The year is coming to a close and award nominees are starting to be announced.
I can’t compete with the Oscars or Golden Globes, but here’s my humble attempt to name the best and worst in politics this year, as I did with stocks in my column. Let’s get right to it.
Biggest Political Winner (domestic): President Barack Obama, of course. With a struggling economy and middling approval ratings, the president had an uphill re-election battle. But he won a surprisingly comfortable victory—a margin of almost five million votes—and goes into a second term with a stronger hand in fiscal negotiations with Republicans. For both those reasons, he’s the biggest winner of the year.
Biggest Political Loser (domestic): The Republican brand. It wasn’t just the defeat of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who was a poor candidate from the weakest field in memory; it was the loss of several Senate seats that were Republicans’ for the taking. Yes, Democrats often ran better campaigns, but the extremism of many Republican candidates turned off independent voters .
Biggest Political Winner (foreign): China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, whose succession went as planned after a nasty purge and power struggle. And as a bonus, current president Hu Jintao will leave the stage entirely, breaking the tradition of “former” Chinese leaders pulling the strings behind the scenes.
Biggest Political Loser (foreign): Bo Xilai, party boss in Chongqing, once a rising star destined to ascend to China’s highest leadership ranks, was purged, stripped of his titles and now faces prison amid a lurid scandal involving his wife, Gu Kailai, convicted of the murder of a British businessman.
Biggest Winner among the People (domestic): Hispanic and gay Americans. Hispanics’ growing political clout showed itself big time in the election, and as a result both parties are likely to back some form of immigration reform next year. The president announced his support for gay marriage, which also became legal in more states amid a sea change in public opinion.
Biggest Loser among the People (domestic): The Christian right, repudiated in the election, is being blamed by many (including me) for the Republican Party’s substantive and image problems. They will be forced to retrench, pick their battles, or go down with the ship.
Biggest Winner among the People (foreign): no award.
Biggest Loser among the People (foreign): The people of Syria, thousands of whom were killed and terrorized by brutal tyrant Bashir al-Assad, and the people of Greece, who face economic ruin and the rise of Golden Dawn, the scariest European fascist political party since the 1930s.
Best Political Speech (tie): Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention rambled on and on, but he did a better job of making President Obama’s case for reelection than the president did himself. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s quiet speech on board the USS Yorktown in Charleston harbor on the eve of the South Carolina primary explained American exceptionalism better than any I’ve ever heard.
Worst Political Speech: Clint Eastwood’s improvised dialogue with an empty chair at the Republican National Convention would have made the cutting-room floor in any of his movies, but it went out live in prime time to tens of millions of mystified Americans.
Best Debate Performance: Mitt Romney may have pulled the ultimate Etch a Sketch in his first debate with President Obama, but he was prepared and on his game. His performance turned around his campaign and made the election a real horserace.
Worst Debate Performance: President Obama in the first debate was listless and detached while Romney scored point after point against him. But any debate in which Texas Gov. Rick Perry appeared has to rank at the very bottom.
The presidential election dominated 2012. There won’t be a national election here next year, but the winners and losers may well emerge from the fiscal debate dominating Washington now. We’ll be following it closely.