Hendrik Hertzberg Votes: The 2013 Golden Duke Awards

Hendrik Hertzberg is a senior editor and staff writer at The New Yorker.

Best Scandal — General Interest

Rob Ford

The Golden Dukes normally leave us no choice but to wallow in national self-abnegation, so it’s an unexpected treat when another country comes along and offers us an opportunity to direct our aggressive impulses outward — especially when that country is as sweet and unoffending as our friendly neighbor to the north. Rob Ford is a truly world-class entertainer. He is the Wayne Gretzky of scandalous squalor. Eww-factor sex, hard drug use, spectacular inebriation (including citing drunken stupors as justification for heroin snorting and crack smoking), racial and gender bigotry, all-around grossness — what doesn’t this scandal have? Well, it doesn’t have much in the way of pecuniary greed and financial manipulation — but maybe that’s a feature, not a bug. Thanks, Canada! You’ve given us something to strive for: an affordable, single-payer scandal.

Best Scandal — Sex and Generalized Carnality

Anthony Wiener

An unusually competitive category this year. To me, it comes down to a Weiner v. Blakely face-off—or rather, jerk-off, given that the offenses of both politicians are essentially onanistic. Blakely’s freestyle money shots out of his car window while speeding breaks new ground, but the nod has to go to Weiner for persistence, creative use of social media and service to liberalism: without his globally distributed selfies, New York would not be about to inaugurate one of the most progressive, not to say tallest, mayors in the city’s history.

Best Scandal — Local Venue

Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ)

What’s extra appealing about this scandal is its intense localness. It’s just so Northern New Jersey. Specifically, it’s just so Fort Lee.

It’s like an early Scorsese movie. No, it’s like a movie shot in black-and-white by an NYU film student who loves early Scorsese movies. The characters are hapless small-timers who converse in side-of-the-mouth bursts of mumbled profanity and get themselves into trouble because they’re trying too hard to please a boyhood buddy who’s become enough of a big-time bully to give them jobs for which their limited talents are deeply inadequate. The plot revolves around a traffic jam (the film student loves Godard, too), deliberately caused in order to punish a small-town mayor for failing to pay protection. The big-time bully, the Keyser Söze of the story (the film student saw “The Usual Suspects” in middle school), is so far above the bumbling losers as to seem mythical. It’s a film noir, but played for laughs.

Admittedly, the other scandals in this category are intensely local, too. They’re just not me local: I’m a frequent commuter across the George Washington Bridge. Accordingly, my vote should perhaps be discounted.

Meritorious Achievement in The Crazy

Rep. Steve King (R-IA)

Congressman King would have been well advised to share his fever dream of slender youths whose calf muscles are big and bulbous with his psychoanalyst, not with the general public. The general public can be grateful nevertheless.

Congressman Stockman’s image of babies packing assault rifles, like Cupid with his bow and arrow, runs a close Freudian second, but I have a feeling he was joking. Congressman King clearly was not.

The Year In Derp

Rick Santorum

Stupidity is the key to victory in this category, and Yoho’s dismissal of the so-called tanning bed tax as racist certainly appears supremely stupid. But let’s be honest: he was making a joke, and the joke, as a joke, is actually quite clever. What’s stupid about Yoho is his politics, not his repartee.

By contrast, Santorum’s likening of Obamacare to apartheid, and by implication of himself to Nelson Mandela, is devoid of any hint of humor or conscious irony. It isn’t just stupid, it’s idiotic. And disgusting.

Outstanding Achievement In Corruption-based Chutzpah

Rob Ford

Among the nominees, only Mayor Ford, with his plea that he can’t be blamed for smoking crack because he was in a drunken stupor at the time, fulfills the class definition of chutzpah: the defendant who kills his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.

Best Scandal By A Non-Politician

Alec Baldwin

This is a pleasing category for liberals, because the nominee list suggests that, at least in the past year, affirmative government has been more productive than the private sector.

I am a big fan of Alec Baldwin, the former romantic leading man and action-movie star who has become one of our finest comic actors (and who, notwithstanding his occasional Mr. Hyde-like outbursts, has excellent Dr. Jekyll-like politics). Awards season is upon us, and I worry that Baldwin will be shut out of this year’s Oscars, just as he has already been shut out of the Golden Globes. If he can’t have a statuette as a reward, he should have the consolation of getting one as a reprimand.

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