Welcome to America's Hall of Shame
From Sarah Palin to AIG's pamper-hungry sales reps, the following characters have made us less than proud
In at least one obvious way, 2008 was a pretty good year in my country. We made history in electing an African-American president. I and 67 million of my fellow citizens brought the era of conservative dominance to a thundering close. For those of us who've been told for eight years that we weren't real Americans - liberals, urbanites, non-believers, cabernet-sippers, same-sex lovers, anti-war-mongerers, Volvo drivers - well, the tables have turned. We're the real Americans now.
But ill winds still blew, and blow, across the republic. It being the duty of journalism to take the measure of these winds, I hereby dedicate my year-end column to ranking some of the worst Americans of the year. It started as a bottom 10 list, but consultations with various associates persuaded me that 10 was not enough, and further research suggested that a non-round and totally capricious number better suited the exercise. Herewith, the Tomasky List of the 19 Worst Americans of 2008.
19 E.D. Hill. Ms Hill is the Fox News anchor who referred to Barack and Michelle Obama's on-stage fist bump in early June as a "terrorist fist jab". I guess she's well familiar with the various and sundry ways in which couples express intimacy - she's been married three times herself. Fox announced in November that it wasn't renewing her contract.
18 Don Blankenship. Who? He's the head of a huge coal-mining company that is an industry leader, if one must put it that way, in so-called mountain-top removal mining. It's a hideous practice that destroys mountains and communities, and Blankenship is its poster child. Our supreme court has agreed to hear a case in which Blankenship financed the election of a state judge who, in a $50m lawsuit, ruled for Blankenship's company. Google Caperton v Massey, read more about Massey, and tell me if this fellow shouldn't perhaps be even higher.
17 Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher. The man better known as Joe the Plumber wasn't a licensed plumber. He owed back taxes. He shocked even a Fox News anchor with his cavalier relationship to the facts. Let's hope he's 14 minutes into his allotted 15 minutes of fame.
16 John Edwards. How could a person run for president knowing that he'd cheated on his cancer-stricken wife with a woman who subsequently bore a child? (He denies paternity.) What if he'd actually won the nomination, and then this news came out? He gives bad judgment a bad name.
15 Heath and Deborah Campbell. You know, the parents who named their son Adolf Hitler Campbell. Nuff said.
14 Geraldine Ferraro. One of the worst vice-presidential candidates in recent history distinguished herself in 2008 as one of the worst political surrogates (for Hillary Clinton) in recent history. In between, she found a way to lose two Senate races that she once led by 20 points. What a career.
13 Stephen L Johnson. The Bush administration's chief environmental enforcement officer is ... about what you'd expect out of the Bush administration's chief environmental officer. He's loosened rules, ignored subpoenas and been rebuked by his own staff.
12 Sam Zell. Yes, market forces and technology are putting the American newspaper on life support, but that doesn't mean that the man who bought the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times should stroll into the intensive-care unit and pull the plug. Zell's belief that productivity should be measured purely by word output is a death knell for intensive, investigative work that uncovers corruption.
11 David Addington. Dick Cheney's top aide told Congress in June that he didn't even know what the unitary executive theory of presidential power was. This would be rather like Lavrenti Beria insisting that Lubyanka prison was actually a hotel.
10 The boys from AIG. Less than a week after the insurance giant received an $85bn federal bail-out, some AIG execs and sales reps spent $440,000 on a retreat at an exclusive resort, including $23,000 in spa charges. Well, they were under tremendous stress, you know.
9 Eliot Spitzer. The prostitute-visiting ex-New York governor, remember? Usually, when a scandal breaks, one reads the reports and starts thinking, "Well, I can see how they could wriggle out of this one." Even when the Lewinsky scandal broke, I could see how Bill Clinton might get out of it. But when the Spitzer story broke, it was evident instantly that he was dead meat.
8 Dick Cheney. Just because. If he lives to be 99 - and he's not as old as he looks: can you believe, for instance, that he's younger than Ringo? - and I'm still doing this column, something tells me he'll always find his way on the list. It'll take that long to undo the damage he's done to flag and country.
7 Steve Schmidt. John McCain didn't make the list, but his chief campaign strategist has earned an indisputable spot. He displayed a rare combination of incompetence, tone-deafness and cynicism. He's only as low as number eight because it didn't work.
6 Joe Lieberman. It's not that the Connecticut senator backed McCain. It's the way he did it, the way he does everything - the self-regard, the pride, the arrogation to himself of some kind of moral authority that he in fact does not have any more (even if he once did, itself a debatable proposition). Don't take it from me. Take it from his constituents, who ignored him to the tune of supporting Obama by a 22-point margin.
5 Michele Bachmann. Of the many memorable moments the campaign produced, I will never forget watching this Minnesota congresswoman say on national TV in October that Obama "may have anti-American views" and endorse the idea of a media investigation of all members of Congress to determine whether their views were sufficiently pro-American. The single most appalling political statement of the year.
4 Rod Blagojevich. "Whatever I say is always lawful, whatever I'm interested in doing is always lawful." Uh-huh. Depending on what comes out at his trial, he's a strong contender for an even higher spot in 2009.
3 George Bush. There were years when he would have been higher - 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. I'll give him a slight pass for 2001, what with the attacks and all that. In those previous years, he stole an election, started an unnecessary war, lied about it, approved torture, let a great US city drown and so on. This year he merely presided over the bankruptcy of the global economy. Twenty days and counting.
2 Sarah Palin. Does she really deserve to be this high? Never in my adult lifetime has one politician so perfectly embodied everything that is malign about my country: the proto-fascist nativism, the know-nothingism, the utterly cavalier lack of knowledge about the actual principles on which the country was founded. So, heck, you betcha she does!
1 Bernard Madoff. It's pronounced "made-off". Could Dickens have named him better? Bilking people and institutions out of $50bn is a pretty surefire way to make yourself No 1 with a bullet on anyone's year-end bad guys' list.
Well, here's to a better 2009, for America, the world, and you and yours. And keep yer nose clean.
Michael Tomasky is editor of Guardian America.
© 2009 Guardian/UK