TPM is pleased to announce the winners of the Eighth Annual Golden Dukes recognizing the year’s best purveyors of public corruption, outlandish behavior, The Crazy and betrayals of the public trust. The awards are named in honor of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who epitomizes the iconic modern scandal.
Check out the lucky nominees and the reader emails that selected them here. And now, without further ado, the winners:
Best Scandal — General Interest: Bob McDonnell
Julieanne Smolinski: Chris Christie
My favorite part of Bridgegate was probably the catchphrase, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” So good, right? You can hear the palms being lustily rubbed together.
Yes, okay, there’s no concluuuuuuuusive evidence that Christie knew that his aides were doling out a little old fashioned lane closure justice, which makes it kind of a lame gotcha. But who doesn’t love a revenge plot where the victims are being served a cold dish of Being Very Inconvenienced? It’s petty, it’s passiveaggressive…it’s Jersey.
Dan Savage: Bob McDonnell
Before we start can I just say how much I miss Rob Ford? He got my vote in every category for which he was nominated last time around—and I loudly protested the injustice of Ford not being nominated in those few categories he was excluded from in 2013. Reading over this year’s list of nominees was a bit depressing. All the nominees are worthy but there is no one of Rob Ford’s stature or caliber to be found on this year’s list. Illness, exhaustion, and the voters of Toronto conspired to ruin Ford politically—and that’s a tragedy for lovers of political scandal everywhere.
Okay, my runner-up in this category is Chris Christie and the never-ending Bridgegate scandal. The whole thing was pure New Jersey—from the petty abuse of power to the vainglorious presser to all those lieutenants being thrown under all those buses. I hate to go all MSNBC on you, dear reader, but we’re going to have more on Bridgegate in the coming year. David Wildstein and Bridget Anne Kelly have to be sitting on some dirt—dirt that is likely to come out in 2015 as their former boss prepares to run for prez—so Chris Christie may yet win in this category. But not this year.
My pick for Best Scandal – General Interest is Bob & Maureen McDonnell, the former governor and first lady of Virginia, who were found guilty on multiple corruption counts for taking “gifts” from a wealthy Virginia businessman in exchange for political favors. McDonnell is an anti-gay Christian conservative who got his law “degree” at Pat Robertson’s Regent “university.” McDonnell ran on a “family values” platform—he pimped his wife and kids on the campaign trail and promised to “defend” marriage from same-sex couples—and then, after he was indicted, McDonnell threw his wife under the bus. Everything was his wife’s fault: she was crazy, greedy, and scary and poor Bob couldn’t do anything but stand helplessly by while his wife accepted money and gifts… including gifts for him. The jury didn’t buy it and in 2015 Mr. and Mrs. McDonnell will be defending marriage from inside a prison.
Susie Bright: Former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki
The Angel of Death herself blanches at the VA’s indifference to pain. There is no saving grace here, only an unforgivable abyss. No waiting list.
Hendrik Hertzberg: Bob McDonnell
The General Interest nominees are strikingly milder this time than in most previous years. I blame the Obama Administration, which has consistently failed to meet the standards of poltroonery set by its predecessor. The Shinseki offering, for example, was wholly without entertainment value. Far from being a juicy scandal of the traditional type, it was a sad instance of chronic bureaucratic sclerosis for which a personally honorable Cabinet officer was obliged to take the fall. The Republican House’s creation of fake scandals such as the Benghazi “cover-up” and the I.R.S.’s “persecution” of Tea Party activists was itself a scandal worthy of nomination, but these failed to make the finals.
A generation or two ago, the Mississippi nursing home videographer guy would have been the type of arrested-development, post adolescent libertarian whose ability to damage himself and others would have been limited to writing unpublished letters to his local newspaper and importuning his friends, if he had any, to read “Atlas Shrugs.” Cellphone video and the Internet have made it possible for such people to humiliate themselves before a wider public. As scandals go, though, this one is small beer.
I reckon that the heavy favorite will be the Governor Chris Christie Fort Lee New Jersey Traffic Jam, with its excellent visuals (the Fatty Arbuckle-like protagonist, the sleazy aides, the majestic bridge, the idling cars) and fine musical score (the Springsteen-Fallon duet). My problem with it is that Christie’s initial press conference persuaded me that he didn’t know about it in advance, and I’m still persuaded. Nor has evidence emerged that he made a Nixonian effort to cover it up afterwards.
Therefore my vote goes to the McDonnells. Theirs is the poignant story of a striving upper-middle-class couple brought down by a cheesy Republican economy and their own unchristian longing for the designer dresses, expensive wristwatches, and private plane rides that their one-percenter overlords take for granted. Drowning in credit-card debt and underwater real estate, Bob and Maureen accepted shiny objects and solicited multiple six-figure “loans” from a dietary-supplement zillionaire whose cure-alls they clumsily promoted. Today the former Governor of Virginia and his now-estranged wife are convicted felons, pleading for the kind of judicial mercy they would once have denounced as mollycoddling. Their tale is squalid and almost too sad, but as an emblem of our hard-hearted, money-worshipping times it’s hard to beat.
Best Scandal — Sex and Generalized Carnality: The Palin Clan
Julieanne Smolinski: Investigator David Nieland
I have to hand it to David Nieland and his scrotum of Elvish mithril. This one has a little of everything: Hookers! Florida! IRONY. A prostitution scandal investigator resigning over his own prostitution scandal? Just typing that, I involuntarily twirled my mustache. It’s like a health inspector entering a restaurant, waltzing up to a table, and farting on a sandwich.
Dan Savage: The Palin Clan
Whenever the Palin kids make the news—teen pregnancies, on-and-off-again engagements, hate speech eruptions, drunken brawls, etc.—I like to pretend that the news is about the Obama girls and then imagine what the RWNJs on Twitter and Breitbart and Redstate would have to say about it. The Obama girls were slammed for failing to treat the annual pardoning of a Thanksgiving turkey with the solemnity it deserved. (Sorry, but looking bored and rolling your eyes are the only appropriate responses to this idiotic ritual—and this ritual isn’t just stupid, it’s soured by how few human beings President Obama has pardoned during his presidency.) So imagine the reaction if Sasha and Malia got involved in a drunken brawl at a party—with mom and dad there, screaming and yelling and throwing punches themselves. The commentary and handwringing would be loud and long—and the dog whistles would be loud enough to wake Lee Atwater.
Susie Bright: The Palin Clan
Despite the absence of bonafide insertion shots, the bodacious Palin borrachos nevertheless make every media occasion a dead ringer for early 90s VHS sequel porn. Suckers are played for Money Shots; we endure interminable boredom between blasts of sweat and hairspray. It’s not their fault they’re tan, photogenic, and prone to Zappa-esque “Valley Girl” loops of brio. They’re just drawn that way.
Hendrik Hertzberg: The Palin Clan
The Palins. As Josh says, no sex—but plenty of flesh, much of it bruised and bleeding. It’s a whole country-music song cycle, with lyrics by the Anchorage police department and stunt work by the first family of political reality television. The violence is spectacular but family-oriented and resulting in no serious injury and probably not even much physical pain, given the analgesic properties of such prodigious quantities of booze. Sarah, her brawling brood, and their fellow revelers deserve special commendation for choosing, in this instance, not to exercise their Second Amendment rights.
Best Scandal — Local Venue:Local TV station KSTP
Julieanne Smolinski: Monica Wehby
I happen to not believe that Republican women exist, having never seen one with my own eyes or held a moonbeam in my hand. So it was weird for me when the GOP rounded up a bunch of their hottest moms to run for office under the auspices that the “war on women” was the invention of delusional cat ladies who probably just mega on their periods.
One such 2nd amendment superbabe was Monica Wehby: babysaving doctor, dog person, friend of the Koch brothers AND of the sisterhood. Unfortunately she was also kinda stalky. Believe me, it upsets me more than anybody that you cannot ring your ex-boyfriend’s doorbell until he gets so scared that he calls the cops and be a viable congressional candidate. Now I’ll never be a girl senator.
Dan Savage: Local TV station KSTP
The mayor of New York City and the mayor of Minneapolis should get together and form a support group for liberal big city mayors who are being smeared by buttsore police departments working in cahoots with hack conservative media outlets. (The New York Post in Bill DeBlasio’s case, KSTP in Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges’ case.) Hodges was accused of flashing gang signs when she was photographed standing next to a black man—Hodges pointed at the man, Colbert-style, and the man, a neighborhood activist, pointed back at her. Police officers attacked the Mayor Hodges, accusing her of palin’ around with felons and gangbangers. Like DeBlasio, Hodges is attempting to reform her city’s police department, hence the “scare whitey,” Fox-News-style smear.
Susie Bright: Cliven Bundy
In the Johnson County Range Wars of 1892, they didn’t propose to “use women as human shields,” as Cliven does. He’s special that way.
Hendrik Hertzberg: Local TV station KSTP
Each nominee’s story was interesting in its own way. The Montana/Dartmouth/Stanford poli sci fiasco was a case study in academic cluelessness. The Cliven Bundy standoff, though not precisely a scandal, was a useful window into two uniquely American cults: anti-Constitutional sheriff worship and Fox News. The Monica Wehby implosion was good news if you happen to be a Democrat, but I detected nothing truly scandalous in her behavior. So she went through a couple of bad breakups? What of it? She put out the same health care proposal as some other Republicans? That’s “plagiarism”?
I’m going with Pointergate, a real-life “Anchorman” comedy. The Ron Burgundy-like pomposity of the local “Eyewitness News Team,” the laziness of its concept of “investigative reporting,” the idiocy of any suggestion that the nice liberal lady mayor of Minneapolis was knowingly “flashing gang signs” in order to incite lethal violence—these add up to a small journalistic scandal, one that weirdly prefigures the current slanders against the mayor of New York for supposedly encouraging the murder of police officers.
Craziest Campaign Ad: Tie between Joni Ernst and the members of the Michigan Republican Party
Julieanne Smolinski: Wendy Davis
VERY strong showing on all counts, and obviously I should feel personally affronted by the “sad single lady fuckin’ the president” one, but there’s NOTHING funnier than the opening line of Wendy Davis’ hilariously bonkers attack ad: “A tree fell on Greg Abbott.” Seriously. Just play it. Play it a couple times.
Dan Savage: Tie between Joni Ernst and the members of the Michigan Republican Party
How do you choose between the sounds of pigs having their nuts cut off and the sight of badly animated sharks puking up money? You don’t. Top honors in this category go to both Joni Ernst’s “make ‘em squeal” ad and the Michigan Republican Party’s ad attacking Rep. Gary Peters (now Senator-Elect Gary Peters) for taking donations from airborne and airsick money-stuffed sharks.
Susie Bright: Joni Ernst
Joni Ernst gets my video vote for incisors so sharp and white I can feel the bacon screaming.
Hendrik Hertzberg: The members of the Michigan Republican Party
The craziest is the Sharknado spot. But if there were a Golden Duke for the cleverest, it would go to the disappointed Obama girlfriend ad. It’s a pack of lies, of course—that goes without saying. But it handles a very treacherous metaphor with great assurance and, yes, sensitivity.
Best Campaign Gaffe and/or Goof: Alison Grimes
Julieanne Smolinski: Sen. Vincent Sheheen
Interviewer: Senator Sheheen, freestyle for us!
Sheheen: Escort whore out the door
Dan Savage: Alison Grimes
Grimes gave Mitch McConnell a run for his (huge piles of) money and for a minute or two things looked promising. But toppling the GOP’s Senate Minority Leader wasn’t in the cards. (Fun fact: I originally wrote, “topping the GOP’s Senate Minority Leader wasn’t in the cards.” Ha ha! Now let’s all try not to picture that.) The GOP wave was so big that Grimes didn’t have a chance, of course, but she may have lost by just a bit less if she had admitted to voting for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012—and running on Obamacare, which has been a huge success in Kentucky, instead of from it? That might’ve helped too.
Susie Bright: Rick Scott
Miss Rick is inspired by Tallulah Bankhead: “Nobody can be exactly like me. Even I have trouble doing it.”
Hendrik Hertzberg: Alison Grimes
Not even close: Alison Grimes.
Outstanding performance in the art of trolling: Stephen Colbert
Julieanne Smolinski: Nancy Pelosi
Excitable leprechaun vagina and enemy of unpooped on floors Chuck Johnson is a troll par excellence, but I’m afraid if I give him an award, he will poop on my floor. Instead, I give Nancy Pelosi nine of out ten “Oh Damn Gurls” on this one.
Dan Savage: Stephen Colbert
Stephen! Stephen! Stephen!
Susie Bright: Stephen Colbert
Colbert invented “Speaking Truthiness to Power.” The man lends trolling a good name.
Hendrik Hertzberg: Stephen Colbert
This isn’t really fair—he’s a professional and the rest of them are amateurs—but:
Stephen Colbert, may he live long and prosper.
Weirdest Conservative Freak Out: Tie between Sean Hannity/Karl Rove and Andrea Tantaros
Julieanne Smolinski: Sean Hannity and Karl Rove
Karl Rove knows what chai is!
Dan Savage: Andrea Tantaros
If you have to tell ‘em you’re awesome, you’re not.
Susie Bright: Andrea Tantaros
Tantaros’ ancestors are weeping in “awe” at their daughter’s ignorance. Even the Dogs of War blink, but not Andrea. One day these craven-istas at Fox are going to get down on their knees and beg for a second chance, a wit-pro program, a moment of silence. —And that last wish, they will receive.
Hendrik Hertzberg: Sean Hannity and Karl Rove
This real scandal is this whole business of the President returning the Marine Guards’ salute. It goes against standard military-civilian protocol. President Eisenhower did it once in a blue moon anyway, but always in specific situations that cast him in the role of retired five-star General as well as current Commander-in-Chief. When Reagan came along, he made
a regular thing of it. Now, of course, it’s politically mandatory, especially
for liberals. No doubt Obama would prefer to knock it off, but that would set off another War on Christmas over at Fox News. It’s the same with his American flag lapel pin. My guess is he’d rather not wear one. He’s old enough to remember the little Hero of Socialist Labor lapel pins worn by Khrushchev and the lineup of Politburo hacks atop Lenin’s Tomb. Who wants to be like them? Medals are for soldiers, not civilians, and so are salutes.