Pundit Wire

The Lump of Coal Awards

stockingThe President of the United States: Well, it’s been a hard year for the President and next year doesn’t look much better with another budget crisis and sequestration ahead.  Enrollment in the Affordable Care Act under the federal program is increasing.  The state-run exchanges have done better in the early going.  Health care costs will go down, the uninsured will gain protection, but what an ugly start!  The Middle East is a cauldron of evil, terror, irresponsibility and worse.  There are no good guys anywhere.  John Kerry has been a workhorse, but results are unclear and the White House has shown paltry leadership.  (Don’t even mention Benghazi in polite company.)

White House Chief of Staff: How could Denis McDonough allow the President to permit the start of the Affordable Care Act when he had to know its abundant flaws?  Even if Mr. Obama insisted, he should have offered to resign rather than allow the President’s entire domestic program to be jeopardized.  (A smaller lump of coal goes the White House’s health advisor.)

Secretary of HHS:  Same for her.  It is inconceivable that she was not aware of the potential for disaster before the Oct. 1 rollout.  Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ appearances before the rancid-laden House committees were painful to watch.

The Speaker of the House:  After proclaiming the House had “done its work” John Boehner paused only a microsecond to beat a dead horse, the repeated failure of his majority to end the ACA.  The House has functioned abysmally under his Speakership.  The only way he can keep his job is to satisfy the right wing zealots by whacking away at a law that is firmly in place, and apparently working despite its wildly inept start.

The Senate Minority Leader: I almost have sympathy for Mitch McConnell (not actually) in that he was bulldozed over by Harry Reid on the filibuster rule and is now under serious threat from his right–and that is really right.  On top of that, he faces a formidable Democratic opponent if he wins his primary.

The Junior Senator from Florida:  Marco Rubio.  Immigration reform will make him or break him.  He is frantically trying to gain credibility with conservatives on other issues, but this is the one that sticks.  (Remember Rick Perry in the debates?  Immigration set him up, and his dumb appearances cooked him.)

The Junior Senator from Texas:  Ted Cruz–The Leper of the Senate.  It is amazing how one man in a relatively short time can piss off his colleagues almost unanimously.  The only group of Republican lawmakers (well, that is what they are supposed to be doing) was a group of zany GOP house members in a cavern underneath a taco joint.  Rudy may have his fans among the tea party, but he is an anathema to the establishment Republicans.  If he and Rand Paul take on more serious opposition in the primaries they will do a Newt and Rick act all over again.  The debates might be fun, if the Republican National Committee lets any happen.  (Has anyone noticed his facial resemblance to Joe McCarthy?  Just asking.)

The Junior Senator from Kentucky:  Rand Paul has had his moments, notably on the use of drones, but he is inconsequential in the Senate and is in an awkward position of deciding whether to support his fellow Kentuckian against an opponent more ideologically in line with his own views.  He parrots his Dad, but doesn’t share his charisma.

The Governor of New Jersey: You got to hand it to Chris Christie.  He comes across as a moderate even though his agenda and personal views are far to the right of the mainstream.  Shows what a hurricane and a photo op can do.  He will be formidable in 2016 if he can satisfy his conservative wing of the party while appearing to be moderate with the Romney, Bush and Cheney wing.  One thing going for him, the media loves him like they did John McCain in 2000, even though he has demonstrable evidence of being a bit of a bully.

The Senior Senator from Arizona:  It is hard to gauge John McCain’s year.  He alternately made sense and didn’t. (See Libya and Syria).  I think he sleeps on the sets of the Sunday talk shows alongside his soul mate Lindsay Graham, who may be too moderate for South Carolina Republicans, but loves that face time on Sundays.

The former President of the United States:  Bill Clinton, amazingly, is probably the most popular politician in the country.  Why is that? His relationship with President Obama is complex.  He willingly comes out with strong support of the ACA and then undercuts the President during the rollout disaster.  With friends like that—well, you know.  Only the least cynical among us would not think that his blunt criticism and calls for changes in the ACA were a way of placing space between Hillary and Obamacare.

No coal, but no diamonds either:

The former Secretary of State: Don’t mention Benghazi to her either.  Hillary is a highly skilled and very tough and determined political adversary, just ask Barak Obama.  Whether she wants to do the front-runner business all over again remains to be seen.  She has an operation in place and her money sources seem to be loyal for the most part, though Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts may prove to be a thorn from the liberal wing and a threat in the early primaries.

The incoming Governor of Virginia: Terry McAculiff has the luck of the Irish.  I like Terry.  He is enthusiastic and a decent person.  However, he solidified his image as a hustler in his book, “What a Party”.  Thanks to a luckless and under funded opponent in Ken Cuchinelli (the shutdown did him in and the horrible ACA rollout almost saved him) he is to be given a chance to show statesmanship.  His old pal Sen. Mark Warner seems to have mastered the transisition.

The Senior Senator from Massachusetts:  Elizabeth Warren is the darling of the left.  She has an energetic base, but the Democratic center has pre-empted some of her issues.  Will she attack Hillary over the Iraq vote?  History.

The Minority Leader of the House:  Nancy Pelosi has lately escaped the harsh right wing attacks endued while she was Speaker.  She showed true leadership in marshalling the vote on ACA and has taken some grief for that success.  But the Democrats appear to be stalled in an effort to regain the majority in 2014.  They are raising money and recruiting good candidates.  But the missteps of the Administration and a sour attitude for the Congress will ensure a weak turnout.  Can she energize the Democratic voters despite the White House? Tough job.

Full Stockings 

The Vice President of the United States:  Joe Biden has been loyal and supportive, despite mistakes at the White House that must have made him cringe. I think he has been underutilized as a liaison with the Hill, especially the Senate.

The Senate Majority Leader:  Harry Reid has had quite year.  His effort to overturn the crippling “supermajority” blocking Presidential appointments was hugely important, though the Democrats, if relegated to the minority, may rue the day.  He showed toughness in facing down the House leadership.  He showed guts in taking on issues that may not be in agreeable in Nevada in an election year.

Secretary of State:  In a word, John Kerry has worked his butt off.  Granted a lot of the progress in rallying allies in the many difficult issues he faced had been laid by Hillary, he seems to have a knack for closure she did not.  The Iran agreement was huge and the Syrian move to destroy chemical weapons was equally impressive.

The Udall senators:  Got to give credit to Mark and Tom Udall, senators from Colorado and New Mexico respectively.  Mark, the son of the greatly admired Morris Udall, has been an outspoken leader on egregious breaches of individual freedom by the National Security Agency as well as a forceful figure on global warming and other environmental issues.  Tom, the son of visionary and courageous Stewart Udall,  would have made his late father proud with his leadership on the issue of filibustering and the super majority rule in the Senate.  (Disclosure:  I was Mo Udall’s press secretary and later chief of staff.  So I am prejudiced.)

The Governor of California:  Jerry Brown is older, but better.  He has led a rejuvenation of the education system, shaken up the economy of the once-stressed state and shown guts and courage on a number of issues.  The deficit is down, home prices are up and it looks like the state is getting back on its feet.  And, the California health program is doing gangbusters. 


Bob Neuman served as a speech writer and administrative assistant to Rep. Morris Udall. He is a former DNC communications director.

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  • John K. Herr

    You’ve got your old boss’s humor and political views!