Grading the Year 2009

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By Elizabeth Burke
Special to the Clyde Fitch Report

It’s time to grade the newsmakers and stories of 2009. I’ve never been a teacher and I have no fair, scientific way to grade, so I’m just going to give whatever grade I think my subjects deserve.

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Television: B-
You thought I was going to start with the President or Congress didn’t you? Well, I thought I’d work up to the heavy stuff by starting with the fun stuff. Some of the best of this year’s TV — meaning I’d buy a full season of DVDs — include Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Dexter, Nip/Tuck, Weeds, Hoarders (I love this show) and all the wacky Housewives. (Dear Bravo: NeNe and Kim had better stay.) And finally this year, network TV resisted the pull of bad reality shows long enough to entertain me with Lost, The Office, 30 Rock and my new singalong show Glee — plus Scrubs is back! I didn’t give TV an A as there are still too many interminable dancing and singing shows and I can only take so much Donny Osmond in one lifetime.

Books: B+
With the publication of Jane Austen’ posthumous parody works Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the early Victorian literary scene will never be the same. Other books making me want to sit on bookstore floors and read included Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness, Edward Rutherford’s New York, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half The Sky and Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s Superfreakonomics, a must-read for your bathroom library. All in all, an A+ — except Dan Brown brought down the grade. Sorry, Dan, but you’re so busy churning out novels as fast as your protagonists can solve riddles that you’re forgetting you’re no Stephen King, who can breathe life and humor into each story and remind us why we love to read with each book.

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Scandals!: A
Sex, greed and more sex! While there was no New York luv-gov this year, there was South Carolina’s Mark Sanford, who took adultery to a whole new samba-rific level. Then there was former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards (a.k.a. Baby Daddy), the tacky affair of Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) with the wife of his closest aide (who he paid to keep his trap zipped) and Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois trying to sell Obama’s former U.S. senate seat (and avoid talking about his wife’s profanity-laced tirades). And let’s not forget Sarah Palin doing what she does best: whining and quitting, not necessarily in that order. And let’s not also forget the unconscionable Democratic shakedown of the New York State Senate last summer, Tiger Woods’ conquest of almost every woman alive in the U.S., Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) thumbing his nose at U.S. tax laws, the paean to fame-whoring known as the Salahis, and the entire state of New Jersey, where the selling of souls and organs was de rigueur for dozens of local politicians trying to make a buck.

Michelle Bachmann: A+
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) was on a roll this year, providing us with constant looks inside the mind of a public official with absolutely no verbal filter whatsoever. Where do we begin? She demanded an investigation into “anti-American” members of Congress. She compared AmeriCorps with reeducation camps until her son joined up. She suggested that legalizing same-sex marriage would lead to judges instructing little children that homosexuality is normal and should try it. She called it an “interesting coincidence” that swine flu began with a Democrat in the White House — a Democrat named Jimmy Carter, that is, although swine fly first appeared under the watch of a Republican named Gerald Ford. Bachmann said the public needs to be “armed and dangerous” in response to Obama’s energy plan. She presented a factually challenged assertion that 50 percent of all African-American pregnancies in the U.S. end in abortion. She averred that government-run death panels will kill Grandma. And she stood staunchly with Orly Taitz and all those birthers. It was a year in which Bachmann was remarkably consistent in her lies. Like when she said, in 2005, that eliminating the minimum wage could “potentially virtually wipe out unemployment completely because we would be able to offer jobs at whatever level.” I could — and will, in the future — go on more about Bachmann, but let me leave you with these pearls of wisdom from 2003: “I look at the Scripture and I read it and I take it for what it is. I give more credence in the Scripture as being kind of a timeless word of God to mankind, and I take it for what it is. And I don’t think I give as much credence to my own mind, because I see myself as being very limited and very flawed, and lacking in knowledge, and wisdom and understanding.” Her words, not mine.

Congress: C-
This was hard to grade. I really wanted to show all they did this year. But they got bogged down in partisan bickering, acting like grade-schoolers on the playground as usual. Yet, Congress did do some great things: enacting legislation to expand the number of lines of embryonic stem cells eligible for federally-funded research after eight years of scientific darkness. Congress expanded Head Start programs, provided additional funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, approved disaster assistance and created tax relief for small businesses, and passed legislation boosting funding for basic science research, energy efficiency and renewable energy programs at the Department of Energy. Congress increased the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour; and they approved a purchase of the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois for Gitmo prisoners. Still, they lost me by cowardly dumping the public option in the weakened, barely breathing, near-pointless healthcare reform bill. Enough said.

Sarah Palin, Teabaggers, Birthers, General Wacko Fringers: A
This was the year white power turned red with rage: too many teabaggers, birthers and general conspiracy lovers are white, conservative, southern and irrational. They love to fight against a government-run healthcare plan while gladly accepting Medicare and a Veterans Administration-run healthcare plan. It took many people by surprise when, in the 21st century, we were confronted with large, clearly racist crowds being egged on by Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and other conservative Republican leaders. I say racist because I’m not sure what else you’d call people creating signs calling for President Barack Obama to be lynched.

President Barack Obama: B
Speaking of whom, the President gave himself a B+ when asked to self-grade by Oprah. I’m not sure he deserves the plus. When he came into office in January, he was left a steaming pile of you-know-what by the last administration — a kind of farewell F.U. by Bush and Co. to Obama and Co. I found that the President took decisive if unpopular actions to keep the banks from failing, and recently he said he’s backing a House proposal to spend left-over TARP money on small business. I just wish he’d gone ahead and closed Gitmo. And I wanted him to stop with the bipartisan song and dance and demand the public option be kept in the healthcare reform bill. Still, his reversal of Bush’s stem-cell policy made me smile widely — let the curing begin! And he ended the use of torture. Obama also approved the California car-emissions standards that Bush blocked for six years, began our troop withdrawal from Iraq and put the spotlight back on Afghanistan, where it should have been all along (though the additional 30,000 troops may have lowered his grade a bit). He forced Ford and Chrysler to finally reorganize and stop making Hummers! His true belief in climate change is refreshing, and his dedication to creating renewable energy sources, leading to the creation of millions of jobs that cannot be outsourced, made me finally feel we have a President ready to lead the nation forward. And his girls aren’t named Jenna or Barbara, which helps.

The Clyde Fitch Report: A+
Because Leonard Jacobs has created a fresh, fascinating, wonderfully written blog for lovers of arts and politics!

Elizabeth Burke, a New York-based actor, has been involved in politics since her first campaign at age 16. Burke’s Law does not necessarily represent the views of The Clyde Fitch Report.