I'm a big fan of Andrew Sullivan's blog, so in the coming year, I'm going to hold my own little miniature awards ceremony over the course of the year. So, after thinking for a bit, I'm coining these following awards to be looking for in the near future. A lot of these are hyphenated because I couldn't choose between two people to name the award after. Obviously, this year's winners are the people who gave the name to the award--retroactively honoring people from years past, as well as for this year.
JEFFERSON-CUNNINGHAM AWARD--The award for the grossest example of sheer greed and corruption. It needs to be something cartoonishly corrupt, and just lacking in any artifice. If you laundered the money, it doesn't count. It needs to be a yacht or just money stuffed in your freezer.
BLAGOJEVICH-SPITZER AWARD--This is not just an award for gross corruption; this is an award for brazen, Greco-tragic hubris, with a touch of dramatic irony. Kudos points to being convicted on your birthday, to have your downfall be exactly what you fought so hard to prevent, or wonderful soundbites like "Go ahead, tap my phones," or "It sucks. I used to be Governor of New York." Try to quote Kipling while protesting your innocence, or--please--get your wife to stand next to you while you apologize to the public for cheating on your wife.
CRAMER AWARD--Not just the clumsiness of Kramer, the hapless neighbor from Seinfeld: this is when you are in a position where people are relying on you to predict the future, and you fail. Not like, a little bit. I'm talking "epic fail." Like telling people who want to pull out of Bear Stearns that they're stupid, only to have Bear Sterns collapse six days later.
CHENEY-BURESS AWARD--Did you just say that? Did that just happen? The Vice President simply could not have shot an old man in the face. What? The old man apologized? Wait, did you just shoot yourself in the leg with a gun? It was tucked into your sweat pants, you say? I simply refuse to believe that these events happened. Also: there's a pair of shoes that bear this award well.
RUMSFELD-BUSH AWARD--For astounding lack of empathy. Did you tell the people of New Orleans that you're going to rebuild Trent Lott's house? Is Iraq not on fire if you fly over it? "Stuff happens" sound familiar to you? Then you might be in line for a Rumsfeld-Bush Award!
CHAMBLISS AWARD--When I told my roommate that there was a politician who accused his opponent for being soft on crimes against children, when that opponent had championed tougher laws against crimes against children because his child had been kidnapped, and that the same politician had accused another opponent of being unpatriotic when that opponent had left limbs behind in Vietnam... my roommate said, "Well, I'll say one thing about this guy. He doesn't want to make things easy for himself. He really like to fight those uphill battles." So the Chambliss Award is intended for those who demonstrate fantastically self-destructive (and ironic) tactics, whether it's putting Joe The Plumber on the campaign trail, or letting Joe The Biden open his mouth.
FINLEY AWARD--Sometimes Free Speech means that someone is going to do something stupid or derogatory and call it art. They'll use "anything can be art" as a free pass to say "everything is art." They'll say that form is unimportant, education is unimportant (while drawing salary as a teacher). They'll mock people who don't agree with them as stupid. These people are what gives theater a bad name.
And now for the positive awards:
SHINSEKI-FISHBACK AWARD--It's really depressing that sometimes the greatest heroism is telling the truth. Ian Fishback was concerned that Donald Rumsfeld's statements to the public about torture misrepresented the actions that were occuring to people in custody. When the chain of command failed him, he wrote a letter to John McCain that laid forth his moral objections. Shinseki, at the opposite end of the food chain, was called before Congress in the run-up to the Iraq War. When asked how many troops we'd need, he said several hundred thousand. He was promptly fired. Years later, General Abizaid said, "Upon reflecting, General Shinseki was probably right." Oops. At least we have these people to tell us what's what.
FITZGERALD AWARD--For stunning, non-partisan service. It's very hard to treat both sides of the debate equally because, well, they're not. But if within a few years you take down a high profile Republican and a high profile Democrat, it's clear that you're of the rare breed that sees both sides of the aisle equally. You're there to do your job. Politics be damned.
FEINGOLD AWARD--Opposition to the PATRIOT Act is something that most Congressmen from the left espouse, so much so that you might forget that they all voted for it. Except one man: Russ Feingold. Read his last speech, faced with 96 US Senators who were about to vote the other way. Sometimes it's not easy to be the only guy facing the other way. But history has proven that Feingold's concerns about the PATRIOT Act were not unfounded.
DAISEY-EUSTIS AWARD-- Theater is a broken system in America. It has a lot of problems, whether we're talking about poor pay and job stability for actors or the growing tendency to remount old productions rather than looking for new work. Whether you're a dissident like Mike Daisey asking the hard questions about Theater's future, or an insightful champion of the new generation of talent like Oskar Eustis, it takes gumption to set out there to change the world of theater.
RUSSERT-SULLIVAN AWARD-- It's easy for a news story to fall through the cracks, and unless you've got Lewis Black to catch them for his own segment called "Back In Black," these things can fall away in the ephemeral world of modern news. Whether its torture, or Palin's baby, Andrew Sullivan has a memory like an elephant, and doesn't let things get away. Russert was the same way: he kept his eye on the issues, and (though polite) asked the hard, smart questions. What they share (usually) is a sense of perspective, and a dogged determination to uncover the truth.
Those are the twelve awards. Next year, who'll be on that list? We'll see.