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The Teddy Awards, Even In a Year That Set New Lows for Politicians

Dec 08, 2016

It isn't easy to bestow awards for political courage in an election year--and it's near impossible after a campaign like the one we've just experienced, which set a sad new standard for ugliness and mendacity. But as an eternal optimist, I proceed with my annual chore and will even say something nice about Donald Trump, who ran the most disgraceful presidential campaign that I can remember--but, in the course of which, took several positions athwart the traditions of the Republican Party. He supported gay rights and admitted that the war in Iraq was a mistake. Granted, these were positions that had long been obvious to a majority of Americans, but not to the GOP. He defied evangelicals on the gay-rights issue (and also in his support for Planned Parenthood) and still won their votes.

I wish I could say that Hillary Clinton had similar moments of courage, moments when she defied her party's entrenched base, but she didn't. She must receive credit, however, for her seriousness, for the honorable detail of her policy papers--roundly ignored in a year when the size of hands loomed larger than the size of budgets. There are still important things she can do for our country. I hope she finds a new role in the arena, after a suitable time to rest, reflect and wipe off the blood and dust.

I'll have more to say about Barack Obama elsewhere in these pages, but there are two important achievements of the President's time in office that need to be acknowledged. One is the stimulus plan he fought for and passed in 2009, which prevented a depression and responsibly laid the groundwork for the economic recovery we're now experiencing. (Those Democrats who believe that the 2016 election was lost only because of economics are deluding themselves; it was lost because of tribalism.) And overseas, Obama made some mistakes, but he got the big things right: he was not arrogant, he was not bellicose, he reached out to enemies in Cuba and Iran--gestures that will eventually pay off, I believe--and most important, he was confident that our ways will prevail over Islamic extremism (just ask any man or woman in Mosul how they felt about ISIS rule).

Some other political Teddys: to Jeb Bush for running the Republican equivalent of the Clinton campaign, stuffed with great policy ideas ... to John Kasich, for running with his heart on his sleeve ... to Bernie Sanders, for giving young people something to care about and, postelection, for speaking out against identity politics. And in a major break with tradition, I'd like to bestow a prospective pair of Teddys to Senators Chuck Schumer and Lamar Alexander, who will have the difficult task of reforming--the Republicans will call it "replacing"--Obamacare. Both are good men, members of the Senate's sanity caucus, and I predict they'll find a way to get this difficult job done.

And Teddys go to another unlikely pair: William Kristol and William Galston, who have disagreed about many things over the years but now agree that there is a need for a new center movement, mindful of tradition, stability and accountability, free from the excesses of left and right. Along those same lines, courageous work was done this year by the conservative writers who boldly opposed Trump, for all the right reasons, and will now pay the consequences of being shut off from a Republican Administration: Pete Wehner and David Brooks of the New York Times, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal and Mike Gerson of the Washington Post, among others.

I've covered 11 presidential campaigns, which is more than enough. This one was my last. I'd like to thank my editors--Nancy Gibbs, Michael Duffy and Michael Scherer--for giving me the freedom to speak my mind, and you, dear readers, for your tolerance of my oft-cranky centrism. It has been a privilege to serve you.

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