Trends Of 2010: The Political Year In Review

From Scott Brown's win in Massachusetts, to the signing of health care legislation, to a midterm that put Christine O'Donnell and Alvin Greene on the map — NPR political editor Ken Rudin discusses the themes (and the gaffes) that kept political junkies entertained in 2010.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

It was the year of "refudiate" and Second Amendment remedies, the year of an admitted tickler and "I am not a witch," a year of landmark legislation and historic electoral change. It's Wednesday and time for a year-in-review edition of the Political Junkie.

Former President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Former Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad. Where's the beef?

Former Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Former Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: On Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us, and this week, there's plenty of news to get to even before we start to remember the demon sheep.

The Senate just passed the tax compromise overwhelmingly. House rebels, though, gather on the left and on the right. The Senate's socialist holds the floor for eight hours, RNC chair Michael Steele re-ups to "Citizen Kane" applause and a presidential tag team in the White House Briefing Room.

Later, columnist Clarence Page joins us to look back at 2010, but first, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. And as usual, Ken, we begin with a trivia question.

KEN RUDIN: Hi Neal. Well, as you know, this is my last political junkie of the year.

CONAN: I know. The listeners don't know that.

RUDIN: Well, the listener now knows.

CONAN: Now there's cheering out there.

RUDIN: Please, keep it down there. Okay, later in the program, we're going to be talking about those in the political world who had passed away in 2010. One of them, of course, was Alexander Haig, who after he became secretary of state decided to seek the Republican nomination for president in 1988.

CONAN: I was in the room for all 10 minutes of that campaign.

RUDIN: Well, he did indeed run, and George H.W. Bush won that nomination in '88. Anyway, besides Haig, who was the last secretary of state who tried but was never successful in winning political office. And because this is my last show of the year - did I mention that before?

CONAN: You did.

RUDIN: If you can get the last one, you get the famous T-shirt. If you can get the last two, you get a T-shirt and a very valuable NPR convention pin from the 2004 presidential convention.

CONAN: So if you think you know the answer or, oh, the answers, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Besides Alexander Haig, the last secretary of state to try but never be successful in an attempt at political office.

So in the meantime, as we mentioned just a moment ago, the Senate has passed the tax extensions, the Bush-era tax extensions - overwhelmingly, 81 votes for, in the end. But it's interesting. There are proposals to change this in the House of Representatives. The minority leader, John Boehner, says ah, wait a minute, it's a package deal. But is he talking to Democrats, or is he talking to conservatives?

RUDIN: Well, probably both. And of course, you're right, you're right. The Senate just passed it 81 to 19. We talk about how we desperately want compromise and give and take, and we got that in the Senate, basically, today, when the Republicans got the extension, the two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts, and the Democrats got the 13-month extension of the unemployment insurance benefits.

But in the House, it's trickier. They don't like the estate tax deal. They think it's too generous for the wealthy. And so - and of course, the Republicans, the conservatives say that the debt is just, you know, insane, $800, $900 billion, without being paid for in revenue.

So anyway, the vote may happen tonight in the House, could be tomorrow in the House. I suspect it still passes. They will have a vote. I think there will be a vote to allow the dissenters to have their say, sort of like the way Bernie Sanders had his say last Friday, to say about what they don't like about the estate tax, the generous estate tax. But ultimately, I think it passes, and then it goes back to the Senate, and it gets signed into law.

CONAN: You mentioned Bernie Sanders, of course, the socialist senator from the state of Vermont, held the floor for eight hours in what was not a filibuster -we'll explain in just a minute - but in any case a very long denunciation of this agreement.

Senator BERNIE SANDERS (Independent, Vermont): If the American people are prepared to stand, then we're prepared to follow them. I think we can defeat this proposal. I think we can come up with a better proposal which better reflects the needs of the middle-class and working families of our country, and to me, most importantly, the children of our country. And with that, Madam President, I would yield the floor.

CONAN: And finally yields the floor. All right, holds the floor for eight hours. Why is this a soliloquy and not a filibuster?

RUDIN: Well, a filibuster basically is an attempt to stop a vote from happening, and we always knew that there would be a Senate vote on the tax bill on Monday in the Senate, and there was. There was an 83-to-15 vote - procedural vote.

Basically, Bernie Sanders just wanted to express the fact that he was just outraged and unhappy with this compromise, that it was just a giveaway to the rich, blah, blah, blah. And so it was not a filibuster for that reason.

But I just want to - two things. First of all, the reason we say he's a socialist, he is a self-described socialist. Officially, he is an independent. He's not a member of the Socialist Party, but he is a self-identified socialist, and...

CONAN: A democratic socialist.

RUDIN: Well, yes, exactly. But he caucuses with the Democrats, but he is an independent. But it was a pretty stirring speech. Of course, you know, look at the vote today. It was 81 to 19. It didn't change any minds. But he said what he wanted to say.

CONAN: And he will be joining us, by the way, tomorrow to talk about his effort to speak out on this and why he decided to do it for eight hours.

In the meantime, don't ask, don't tell could come up for a straight up or down vote. Previously, the repeal legislation had been buried inside a defense authorization bill. Now there's going to be a proposal to issue a straight bill on the House floor that could force the Senate to act.

RUDIN: Right. As a matter of fact, it is on the House floor right now, as we speak, and apparently there are 60 votes in the Senate to get it past beyond the filibuster-proof, the magic number. So if it passes the House, it could very well pass the Senate in a stand-alone bill.

CONAN: And there was also a meeting this week of the first, well, a party of the radical center. The No Labels group, though - there was a misprint I saw which called it the No Lapels group, sort of the sans-culotte - new version of that.

RUDIN: You say tomato. Well, actually, it's a group, it's not that they don't want people to be - to shed their ideology. You can stay conservative. You can stay liberal. You can stay right. You can stay left. But at least compromise for the better good and try to get some legislation passed.

And that was their argument, although some people are saying one - these No Labels centrist kind of folks are never going to make it in a political system where the Democrats are taken over by the left, and the Republicans are taken over by the right. And they're saying, well, maybe Michael Bloomberg will run for president in 2012. We seem to hear that every four years. But, you know, God bless them. Let them go for it.

CONAN: We have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and that is the last secretary of state to run for political office and fail. 800-989-8255. Email...

RUDIN: And fail every time, never succeed.

CONAN: Never succeed, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. We'll start with Juno(ph), and Juno's with us from Rochester, Minnesota.

JUNO (Caller): Hi, this is Juno from Rochester, Minnesota, and I believe that the Democrat, the last secretary of state for the Democratic Party that ran and didn't win was Ed Muskie.

CONAN: He did not win for president, but...

RUDIN: Well, see, the question was exactly the way we put it because sometimes I ask it incorrectly, and Neal gives me a face.

JUNO: Oh, okay, for the political office, it would be...

RUDIN: No, no, no, for any position he ran for, never win.

CONAN: Never won anything, did not win for dogcatcher.

RUDIN: So yes, Ed Muskie did run for president, but of course, he was governor and senator of Maine. You remember the Maine, 1898. But...

JUNO: Oh, Allen Dulles, then.

RUDIN: Allen Dulles is not the correct answer.

JUNO: Okay, thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much. Let's see if we can go next to - this is David(ph), and David's with us from Syracuse, his phone buried under snow.

DAVID (Caller): Yes, it is. But I believe the answer is George C. Marshall in 1952, and I also thought that was running for president.

RUDIN: Well, George C. Marshall never ran for president. His name was bandied about. But I will tell you that the last two - I'm looking - well, and I won't even say that.

CONAN: No, no, no hints. No hints.

RUDIN: It was not George C. Marshall.

CONAN: All right, thanks very much. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Tom(ph), and Tom's calling us from South Bend, Indiana.

TOM (Caller): How are you doing?

CONAN: And I'm not as buried in snow as you are.

TOM: Well, actually, I'm from South Bend, but I'm on the road. I'm in Columbia, South Carolina, on the road, on the way to Florida, trying to get away from that snow.

CONAN: Okay. Well, what's your guess?

TOM: My answer is William H. Seward.

CONAN: Ah, the sage who brought us Seward's Icebox, Alaska.

RUDIN: Well, I will just tell you that I'm looking - the last two are far more recent than William Seward.

TOM: Okay, well, I just listened to Lincoln's book on tape about his administration. It was a great book. But I thought that might be the answer.

CONAN: All right, Tom, thanks very much. Drive carefully.

RUDIN: And you know there's no place like Nome. I'm sorry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's get Pam(ph) on the line, Pam calling us from Sioux Falls in South Dakota.

PAM (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, go ahead, Pam.

PAM: James Baker?

RUDIN: James Baker is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: James Baker was, of course, the Bush secretary of state, and of course he ran for attorney general of Texas in 19 - let's see, he ran in 1978, lost to Mark White, who later became governor. James Baker is the most recent. Pam gets a T-shirt.

PAM: Yay.

CONAN: And we're going to put you on hold. You will be the happy recipient of a fabulous Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt, and we'll - in exchange for a promise to take a digital picture of yourself to email to us so we can post it on our wall of shame.

PAM: Great, thanks.

CONAN: Thanks very much. We're going to put you on hold. And in the meantime, of course, there's still one more out there that there's an NPR convention pin if you can get the one previous to James Baker.

RUDIN: That's correct.

CONAN: All right. In the meantime, Michael Steele, widely rumored to be stepping down as his term runs out as chairman of the Republican National Committee. Big surprise.

RUDIN: Well, I think it's a shocking surprise, although I'm still convinced he does not return as RNC chair. That election is January 14th. He needs the majority of the 168 members of the Republican National Committee to put him in for a second term.

And he will say that the Republicans have made historic gains in the November 2nd election. That's true, but for most of the two years, he's just had one gaffe, one misstep, one embarrassment after another. A lot of it is financial; a lot of it is personal. A lot of it is just, you know, bad timing and bad things he's said. But he's going to have a - he's having a tough go trying to get a majority.

He does have support. They will say that the Republicans did very well in 2010, but he's more of a distraction, and I think they did well in 2010 in spite of and not because of him.

CONAN: And though we keep saying the 2010 election is over, well, the certification of the senator from Alaska has been put on hold yet again. Thank you, Joe Miller.

RUDIN: Well, I predict - I should never say those words. But I think that this month, we'll see a final certification in Alaska. Joe Miller, last week, went to a state supreme court justice in Alaska and said that we should throw out these Lisa Murkowski write-in votes. The judge said thanks but no thanks, and now the state supreme court will hear Joe Miller's arguments on Friday. But we're thinking that by Christmas, certainly, we will have a certification, and it will be Lisa Murkowski.

CONAN: And there's also a judge saying today, look, if it hasn't been decided by January 20th, let's put somebody in the United States Senate.

RUDIN: January 5th.

CONAN: January 5th, excuse me, even if they have to later be replaced by somebody who turns out to have more votes. That would be unusual. Anyway, stay with us, Ken. Up next, the political highlights and lowlights of the year. We're talking about the politicians now, not the Political Junkie.

What's your nominee for the biggest story, most brazen attack or bungled delivery? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Syndicated columnist Clarence Page will be joining us, as well. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

The best thing about December, the spiked eggnog, the white elephant gifts, the Political Junkie's picks for the highs and lows of the year in politics. Ken Rudin is with us, as he is every Wednesday afternoon. Read his blog, download his podcast, try your hand at his ScuttleButton puzzle, all at npr.org/junkie.

Also joining us today is syndicated columnist Clarence Page, and we need your picks for the best and worst in politics this year. What's the most memorable event, the best quote or ad, the biggest gaffe of 2010? 800-989-8255. Drop us an email, talk@npr.org. You can also send us nominees on the Web. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Clarence Page, syndicated columnist with the Chicago Tribune, joins us here now in Studio 3A. And well...

Mr. CLARENCE PAGE (Syndicated Columnist, Chicago Tribune): Hi, Neal.

CONAN: Maybe not the high or low of the year, but the political circus last night in Chicago as you were watching the news from WGN, as Rahm Emanuel is again forced to defend his residence.

Mr. PAGE: Yeah, which - well, I thought the most interesting part of it was watching Rahm keep his cool, because...

CONAN: The first time he probably went that long without eviscerating anybody.

Mr. PAGE: We're talking about an all-day session here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAGE: And, you know, I think he did himself some good politically because he has this reputation from people, an overblown reputation, but nevertheless for being hot-tempered and cursing all the time and blah, blah, blah.

RUDIN: I'm not sure that's overblown, but go ahead.

Mr. PAGE: Well, you know, he doesn't - I mean, if you believe everything people talk about, you'd think that's all he did all day long. What strikes me about Rahm - anybody who has dealt with him knows - is how he can be very quiet when he's sticking the shiv in, as well.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Going to the year in review, though, that's going to be next year, because that election will be after January 1st. But going back to the first election of this year, and Ken Rudin, the senatorial election in Massachusetts not only a stunner of historic proportions but a precursor of everything we were to see.

RUDIN: Exactly. I mean, we may have seen the beginning of that in the previous November, when the Republicans won the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey. But Scott Brown winning the Senate seat that Ted Kennedy held for 47 years, first of all, most people didn't realize it was coming or possible until very close to the January 19th election. But when it did happen, people said: Uh-oh, the Democrats are in big trouble. As it turned out, they were.

CONAN: On the night of his electoral victory, Scott Brown in his acceptance speech, in one of those moments you just take for granted, thanked his two daughters in a somewhat unique manner.

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator SCOTT BROWN (Republican, Massachusetts): And just in case anybody who's watching throughout the country - yes, they're both available.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. BROWN: No, no, no, no - only kidding, only kidding. Only kidding, only kidding. Arianna, Arianna definitely is not available, but Ayla is.

Unidentified Female: What?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, Scott Brown made it 41, and Clarence Page, was thought to give Republicans the ability to stop the health care legislation. That did not happen.

Mr. PAGE: Not quite, but, well, he showed himself not to be - let's say with the Tea Party but not of the Tea Party. He got Tea Party endorsement. He was an important symbolic candidate for them at the time. But he also, I think, wants to keep the job as senator from Massachusetts, and you don't do that being a hard right-winger.

So he has - he's hopped around. He's been something of an independent voice, but he had not gone right down that straight Republican line.

RUDIN: Polls also show that he is the most popular politician in Massachusetts right now, which is pretty remarkable being a Republican.

CONAN: And Martha Coakley, the winter book favorite for the worst political campaign of 2010. That was ineptly done.

RUDIN: As a matter of fact, people will use her as an adjective, or a verb, actually, in future campaigns.

CONAN: To Coakley?

RUDIN: To be Coakley-ed, right.

CONAN: All right. Then we move on to February and the resignation - well, this sort of threw everything into the hat of a quiet politician in Indiana, Senator Evan Bayh.

RUDIN: Yeah, it was - again, it was the kind of guy that he brought the Democratic Party - he made Indiana at least if not blue certainly purple. It was a solid Republican state, always votes Republican for president, but Evan Bayh, from election to secretary of state, two terms as governor, then two terms in the Senate, he was really untouchable in Indiana, and he decided he just had enough.

CONAN: And that decision, Clarence Page, all of a sudden another indication that maybe 2010 was not going to be a Democratic year.

Mr. PAGE: I think Evan Bayh saw the handwriting on the wall for Republicans, with the economy the way it was. And certainly there in Indiana, he proved to be right.

It's interesting. I mean, here's a guy who for years was talked of as being at least a leading candidate for running mate to a Democratic president. And -but, you know, it just never happened. So - and coming from a political family like he did, this is quite a historic turn.

RUDIN: And he just announced the other day that he will not run for governor of Indiana in 2012.

Mr. PAGE: Right.

CONAN: We're talking about the political highlights and lowlights of the year, 800-989-8255. Email us with your nominee, talk@npr.org. Andy's calling from Chico in California.

ANDY (Caller): Hi. My thought that comes to mind, and I don't have the quotes at hand, but when the president of the United States basically said the election's over, I won.

CONAN: This was during a roundtable discussion with Republicans on health care, in which Eric Cantor, the then-minority whip in the House of Representatives, challenged him on something, and the president looked him square in the eye and said, well: There was an election. We won.

And I think that's a phrase that Eric Cantor may be remembering for quite some time, Ken.

Mr. PAGE: I'm quoting.

RUDIN: Well, you know something? Lindsey Graham also has quoted President Obama about that for the longest time too, saying that yes, I may not be happy with his Supreme Court nominations, but elections do matter.

Now, of course Republicans are saying the same thing after this November 2nd, elections do matter, and the American people either rejected health care or rejected the Obamacare or whatever, but the Republicans are taking a new spin of what elections matter.

CONAN: And thank you very much, by the way, Andy. And Clarence Page, as you look at that health care moment, again, something that tells a great deal about what was going to happen for the rest of the year.

You had Democrats rebelling because it did not go far enough, at least some of them, in their terminology, without the public option. You had Republicans who were uniformly opposed.

Mr. PAGE: That's right. I think this - well, as far as the public option goes, we certainly saw the left breaking off there with the kind of disappointment in Obama that we've seen recur since then around the tax package, and also a divide that hasn't gotten that much attention.

But at election time there were a number of left-wing Democrats who were - who wanted to see the Blue Dogs voted out. They wanted less of a moderating influence because they wanted the party to move to the left.

CONAN: A select few. I don't think they wanted to lose the majority.

Mr. PAGE: Not a lot, not a lot, but there were those who were angriest about the loss of the public option who were a force. But you see a certainly much bigger force in the Republican side pulling that party to the right.

CONAN: And in the meantime, of course, the legislation did pass, which prompted former senator, now Vice President Joe Biden to come up to the president of the United States, standing at the podium, and whisper in his ear.

(Soundbite of applause)

Vice President JOE BIDEN: (Unintelligible) (Bleep).

RUDIN: Neal, I couldn't hear. That was a B - big what?

CONAN: Big something.

RUDIN: Big deal.

CONAN: Big deal, very big deal. Well, indeed, it was a big deal, historic legislation. Well, we're going to see how it goes in court. There was a ruling this week, and more about that down the road.

But nevertheless, how big a deal, the president calls this something Democrats have wanted for 100 years.

RUDIN: Well, it's true, certainly - I mean, I don't know about 100 years, but of course, you know, Truman talked about. I guess perhaps Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt talked about it. So it's been out there for the longest time. Have the Democrats and has President Obama gotten the benefit of the doubt of it, the political spin for it? They have not.

And obviously 2010 showed that there was a lot of anger fomented by talk radio and Republican conservatives and the Tea Party folks about these exorbitant costs, these hidden costs. So for right now politically it's not a winning deal. It may prove differently in 2012.

CONAN: In the meantime, of course, there were any number of people in seats in the House of Representatives who might not ordinarily have gotten into those seats. Those were the Democrats swept in by the Obama wave in 2008, among them Eric Massa, who, well, went on TV to talk on with - on Fox News and explain to Glenn Beck that I guess some of those allegations might be true.

(Soundbite of Fox News broadcast)

Representative ERIC MASSA (Democrat, New York): Now they're saying I groped a male staffer. Yeah, I did. Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn't breathe and then four guys jumped on top of me. It's my 50th birthday.

CONAN: And Glenn Beck had to end that broadcast by saying: Ladies, I'm sorry I've wasted an hour of your time.

RUDIN: Well, to be honest with you, I've been doing that to people for the longest time, and I'm still not in Congress. You know, it's interesting how the Democrats talked about the Republican culture of corruption in 2006, when they took over the House. And of course the Mark Foley story, the sexual inappropriate emails to staffers, he's Mark Foley the Republican, then the Republican congressman from South Florida. And yet here we have Eric Massa doing a similar thing, and it just backfired on the Democrats the way it backfired on the Republicans in '06.

Mr. PAGE: You still tickle us even without touching us. (Unintelligible)

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well...

RUDIN: Watch it, Clarence.

CONAN: Get a room, you guys.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Anyway, let's go back to politics. And in the state of Florida, well, we had in '09, Alan - Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania decided he could not win the Republican primary, to win another term in the Senate, switched back, if you have a very long memory, to the Democratic Party. In Florida, it was Charlie Crist, the Republican governor, deciding he could not win the Republican primary for United States Senate and, well, deciding he's an independent now.

RUDIN: Charlie Crist was, from day one, he was the next senator from Florida. And then what he did, he had the temerity to embrace President Obama when he came down - when the president came down there, I guess, in April of '09 selling the stimulus package, and he gave him a hug. And the Tea Party and the conservatives just went ballistic, saying, look. This is just not the right thing we should be - we Republicans should be embracing, and that was basically the day that the Marco Rubio candidacy took off. And as it turned out, Rubio won, overwhelmingly, that election in November.

CONAN: And, Clarence, Marco Rubio emerging as the new force in the Republican Party.

Mr. PAGE: Yeah, he is. And I must say the night of his acceptance speech, listening to it, I was reminded of Barack Obama's famous speech from 2004. I could see why Republicans are so excited about Rubio. We'll see if he's able to keep that excitement going.

CONAN: There are a few candidates who we need to remember in this political year, before they vanish into the mists of time, including Alvin Greene, South Carolina's Democratic nominee for Senate - a bit of a mystery man, a legend, though, in his own mind.

Mr. ALVIN GREENE (Democratic Senate Nominee, 2010 U.S. Election): I'm the best candidate in the United States Senate race here in South Carolina. I am also the best candidate for the - I am also the best choice for the Image Award next year. Let's reclaim our country from the terrorists and the communists.

CONAN: The terrorists and the communists. Of course, in the state of Delaware -it was not just South Carolina. In the state of Delaware, the immortal Christine O'Donnell.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Ms. CHRISTINE O'DONNELL (Republican Senate Nominee, 2010 U.S. Election): I'm not a witch. I'm nothing you've heard. I'm you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Christine O'Donnell. Well, there are a lot of nominees, Clarence, for worst political ad of the year, but that's among them.

Mr. PAGE: We in the political commentary trade should light a candle of mourning for the departure of these wonderful candidates who gave us so much material this year. I'm sure there will be more coming down the road.

CONAN: And, Ken?

RUDIN: I was going to say the difference, of course, was that Alvin Greene was never going to beat - no Democrat was going to beat Jim DeMint in South Carolina. But when Christine O'Donnell had won the Republican primary in Delaware for that seat over Mike Castle, it took away from the Republican Party a sure pickup for the old Joe Biden seat.

CONAN: And another effort in pretty much the same direction. In Nevada, where Sharron Angle, another rightwing upset winner in the Republican primary, made it possible for a very unpopular Harry Reid to hang on and return as the majority leader of the United States Senate.

RUDIN: Exactly. For the longest time, we kept saying that Harry Reid is dead in the water. But you have to beat somebody with somebody, and obviously, Sharron Angle was not the candidate to do it.

Mr. PAGE: That was an 11th-hour victory for Harry Reid. Sharron Angle managed to snatch the teeth out of the jaws of victory. There are probably true gaffs.

CONAN: Syndicated columnist Clarence Page, who writes for the Chicago Tribune, among many other newspapers, and NPR political editor Ken Rudin, who is the Political Junkie here on TALK OF THE NATION and at npr.org. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

And Ken, we wanted to take a few minutes to remember some of those who are no longer with us - people who died distinctively from politics this past year.

RUDIN: Well, we do this every round-up show on TALK OF THE NATION, and I thank you for this opportunity to just talk about them. But I'll try to go fast, although it's skipping over a lot of important things, but John Murtha, the longtime member of Congress from Pennsylvania, who's known for pork barrel politics. The first...

CONAN: And challenges on the Iraq War.

RUDIN: Exactly. First Vietnam veteran ever elected to Congress. Charles Mathias, I think, the last Republican ever elected to the Senate from Maryland. Back then, there was something called the liberal Republican, and Charles Mathias was that kind of guy. Of course, Alexander Haig, we mentioned him in the trivia question in the beginning, President Reagan's secretary of state, President Nixon's chief of staff, who ran for president. The famous I am in charge here after President Reagan was shot in March of 1981. Gary Coleman...

CONAN: Wait, before we wanted to hear that particular cut...

RUDIN: Oh, I'm sorry.

CONAN: ...from Alexander Haig. This, well, may have doomed any chance he might have had in a run later for the presidency.

Unidentified Man #1 (Reporter): Who is making the decisions for the government right now? Who's making the decisions?

Mr. ALEXANDER HAIG (Former U.S. Secretary of State): Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the president, the vice president and the secretary of state, in that order. And should the president decide he wants to transfer the helm to the vice president, he will do so.

Unidentified Man #2 (Reporter): Who makes that decision?

Mr. HAIG: As of now, I am in control here, in the White House.

CONAN: And, well, as others noted, that did not quite follow the Constitution.

RUDIN: Exactly, because there was some vice president by the name of George Bush who was also ahead of him in the line there. But that quote, of course, will always - whenever you think of Alexander Haig, you think of that quote from anyone. I mentioned Gary Coleman. Of course, he was the actor from "Different Strokes," but he's mentioned here because he was one of the 9,753 candidates who were running in the California recall election when Gray Davis was ousted in 2003. Schwarzenegger was elected. Edwin Newman, the NBC newsman who served on panels on two presidential debates. Elizabeth Edwards, who passed away this week - last week...

CONAN: Last week, yes.

RUDIN: ...a terrible tragedy there. Stephen Solarz, the longtime congressman from Brooklyn, very strong on foreign policy. He's the one who discovered Imelda Marcos' 3,000 pairs of shoes. Ted Sorensen, the longtime speechwriter for President Kennedy. Ron Walters, excellent expert on race and politics.

CONAN: A frequent guest on this program.

RUDIN: He's a wonderful guy. We'll miss him terribly. William Saxbe was the attorney general under Richard Nixon. I think he was Nixon's third attorney general...

CONAN: Not to be confused with Saxby Chambliss.

RUDIN: No. He was not. But he was also a former Ohio senator. Dan Rostenkowski, the former chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

CONAN: And former inmate at federal prison.

RUDIN: Exactly. He passed away. Charlie Wilson, known for a war and a movie...

CONAN: And a good movie, but yes...

RUDIN: ...he was a longtime...

CONAN: ...and good times, too.

RUDIN: He was Good Time Charlie, loved the women, and he fought the - he pushed for aid to the Afghan freedom fighters against the Soviets. Stewart Udall was President Kennedy's first secretary of interior...

CONAN: Interior, yes.

RUDIN: ...and his brother Mo Udall - the other brothers were Larry and Curly, of course. But Mo Udall, of course, was elected to Congress to replace him. David Nolan was a founder - one of the founders of the Libertarian Party in 1971. Ted Stevens, the former senator from Alaska, died in a plane crash. Prescott Bush, Jr., George H.W. Bush's brother...

CONAN: Older brother.

RUDIN: Oh, right. And George W. Bush's uncle. He also ran for the Senate in Connecticut. Robert Byrd, the longest-serving senator in history. Buz Lukens, once a conservative hero, congressman from Ohio later in his career, ended it with a sex scandal. Walter Hickel, the two-time governor of...

CONAN: Alaska.

RUDIN: ...Alaska.

CONAN: And the Hickel Highway is still there.

RUDIN: Exactly. Who was President Nixon's secretary of interior. Benjamin Hooks, 15 years, he was the head of the NAACP. Daryl Gates was the L.A. police chief...

CONAN: P.D., yes.

RUDIN: ...during the Rodney King...

CONAN: (unintelligible)

RUDIN: ...right, the Rodney King stuff. Jerry terHorst...

CONAN: The press secretary for Gerry Ford.

RUDIN: ...who - less than a month into the job, quit his job because of the pardon of Richard Nixon. Granny D.

CONAN: A little known senatorial candidate.

RUDIN: Right. Doris Haddock, she walked across the country, pushing for campaign finance reform. Richard Holbrooke last week. And, of course, our own Dan Schorr.

CONAN: NPR political editor Ken Rudin is with us. We're going to continue talking about the political highs and lows of 2010. Clarence Page is also with us. In our next segment, we'll include the MVPs, the rookies of the year and the comeback players of the year, so stay with us for that.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: Right now, we continue an epic edition of the Political Junkie. We're talking about the best and worst moments in politics 2010. We're also still taking your nominees for most memorable quotes and ads and stumbles of the past year. 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Ken Rudin is with us, as always, NPR's political editor and our Political Junkie, and Clarence Page, syndicated columnist with the Chicago Tribune.

We have this email from Sidu(ph) in Cincinnati. It may be because I live near Kentucky, but I could not get this word out of my head for weeks this fall: Aqua Buddha.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Man #3: Why was Rand Paul a member of a secret society that called the Holy Bible a hoax, that was banned from mocking Christianity and Christ? Why did Rand Paul once tie a woman up, tell her to bow down before a false idol and say his God was Aqua Buddha?

CONAN: Aqua Buddha. Well, we played another ad earlier that may have been the worst of the year. That one may, Clarence Page, had been the most damaging.

Mr. PAGE: It may be. Ron - Rand Paul, excuse me. Ron Paul's son won the Senate race, anyway, but that was - that was a good example of the kind of attack ads we have this year, and it was a big year for attack ads. That was one going back to his college days, which - I certainly don't want to be responsible for my college days...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAGE: ...but you run for office, and all the way back to the womb. You know, this was some prank he was involved with or other. But as I say, he's now the new senator incoming from Kentucky, anyway.

CONAN: And Jack Conway, the - his opponent who ran that ad, well within hailing distance before he ran it, and then fell steadily back.

RUDIN: That's exactly right. Sometimes, the ads work, and sometimes - and a lot of times, we say that negative ads work, but sometimes, they can backfire. And this clearly seemed to backfire against Jack Conway.

CONAN: This email from Rob in Illinois. Two words: Rod Blagojevich. And not indicted this past year, but, well, convicted this past year - at least sort of, if you listen to him.

Mr. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Former Democratic Governor, Illinois): This jury just shows you that, notwithstanding the fact that the government threw everything but the kitchen sink at me, that on every count except for one and every charge except for one, they could not prove that I did anything wrong, that I did break any laws.

CONAN: Of course, Clarence, he could serve five to 20 for that one conviction.

Mr. PAGE: Yes.

CONAN: Nevertheless, he's right.

Mr. PAGE: But it was only one conviction out of 26 counts...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAGE: ...so he's claiming like it's a victory, but he's - there's going to be a retrial.

RUDIN: It was lying to the FBI is what he was...

Mr. PAGE: Right.

RUDIN: ...also minor.

RUDIN: He also said he was born on this planet, and that that was also being questioned, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's see if we get another caller...

Mr. PAGE: Well, he found a new career doing pistachio commercials.

CONAN: Mike joins us on the line from Reno.

MIKE (Caller): Hi, guys.

CONAN: Hi.

MIKE: Being from the great state of Nevada and having to endure the Sharron Angle-Harry Reid mudslinging, I've got to nominate Sharron Angle when she was talking to the minority group and was quoted on radio and TV as saying you don't look Hispanic. You look Asian. I've been confused as - as being Asian myself. I thought I was listening to a "Saturday Night Live" skit on the radio.

CONAN: When just a couple of days later, you were.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MIKE: Yeah, exactly.

CONAN: Sharron Angle, we mentioned Martha Coakley as early - the winter book leader for worst campaign. I think Sharron Angle may have come up from behind.

RUDIN: Well, as Clarence just said a few minutes ago, Sharron Angle really - I mean, she had the victory just taken away from her by her own inept and gaffs and things like that, and that confusion between Asians and Hispanics before the election, especially in the state where the Latino vote is very potent, just really - just - was just awful for Sharron Angle.

MIKE: Exactly.

Mr. PAGE: And that gaff came right through in the last days of the campaign.

RUDIN: Right.

Mr. PAGE: I think that may have put her right over the edge.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Mike. Appreciate it.

MIKE: Thank you.

CONAN: There was, of course, in 2009 was the year when we heard a new political movement and a new phrase we have not heard before. That was the Tea Party. And, well, this year, we have another party that's poised, I think, to sweep the nation. This was Jimmy McMillan, the New York gubernatorial candidate.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Mr. JIMMY McMILLAN (Independent Gubernatorial Candidate, New York): Allow me to introduce myself. I represent The Rent Is Too Damn High Party. People are working eight hours a day and 40 hours a week, and some a third job. Women can't afford to take care of their children, feed their children breakfast, lunch and dinner. My main job is to provide a roof over your head, food on the table, and money in your pocket.

This is politics as usual, playing the silly game. But it's not going to happen. The Rent Is Too Damn High movement, the people I'm here to represent can't afford to pay their rent. They're being laid off right now as I speak. They can't eat breakfast, lunch or dinner. Listen, someone's stomach churn, a child's stomach just growled. Did you hear it?

CONAN: Well, he made an impression there, in the New York gubernatorial debate, along with - well, there was a madam on the panel and Carl Paladino - who could forget Carl Paladino - and, of course, somebody eventually won.

RUDIN: Of course, the only problem with that candidate - and he made some interesting points. But he was living rent-free in Flatbush, which is in Brooklyn. So for somebody who run as a candidate of The Rent Is Too Damn High Party and not paying for your own rent, that's kind of interesting.

CONAN: Andrew Cuomo did manage to eke out a victory, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: ...in that race. But Carl Paladino, another tea party favorite from the upstate New York brought a baseball bat to his concession speech. And this is where he spoke directly to winner Andrew Cuomo.

Mr. CARL PALADINO (Republican, New York): I've always said my baseball bat is a metaphor for the people who want to take their government back. But this isn't my bat after all. As our next governor, you can grab this handle and bring the people with you to Albany, or you can leave it untouched and run the risk of having it wielded against you. Because make no mistake, you have not heard the last of Carl Paladino.

CONAN: A baseball bat to a concession speech. You see something new every day, Clarence.

Mr. PAGE: Remember, I referred earlier to - we ought to have a mourning period among us commentators for certain candidates who were just always producing more material for us. Carl Paladino was one of them. When he said, though, or indicated, he'd be back. I felt some hope for the future.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAGE: But he - here's a guy who, when he was questioned about emails he sent to friends, including one that portrayed Barack and Michelle Obama as a pimp and ho, his immediate response was: I'm not politically correct.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAGE: So now here's a fellow who was going to make a great governor of New York, right?

CONAN: Here's an email from Vee(ph) in North Carolina. This is about Virginia Foxx, who held up her hands to show how hard she worked in contrast to her opponent, Billy Kennedy, who lost part of his index finger in a carpentry accident. She did this at a forum in Bialy's(ph) hometown - in Billy's hometown, I'm sure she meant. Gasps and boos ensued. I missed that one.

RUDIN: No, I don't know that one. But it also reminded me of, you know, Rahm Emanuel lost a finger, loss of his middle finger in some kind of an accident as a child or something. And President Obama has...

Mr. PAGE: He was working in a delicatessen with an electric saw.

RUDIN: Whichever it was, yeah. And President Obama said that, you know, he couldn't give people the usual Rahm Emanuel message for that reason.

CONAN: Let's see...

Mr. PAGE: Left speechless.

RUDIN: Yeah. Left speechless, right.

CONAN: Peter joins us on the line from Roseville in California.

PETER (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Peter. Go ahead, please.

PETER: A smashing success for the Democratic Party here in California was a highlight of the year.

CONAN: That was a big surprise. And Peter is right. There were thoughts that California, one of the bluest of blue states, might be in play this year, Clarence.

Mr. PAGE: Well, there were thoughts in that direction. Barbara Boxer was having a tough time with her re-election. And California - of course, their financial crisis is like that of the rest of the country. It's made everyone angry at incumbents; didn't quite happen though.

RUDIN: And Jerry Brown too. I mean, he was thought to be in some kind of trouble. And Meg Whitman had a hundred gazillion, actually $180 million, the most expensive campaign in history. A lot of Republicans thought she would win. And there were - of the 52 House seats up, there were a lot of people who though that the Republicans would pick up a few here and there. Democrats swept the governorship, the Senate race, every statewide office and every - they did not lose one House seat among the 52.

Mr. PAGE: However...

RUDIN: I mean, they lose - they didn't - no incumbent lost to the - to a Republican.

Mr. PAGE: However, legalization of marijuana failed because a lot of people said it's virtually legal now.

CONAN: Peter, his point is accurate about the state of California, also the Republican dog did not bark in a few other places: Maryland, New York, Connecticut and, of course, as we mentioned earlier, in Delaware as well.

RUDIN: Well, but I'll - can I say one thing about New York? Even though Carl Paladino was such as drag on the ticket, Republicans picked up five House seats. They have a split in the state Senate. They may even control the state Senate. So, despite a top of the ticket disaster, New York did okay. California was clearly blue this year.

CONAN: And there is a surprise toward the end of the year, and that is that the speaker of the House of Representatives - well, a lot of people could have blamed her for the loss in the elections. Indeed, she was demonized in a lot of campaign ads. But - well, she took exception to that.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): The reason the election results are what they are is because we have nine-and-half percent unemployment in our country. We didn't lose the election because of me.

CONAN: And, well, she decided, because of that she is going to stay on as the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives and will move on to the position of minority leader. Pretty unusual.

RUDIN: It is unusual. And you think if the Democrats did get a shellacking in 2010, if you look at their new leadership in both the Senate and the House, it's pretty much just like the old leadership in the Senate and the House.

CONAN: And Clarence, before we leave the year that was - and this is maybe a political obituary - but Charlie Rangel was forced to accept the censure of the House of Representatives, stand there before a body in which he'd served, well, pretty much his entire adult life...

Mr. PAGE: That's right.

CONAN: ...since leaving the Army in - after Korea.

Mr. PAGE: That's right. I believe there's only 22 members of Congress who have been censured in the history of Congress. And you had - these were for more serious offenses than Rangel's. It was the number of allegations and counts in the indictment, if you will. But it was also a new atmosphere, too. Nancy Pelosi came in promising to drain the swamp. And she had set up a different kind of ethics accountability system.

Now, Rangel himself reported himself, his own case, to the House Ethics Committee. But nonetheless, the pressure was on. The heat was on. And he had to take a full censure, which is really a blow to his prestige, a blow to his record there in the House. But, you know, he is staying on for now, anyway. I think he could get reelected in his district anyway.

CONAN: He was handily reelected...

Mr. PAGE: Yeah.

CONAN: ...no problems there.

Mr. PAGE: So he did, yeah, but before that censure came down.

CONAN: And there's still another ethics trial pending in the House of Representatives, Ken.

RUDIN: Well, we don't know about that. Maxine Waters is a California Democrat, was accused of using her connection to her husband. Was served as a trustee, I guess, on a bank where there was some legislation before Congress, and Maxine Waters did something for minority-owned banks. But the - this very confusing signal is coming from the House Ethics Committee. We don't know if there's new information or the old information is just no good. And Maxine Waters, among other people, was dying to find out what's going on.

CONAN: All right. We're talking about the great political events of the year 2010. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And after every season, certain awards are given out. Who would you nominate, gentlemen, for the comeback player of the year?

Mr. PAGE: Well, my comeback would be Bobby Jindal down in Louisiana, who was a rising star who was kind of written off a very lackluster response to a presidential address on national TV. But he played that oil spill disaster remarkably well.

CONAN: Like a violin.

Mr. PAGE: I don't want to sound too cynical here, I mean, but really became the voice of protest for what was going on there in the Gulf. I think he put himself back on the map.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: I would give - I would split my vote - typical John Kerry answer. But I would split it because when the - first of all, Lisa Murkowski, having lost her Republican primary nomination this summer to Joe Miller, won as a write-in, the first Senate write-in victor since Strom Thurmond in 1954. The other person, I would say, is John Boehner. In 2008, he was a Republican minority leader in a body that lost 20 more House seats. They were on the rocks. They were irrelevant. And come January 5, he'll be the new speaker of the House, a pretty remarkable comeback.

CONAN: Let's see if we can make some nominees for rookie of the year. This would, of course, be in two divisions, Republicans and Democrats. Clarence Page?

Mr. PAGE: I wasn't expecting this question but let me say Scott Brown, because he had a good first year and I think he set himself up well for his second year.

CONAN: Ken, for the Republican nominee?

RUDIN: Scott Brown is good. Yeah, Scott Brown is good. Marco Rubio, you know, all the kids yell his name out in the swimming pool. You know, Marco?

CONAN: Rubio.

Mr. PAGE: Rubio.

RUDIN: You know, they always say that, you know?

CONAN: Yeah.

RUDIN: So he's also a possibility for rookie of the year.

CONAN: On the Democratic side, Ken?

RUDIN: Well...

CONAN: It's a pretty thin field.

RUDIN: You know, there were not many Democrats who - but, you know, something? Bernie Sanders is no rookie, but he ended the year as the hope of the progressives. You know, we keep talking about - and we talked about this last week on the show, whether there's going to be any insurgency from the left against President Obama in 2012.

People like Russ Feingold, Bernie Sanders, their names have come up, Sherrod Brown. You know, 2012 is a long time away from now, but it'd be interesting to see what happens.

CONAN: Did you see any hope, young hopes for the Democrats this year, the eventual victors in Delaware or Connecticut perhaps?

Mr. PAGE: Oh, good question here. I, now you're talking about the presidential race (unintelligible)...

CONAN: No, no, we're talking about any - there was a guy who ran for mayor, I think, in Indiana. Anyway...

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Yeah.

Mr. PAGE: That's right. Well, you've got - we mentioned Rahm Emanuel earlier. The funny thing about Rahm is that he came in the race I would say in about fourth place among the likely winners. All three of the people ahead of him -Congressman Jesse Jackson, Congressman Luis Gutierrez, Sheriff Tom Dart - they all decided not to run. He's now leading. A Chicago Tribune poll shows him well ahead of, what, Congressman Danny Davis and...

RUDIN: Danny Davis and...

Mr. PAGE: Gery Chico is running second.

RUDIN: Carol Moseley Braun.

Mr. PAGE: Carol Moseley Braun is back in the headlines, and Roland Burris with about 2 percent. But Roland Burris's name is back in there too, so...

CONAN: Well, there's another name that we have to conjure with. But most valuable player, and we'll start with the, well, perhaps the minority award, the Democrats.

Mr. PAGE: Bill Clinton.

CONAN: Bill Clinton.

RUDIN: I agree completely. I agree. You know, he was booed - he was really, like, ridiculed in 2008. He probably may have hurt Hillary Clinton's effort in 2008 more than he helped, and yet he went to places and helped the Democrats, or attempted to help the Democrats in 2010, places that President Obama could not go to. And he was always there as he was last week, trying to sell the tax bill. So he is...

CONAN: Perhaps in that strange presidential tag team match in the White House briefing, though.

Mr. PAGE: In fact he may be - come back every year, I better change my nomination.

CONAN: And most valuable player for the Republican Party, Clarence?

Mr. PAGE: Oh, the Republican Party. Well - boy, I hate to say Sarah Palin, because it's - because we don't know for sure. But I think she was very important though for firing up the base, I'll put it that way at least. I'm not going to predict anything beyond that.

RUDIN: Well, Sarah Palin and Jim DeMint are two people who fired up the base, but I think it may have cost the Republicans some Senate victories in Nevada...

Mr. PAGE: Might have.

RUDIN: ...and Delaware, things like that. Also, Kevin McCarthy, the new whip, the Republican whip from California, he was the guy who recruited many of these Republicans who ran for the House. And 63-seat pickup is pretty enormous.

CONAN: Well, Clarence Page, thanks very much for being with us today, as the Political Junkie wrapped up the year...

Mr. PAGE: Thank you.

CONAN: ...2010. Clarence Page, the syndicated columnist for The Chicago Tribune. And political junkie Ken Rudin is going to be taking two weeks off, whether he wants to or not.

RUDIN: I don't.

CONAN: And he will joining us in the new year. So Ken, thanks very much for all of your efforts this past year.

RUDIN: That was a little gratuitous, but thanks, Neal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Tomorrow, stories of some of those who are young and undocumented in America. Join us for that.

I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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