates at Reagan's grave.
This turned out to be a bad idea when the market crash could be traced back to the philosophy of deregulation and Ronald Reagan became the only president to die twice; first as a man, then as an economic theory.
Runner(s) up (tie): Kennedy, Lincoln.
That's it. There are many more of these I could write, but it's hard to boil these down to just blurbs and neither of us wants to sit here all day. So long, 2008. It'll be hard to miss you.