The most significant (and oddest) political moments of 2010
The 2010 campaign provided enough memorable moments to fill out a list all by itself. Christine O’Donnell, Joe Manchin shooting the cap and trade bill, Aqua Buddha: It was that kind of year.
But that was mostly noise. We’ve compiled a list of moments below that represents the framework through which 2010 can begin to come into focus for what it was as a narrative. We’ll leave what it means, or will mean, for later on down the road. 2011 will go a long way toward deciding that.
Below are the “Big Impact” moments from 2010, along with two other categories: the “Best of the Rest,” and then some moments sent in to us by political types. We hope you enjoy.
And Happy New Year!
Big Impact Moments
1. Scott Brown’s shocker: When the Massachusetts Republican ripped Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat out from underneath the Democratic Party, we thought it was the end of President Obama’s health care bill. We were wrong about that, but so was the White House when they insisted that their policies had nothing to do with the voter backlash.
2. Passage of Obama’s health care bill: Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid surprised the nation when they pressed forward with the health overhaul, but were able to push the bill through despite huge procedural obstacles (remember “deem and pass”?) and the presence of a few thousand protesters outside the Capitol building, behind probably one of the most intense vote whips by congressional leaders in the institution’s history. When Pennsylvania Democrat Bart Stupak brought his bloc of pro-life Dems over to the yea column following the president’s executive order, the game was over. But the battle over the bill will rage on for years.
3. The BP Oil spill: Summer has been a bad time of year for this president. In 2009 it was the Tea Party town halls. In 2010, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was a slow burn of daily pain for the White House. Obama wanted to pivot from the health care bill to jobs, to gain some momentum going into the fall elections. Instead, his administration found itself on the defensive for three months.
4. Obama anti-business meme hits mainstream: In June, Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg gave a speech faulting Obama’s policies for keeping the business community from expanding and creating jobs. Days later, GE CEO Jeff Immelt’s comments critical of the president’s economic policies leaked out. Fareed Zakara wrote a column saying that CEO’s he talked to though Obama was “anti-business.” It was a body blow to the president’s standing with the country, and to Democrats’ chances for the fall.
5. Midterm election results: 63 House seats. 6 Senate seats. The GOP’s gains in the House were the biggest swing for either party in 62 years. Obama admitted it was a “shellacking,” but indicated he still believed his core agenda was the right one.
Obama’s lame duck compromises with the GOP could be added to the list above. But they are more accurately viewed as 2011 developments, even if they occurred in the 2010 calendar. If Obama is successfully resurrecting his political fortunes in the year ahead, the lame duck session will likely be seen in retrospect as the moment when he began his comeback. If 2011 is a draw or a defeat for him, the lame duck will be a footnote.
The Rest of the Best
Michael Steele’s expenses: Of course the expenses were many, and those have been well documented, and even apologized for by Steele himself. But nothing broke through the clutter like the news that among the RNC’s receipts for February was $1,946 to hang out at a strip club in West Hollywood featuring “topless women dancers imitating lesbian sex,” as The Daily Caller’s Jonathan Strong first reported. Was Steele there himself? Well, no. Did that matter? Not really.
Rolling Stone’s article on Gen. McChrystal: If you read the Michael Hastings piece before the story broke into the mainstream, you could probably feel the heat coming off the computer screen. The temperature was also rising inside the White House, as Obama and his advisers absorbed the comments of the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan and his aides ridiculing the president, the vice president, and his top advisers. In the end, the decision for Obama wasn’t all that hard, because most liberals and conservatives agreed that Gen. Stanley McChrystal needed to go. But the flap pushed the war in Afghanistan to the fore of the nation’s mind at an unhelpful time for Obama.
Obama’s flip flop on the Ground Zero mosque: He was for it before he had no position on it. Either way, Obama’s comments in August on the matter threw wood on a simmering fire, giving the story new life. It was the second summer in a row Obama had waded into an emotionally charged issue – in 2009 it was his “acted stupidly” comment about cops in Cambridge who arrested a black professor. In each case Obama prolonged and intensified a controversial story with his remarks and took on water politically when he didn’t have to.
Harry Reid gives detailed colonoscopy description: The October debate between the Senate Majority Leader from Nevada and his Republican challenger, Sharron Angle, was among the more entertaining political moments of the year because of its sheer absurdity. Angle did her part, casting the race between her and Reid as “a choice between the free market and Americanism.” But Reid took the cake with his rambling, incoherent answer to a question about insurance companies. Here is the entirety of his comment, which represents this reporter’s favorite 30 second political moment of the year:
“Insurance companies don’t do things out of the goodness of their hearts. They do things out of a profit motive and they have almost destroyed our economy. We need them to be forced to do mammograms. That’s why you see … the baseball players wearing pink shoes and the football players wearing pink helmets. It’s because people dread breast cancer. And you don’t get breast cancer. You correct breast cancer. You detect it if you do mammograms. Colonoscopies. If you do colonoscopies, colon cancer does not come because you snip off the things they find when they go up and, no more. And we need to have insurance companies do this.”
The dueling rallies on the National Mall by Glenn Beck and Jon Stewart: Forget the numbers estimates. That’s besides the point. The point is, a lot of people came out to Washington in late August for Beck and then again in late October for Stewart and Stephen Colbert. The striking thing was that both rallies had clear political points of view – though the perspectives of the two rallies were opposed in most ways – and both attracted hundreds of thousands of Americans who largely for political reasons. But both Beck and Stewart went out of their way to avoid a political message, and both, in fact, said much the same thing, albeit in very different ways. The message from both was essentially, “Be a better person, and be nicer to other people.” In the end, both rallies ended up being the same thing: an attempt by a PR-savvy media personality to build on his already large following and position himself and his message for greater influence.
The Deficit Commission’s final weeks: First you had the two co-chairs leak their draft proposal. Then others released theirs. That made the panel’s final vote on its work product anti-climactic. Or so we thought. It turned out that 11 of the commission’s 18 members voted for a proposal that everybody vehemently disliked for different reasons. It was a show of bipartisan accommodation that was surprising even for a process that had no binding authority or impact on actual legislation. Republican Tom Coburn and Democrat Dick Durbin both swallowed their objections and voted in favor, giving the nation a sliver of hope that its elected leaders may actually have the ability to get serious about the government’s looming fiscal crisis. But don’t get your hopes up just yet.
Bill Clinton takes over the White House briefing room: It was late on a Friday afternoon – near evening time really – when former President Clinton suddenly appeared at Robert Gibbs podium in the West Wing, with the current president at his elbow. This reporter was walking across the Capitol to watch Sen. Bernie Sanders conduct an actual filibuster when he got a phone call from a frenzied source about Clinton’s inexplicable presence in front of the White House press corps. Further confounding observers, Obama left after a brief statement, leaving Clinton alone to defend the president’s tax deal compromise with the GOP. Clinton barely blinked as Obama sidled out, and then held court for nearly 30 minutes, in one of the oddest political moments of the year.
Ed Crane, president of the Cato Institute: “My favorite political moment of 2010 was when Charlie ‘The Chameleon’ Crist described himself as a ‘true-blue Reagan conservative.'”
Greg Jenkins, Brunswick Group communications, former Bush White House aide: “The best political moment was when a candidate was compelled to deny her own witch hood.”
Toby Gati, former White House adviser to President Clinton on Russia, Ukraine and the Eurasian States: “My favorite moment was actually a moment of silence: [Tom] DeLay is sentenced for illegally raising money for Republican candidates in Texas races in the election that saw several long-time Democrats defeated and ensured that redistricting would favor these same Republicans – but since then not a word (from Republicans or Democrats) about the legitimacy of those elections. If illegal money helps a candidate win, why isn’t the election fraudulent? Can you think of a better way than the possibility of invalidating an election to ensure that candidates are extremely careful about where their money comes from? As things stand now, if you are willing to risk getting caught and going to jail (6 or 7 years later), you can do ANYTHING illegal for campaign fundraising. What a system.”
Taylor Griffin, principal, Hamilton Place Strategies: “For favorite political moment, the irony of the Obama Administration defending the Bush tax cuts. Also, I’ll give them some credit for political courage in resisting calls for a foreclosure moratorium during the robosigning debate.”
Rob Collins, political director, American Action Network: “Favorite moment: Marco Rubio winning Election night.”
Fran Coombs, managing editor, Rasmussen Reports: “Sarah Palin shooting and carving up a caribou on her TV show.”
Email Jon Ward and follow him on Twitter