The Political Junkie's Year In Review

2009 was a busy year in politics, from the inauguration of President Obama to the health care overhaul, from "You lie!" to "hiking on the Appalachian trail." NPR's political editor Ken Rudin picks his favorite political moments from the past year.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

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

And what a year. Barack Obama takes the oath of office. Sonia Sotomayor confirmed as the first Latina Supreme Court justice, and Mark Sanford discovered that the Appalachian Trail runs all the way to Buenos Aires. It's Wednesday and time for a year-in-review edition of the Political Junkie.

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.

Former Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

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

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us to talk about politics. This week, Senate Democrats secured 60 votes, and Republicans decided to drag out debate no longer than Christmas Eve morning on health care. Congressman Parker Griffith switches parties, and America's mayor will not run for governor or Senate this time. And we take a look back at the big political stories of the year: off-year elections, Nobel Prizes, tea parties, bailouts, Blogo and book deals, the governor who went south and the rogue who resigned. We also said farewell to some political giants, including Ted Kennedy, Jack Kemp and Claiborne Pell.

Later this hour, we'll hear another perspective on the national debt from economist Robert Samuelson, but first as usual, we begin with a trivia question. Political junkie Ken Rudin is with us here in Studio 3A. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal. Well, you mentioned Parker Griffith switching parties. He's that northern Alabama Democrat who became a Republican yesterday. The trivia question is: Griffith has already been threatened with a serious primary challenge by some conservatives in the 2010 primaries. So I'm thinking of offering two T-shirts here, with your permission.

CONAN: Whoa, whoa, whoa.

RUDIN: Who was the last Republican member of Congress, as was the last Democratic member of Congress, to switch parties and then get defeated in the primary for their seat at the next opportunity?

CONAN: So if you think you know the last Republican and the last Democratic member of Congress to switch parties only to be rewarded by defeat in their new party's next primary, we want to hear from you.

RUDIN: For their seat, right.

CONAN: Our phone number, 800-989-8255. And the email address is talk@npr.org. And well, why don't we begin with that party-switcher. This is a little-known Democrat, best known, I guess, for winning in a very conservative part of Alabama.

RUDIN: A very conservative part of Alabama but also a district that has never elected a Republican to Congress in its history. Parker Griffith was elected for the first time in 2008, when Bud Cramer, another Democrat that Republicans were dying to defeat all these years but couldn't. So even though it's very conservative, it's still a very Blue-Dog Democratic district.

Parker Griffith switched. He was criticizing the Democrats all summer long on health care. He said he would never vote for Nancy Pelosi again as speaker. The writing was on the wall. It was very interesting, however, of course, in 2008, when Parker Griffith was running as a Democrat, the Republican Party, which now loves him, hated him and wanted him defeated.

CONAN: In fact, we have a clip from an ad that was run by the National Republican Congressional Committee attacking then-Democrat Parker Griffith, who of course you will remember is also a cancer doctor.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Announcer: What kind of man is Parker Griffith? An independent medical review tells you all you need to know: Numerous internal complaints were lodged about the care Griffith was providing. Griffith was warehousing cancer patients, under-dosing them so he could make more profits through protracted treatments. His approach caused unwarranted pain and suffering, but it meant more money for him. Parker Griffith: shameful conduct. He can't be trusted.

CONAN: So if he wins the primary, can the Democrats just use that same ad?

RUDIN: Wait a second, but he was a Democrat back then. Now he's a Republican, so it's okay. No, so of course, it's embarrassing, and that always happens when somebody switches parties. President Bush, other Republicans, were campaigning for Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in advance of the 2010 primary, and of course, once Arlen Specter became a Democrat, then that became a dirty word.

CONAN: So the big issue this week has been that, in the United States Senate, the seemingly endless but occasionally dramatic debate over health care.

RUDIN: It is dramatic because, of course, as we know, as we've seen, we saw it with Joe Lieberman, the independent from Connecticut, then we saw it with Ben Nelson, the Democrat from Nebraska, that every senator - since you need 60 votes, any senator who had some kind of personal pique or something that he or she wants to get out of the leadership for their state, they can do it because every vote counts.

So we saw the Democratic leadership in the name of Harry Reid give Ben Nelson of Nebraska whatever he wanted, and that was softer language on abortion. Of course, the pro-life people say that that wasn't strong enough. The pro-choice people said it went far too far. But Ben Nelson's on board. It also exempted Nebraska from paying some Medicare payments that other states have to pay for.

So the Democrats have their 60. The Republicans really don't have much to do, aside from saying that it was bought and paid for, that it was extortion, that it was a bribery to Ben Nelson. But that's all they can say.

CONAN: And the Democrats, of course, say this is the legislative process. When you need the last vote, you need the last vote. And if Republicans felt so strongly about it, maybe one or two could have voted for it.

RUDIN: And remember, of course, this is only the last vote for the Senate passage, which will come at 8 a.m. on Christmas Eve morning, the morning of the 24th, on Thursday. But then, of course, they have the differences with the House version. The House version has very strong anti-abortion language, the so-called Stupak amendment. Also, the public option is in the House bill, not in the Senate bill. So all the drama and the deal-making that we've seen in the Senate could very well repeat itself in January when the Senate and the House have to reconcile their differences.

CONAN: And so they will come together, try to merge those two bills, come up with one common bill, and then it has to be voted on again by the House and the Senate. If they both agree on the same version of the bill, it would then go to President Obama's desk.

RUDIN: And again, it still needs 60 votes to beat back a filibuster in the Senate before it goes to passage. So we get all this drama we same in December, we could very well see again next month.

CONAN: Among the most dramatic moments, though, Robert Byrd of Virginia wheeled into the Senate chamber - he's been very ill of late - for dramatic votes, some at 1 o'clock in the morning.

RUDIN: Ninety-two years old, and he got a standing ovation, of course, from the Democrats who have been there. They didn't expect him to be there, but of course, it was Harry Byrd(ph) - Harry Byrd - it was Harry Reid who called for this vote at 1 o'clock in the morning, but it was a pretty dramatic moment to see Robert Byrd show up there.

CONAN: Let's see if we get some listeners on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and that is the last two members of the House of Representatives to switch party, Democrat and Republican, then to lose at the next opportunity in their new party's primary. 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

And we'll start with Gail(ph), Gail with us from Phoenix.

GAIL (Caller): Yeah.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

GAIL: My guess, and I could be wrong, but I think it's Phil Gramm and Joe Lieberman.

CONAN: And I'm going to jump in here even before Ken. They were both members of the United States Senate.

RUDIN: They were, and of course, actually, Joe Lieberman first of all never switched parties, but he became an independent after he lost his primary. So he lost the primary then became - switched parties to become an independent.

CONAN: But we're looking for members of the House of Representatives here.

GAIL: I'm sorry.

RUDIN: And Phil Gramm did switch parties in the House from Democrat to Republican, and the next election, he ran for the Senate and was elected.

CONAN: Okay, thanks very much, Gail.

GAIL: All right, bye-bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to - this is Dennis(ph), Dennis with us from Southampton in New York.

DENNIS (Caller): Hi, I think I've got the Republican answer. Our congressman in the First New York CD, Mike Forbes.

RUDIN: Well, once he said Southampton, I knew that the guy from Long Island was correct. Mike Forbes...

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

RUDIN: ...was a Republican, once upon a time, a loyal, Newt-Gingrich kind of guy who eventually got in disfavor with the Republican Party, said he would rather vote for Jim Leach for speaker than�

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: and he did, I think. He switched parties, and he lost to a 71-year-old woman because as a conservative Republican switching to the Democratic Party, the Democrats did not welcome him with open arms.

CONAN: But that election is water under the bridge.

RUDIN: Right.

CONAN: Seltzer was her name. Anyway, stay on the line, Dennis. We're going to collect your information, and you will win, of course a fabulous, no-prize T-shirt in exchange for the promise of taking a digital picture of yourself and emailing it to us for postage on our wall of shame.

DENNIS: Great, thank you very much. I'll hold.

CONAN: There you are, and I even hit the right button. Again, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

And let's go next to Jim(ph), Jim with us from Eagle River in Arkansas.

JIM (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi there.

JIM: Yes, I'm not certain about this, but I know Wayne Morse switched parties a couple times. And I - it's been a long time, I can't remember if he was a representative or a senator. And I know the last time, he lost re-election.

RUDIN: Right. Wayne Morse was a Republican senator, switched in 1952 to become a Democrat then in '54 became - I'm sorry, switched to become an independent in '52, a Democrat in '54, but he never lost - first of all, he was never in the House, never lost his primary. He did lose to Bob Packwood in '68, but we're looking for a member of the House who lost the primary.

JIM: I thought he may have been a senator. I couldn't quite recall.

RUDIN: A senator, but not a congressman, right.

CONAN: Okay, thanks for the call, Jim. Let's go next to - this is Monica(ph), Monica with us from Palo Alto.

MONICA (Caller): Yes, I think someone else has answered this, but I was thinking of Charles Goodell of New York.

CONAN: Appointed a senator and never represented the House.

MONICA: Oh, okay.

RUDIN: Well, he did. He was an upstate New York congressman when Nelson Rockefeller picked him to replace Bobby Kennedy in the Senate, but when he ran, he lost the general election to Jim Buckley. He did not lose his primary.

MONICA: Okay.

CONAN: Thanks very much. Let's see if we can go next to John(ph), John with us from Gardnerville in Nevada.

JOHN (Caller): Actually, I don't think he lost, but I was going to go ahead and say Arlen Specter.

CONAN: No, again - well, he was also a member of the House at one point.

RUDIN: No, no, never a member of the House, never ran for the House, but he could be the next member of Congress to lose after switching parties if he loses the April 2010 primary to Joe Sestak. But I'm looking for a member of the House who lost his primary.

CONAN: A Democrat who switched to Republican and lost in the following Republican primary for the House of Representatives seat that he had represented for the opposite party. Anyway, let's see if we can go - thank you, and let's go next to - this is Tex(ph), Tex with us from Woolwine in Virginia.

TEX (Caller): Yes, I'm not sure if this exactly fits the scenario, but Virgil Goode switched from Democrat to independent to Republican and was subsequently beat by - this past time by a Republican.

RUDIN: He was defeated by a Democrat, Tom Perriello, right.

TEX: Right, yeah, by a Democrat.

RUDIN: But of course, the difference, of course, he never did lose - when he switched to the Republican Party, he did not lose the Republican primary. That's what we're looking for.

TEX: Oh, I beg your pardon.

CONAN: Okay, thanks very much for the call. And there's still time to get in, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

But big news from New York yesterday. Rudy Giuliani is not going to run either for governor of the state of New York or for Senate from the state of New York.

RUDIN: Well, he always wanted to be governor. He always loved the administrative job, and I think that was best for his skills, rather than a Senate job. But of course, the problem with running for governor is that if he was running against David Paterson, that would be one thing, but most people feel that David Paterson will not be the Democratic nominee. It'll be Andrew Cuomo, who's very popular, will be tough to beat. I don't think Giuliani can beat him. The reason Giuliani says he's not running for anything is because of his law and business practices, which is very lucrative.

Now, there was also a possibility he was going to run for the Senate. Polls show that he had a 10-point lead over Kirsten Gillibrand, the appointed senator. But again, it looks like there are no Republicans going to run for that seat. In yesterday's press conference, Giuliani endorsed Rick Lazio, the former Long Island congressman who will run for governor.

CONAN: Who last lost to Hillary Clinton.

RUDIN: And he also actually ran after Giuliani backed out in 2000 because of prostate cancer.

CONAN: Prostate cancer. Well, we've not gotten a correct response on the second one. So why don't you give us the answer for that second member of the House of Representatives who switched parties and then lost in his new party's primary the following election?

RUDIN: 1995, Greg Laughlin of Texas, a Democrat, became a Republican. He lost the 1996 primary to a guy named Ron Paul.

CONAN: Ron Paul. I wonder whatever happened to him. Anyway, I misspoke earlier, of course, Robert Byrd from West Virginia. I left out the West. Stay with us, though. We're going to review the best moments of the year in politics. If you've got a favorite, you can email us, talk@npr.org. And of course, some people always think of Mark Sanford's many trips to, well, where?

Governor MARK SANFORD (Republican, South Carolina): Off we'd go and have these great adventures in the Appalachian Trail.

CONAN: Stay with us.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. You're listening to the very last edition of the Political Junkie in 2009, and after a 2008 election that left us all breathless, who would've thought 2009 had so much to offer? Well, political junkies like Ken did. Our holiday gift to you is a look back at the year, all the political candy and coal that kept you tuning every week, besides, of course, the trivia question and that fabulous no-prize T-shirt that so many of you now wear to formal functions.

So what is your favorite political moment from 2009? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And Ken, well, it's hard to imagine a moment more historic in 2009 than this one from January 20th.

Chief Justice JOHN ROBERTS (Supreme Court): I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear.

President BARACK OBAMA: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear.

Chief Justice ROBERTS: That I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully.

Pres. OBAMA: That I will execute...

Chief Justice ROBERTS: Faithfully the office of president of the United States.

Pres. OBAMA: The office of president of the United States faithfully.

Chief Justice ROBERTS: And will to the best of my ability�

Pres. OBAMA: And will to the best of my ability�

Chief Justice ROBERTS: �preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States

Pres. OBAMA: �preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Chief Justice ROBERTS: So help you God?

President OBAMA: So help me God.

Chief ROBERTS: Congratulations, Mr. President.

CONAN: And historic, of course, because that was the first Supreme Court justice to mess up the oath of office.

RUDIN: And also more importantly, I think, the first president ever born in Hawaii. I think that's what makes it so historic.

CONAN: Absolutely, but nevertheless, a great moment�

RUDIN: An amazing moment, yes.

CONAN: �in American politics and, of course, they did retake the oath later that day.

RUDIN: They never found his birth certificate, though. That's what I'm concerned about.

CONAN: I've seen it posted on the Internet. It's stamped, right there: Kenya.

RUDIN: Well, he's president.

CONAN: All right, anyway, 800-989-8255 if you'd like to nominate one of the great political moments of the year. Or email us, talk@npr.org. And let's go to Marion(ph) and Marion calling in from Southern Pines in North Carolina.

MARION (Caller): Hi, how are you all doing today?

CONAN: Very well, thank you.

MARION: Good. Well, my favorite moment this year was absolutely breathtaking, when I awakened to the news that President Obama had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

CONAN: And this is what President Obama had to say the morning after he got the news.

Pres. OBAMA: I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel committee. Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.

CONAN: And Marion, that moment to you meant what?

MARION: Well, it meant to me that the world is saying that intention does matter and that words matter, and it was such a beautiful change from, may I say, you know, the eight years of the Bush administration. It was just - you know, it was just so positive. I mean, I loved it. I just loved it.

CONAN: What did you think of the speech?

MARION: Well, I thought he was a little too humble.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARION: You know, I really did. You know, I mean, otherwise I thought it was great.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much for the call.

MARION: So thank you so much, and I love the Political Junkie. Merry Christmas.

CONAN: Even though it's Ken Rudin?

MARION: I love you, too. Bye.

CONAN: All right, thank you, bye-bye. The moment, a sitting president to get the Nobel Peace Prize so early in his term, as he said, at the beginning of his life on the world political stage, not at the end.

RUDIN: Did you get Marion's phone number, by the way?

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Oh, I'm sorry. Well, actually yes, and no. We talked so much in the 2008 campaign about the words hope and aspiration, and of course, it's - as Barack Obama himself said, I may not be deserving of it, but there was so much about what he intends to do, hopes to do. And I think there - a lot of the world felt the same way. The fact that - the way America is seen by much of the world is different, even though the results may not be much better. We're still fighting two wars. Barack Obama is sending more troops to Afghanistan, something unusual for a Nobel Peace Prizewinner to have going on, but the idea of intent and hope is really what carried the day here.

CONAN: And, you know, Barry from D.C., we just want to tell him, if he's going to call in, he still has Car Talk. Joe's(ph) on the line, Joe calling from Minneapolis.

JOE (Caller): Good afternoon, I really appreciate your show.

CONAN: Thank you.

JOE: Well, my favorite moment was when Representative Alan Grayson of Florida gave his speech on the floor of the House and really verbally socked it to the Republicans for what they were doing to stonewall health care reform.

CONAN: This was his saying that Republicans want you to die sooner.

JOE: Yes.

CONAN: This was, of course - I guess this is in part the response to the partisan rancor that had development when I think it was Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina responded to President Obama during his State of the Union message.

JOE: Yes, and I thought Representative Grayson's comments were very refreshing because I think progressives, and I'm one of them, I think we spend too much time and energy being conciliatory in our rhetoric, and this was an example of being bold, being very forthright, almost confrontational. And I think we need more of that in progressive politics.

CONAN: Well, speaking of confrontation from the conservative side, here's Joe Wilson during the State of the Union message.

Pres. OBAMA: There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false. The reforms�

(Soundbite of booing crowd)

Pres. OBAMA: The reforms I am proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

Representative JOE WILSON (Republican, South Carolina): You lie.

(Soundbite of booing)

Pres. OBAMA: Not true.

CONAN: That shout, of course, you lie, and of course made Congressman Wilson, well, temporarily a star, at least in the conservative firmament and then prompted the reply that Joe, you were referencing earlier. A lot of people would say, you know, partisan rhetoric gets out of control sometimes. I guess Joe has left us, anyway.

RUDIN: Well, one quick thing. First of all, just to complete the record, this was a September speech. This was not State of the Union. This was a speech...

CONAN: Oh, my apologies.

RUDIN: Right, during a joint session of Congress on health care, and of course, Joe Wilson did yell out that thing. Now, Alan Grayson is almost - it didn't exactly - look, it's not the exact same thing, but it's part of the rancor and the rhetoric and the pent-up feelings from both sides.

We saw the tea parties and the Joe Wilson outburst over the summer. We also saw the progressives' pent-up emotions, which came out of Alan Grayson, who is milking it for all it's worth. Now he is now one of the number one targets among the Republicans to defeat in 2010, just like Joe Wilson is for the Democrats. But they stood up, and their side of the aisle really supported them all the way.

CONAN: Let's go next to Michael(ph), Michael with us from Fairfield in California. Michael?

MICHAEL (Caller): Yes, I'm still here. Hello.

CONAN: You're on the air, go ahead.

MICHAEL: First off, I would like to say my favorite political moment in 2009 was the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court.

CONAN: Yes, and of course, the first wise Latina to be nominated to the Supreme Court.

MICHAEL: Yes, yes, I do remember watching the hearings and her saying that in her speech.

CONAN: She was asked considerably throughout a comment that she'd made during a panel discussion years earlier at Duke University Law School.

Justice SONIA SOTOMAYOR (Supreme Court): All of the legal defense funds out there, they're looking for people with court of appeals experience because it is - court of appeals is where policy is made. And I know - and I know this is on tape, and I should never say that because we don't make law, I know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Justice SOTOMAYOR: Okay, I know, I know. I'm not promoting any of that. I'm not advocating it. I'm - you know.

CONAN: The court of appeals, which she served on before she was elevated to the Supreme Court, she said, is where policy is made. Well, that of course drew quite a reaction from conservatives who were opposed to her nomination. And Michael?

MICHAEL: Yes, I'm still here.

CONAN: Yeah, are you still there?

MICHAEL: Yes, I am.

CONAN: And what particularly did you learn from watching the Sotomayor nomination process?

MICHAEL: What did I particularly learn? Anybody can do it.

CONAN: She had a great story, didn't she: growing up in the Bronx as the daughter of a single mom who worked very, very hard at two jobs, eventually became a nurse. Her brother went on to Princeton, and so did she. So, a great story for Sonia Sotomayor. Michael, thanks very much for the call.

Here we go, the next caller is Catherine(ph), Catherine with us from San Francisco.

CATHERINE (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Catherine, go ahead, please.

CATHERINE: Well, my favorite political moment was Senator Edward Kennedy's funeral mass because I felt that it took the liturgy and made not a dogmatic religious statement but made it into a reminder that politics has repercussions beyond partisan politics.

CONAN: I wonder, have you read Senator Kennedy's autobiography, which came out, was rushed out just a couple of weeks after his death?

CATHERINE: My husband just presented it to me for Hanukkah, and I've looked at all the pictures.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Looked at all the pictures. Well, you've got the - you've learned the talk radio hosts' trick: You read the captions on all the pictures.

CATHERINE: Right, there you go. No, I intend to take Senator Kennedy to bed with me and read every page.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, have a great time.

CATHERINE: Thank you.

CONAN: This is - this is the son of Senator Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Jr., delivering a eulogy at Our Lady of Perpetual Hope Basilica in Boston's Mission Hill.

Mr. TED KENNEDY, JR.: He was a lover of everything French: cheese, wine and women. He was a mountain climber, navigator, skipper, tactician, airplane pilot, rodeo rider, ski jumper, dog lover and all-around adventurer. Our family vacations left us all injured and exhausted.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KENNEDY: He was a dinner-table debater and devil's advocate. He was an Irishman and a proud member of the Democratic Party.

CONAN: And of course, Ken, we ought to remember some of the greats who also died this year.

RUDIN: Well, I'd like to come back to Senator Kennedy in a second. But, yes, there were others. Jack Kemp, of course, the - I mean, we talked about him running for president in 1988. He was Bob Dole's running mate in 1996. But as pretty much a back bench conservative congressman from upstate New York, from Buffalo, New York, he came up, basically, as one of the founders of supply-side economics and tax cuts, and that was the philosophy that the Republican Party basically used in electing Ronald Reagan in 1980.

CONAN: But also an advocate of enterprise zones, reached - he used to say that he had showered with more African-Americans than were in most of his Republican Party districts.

RUDIN: Jack Kemp was one the people who insisted that the Republican Party, for it to grow, needed to open up to minorities, African-Americans, people like that.

CONAN: Let's listen to a little clip from Jack Kemp.

(Soundbite of archived speech)

Mr. JACK KEMP (Former Secretary, U.S. Housing and Urban Development): I went from a competitive football arena to a competitive arena of ideas. So in that sense, I was fulfilled quite easily in terms of going from football competition to political competition.

CONAN: And did very well in both arenas.

RUDIN: He was the ultimate optimist even when the Republican Party was down and out. He always saw something good happening.

Other people, I'd just like to mention briefly, Clairborne Pell who had been six times elected to the Senate from Rhode Island. He was, of course, the founder of the Pell Grants that allowed millions of low income and middle income students to go to college. Henry Bellmon and Cliff Hansen. Henry Bellmon of Oklahoma, Cliff Hansen of Wyoming were both governor and senator of their states. Guy Hunt and Dave Treen. Guy Hunt of Alabama, Dave Treen of Louisiana, the first Republican governors of their states since reconstruction.

And a name that most people may not remember but Don Yarborough was a liberal Democrat from Texas who challenged John Connally for - the conservative champion in Texas. And that battle between liberals and conservative were so intense, one of the reasons why President Kennedy came to Dallas in November of 1963, to calm to fight.

CONAN: As we go back to the events of the year, I guess one we cannot forget is what seemed at that time the endless recount of the Senate race in Minnesota.

RUDIN: I think Norm Coleman just conceded a few minutes ago.

CONAN: A few minutes ago, yes.

RUDIN: But, you know, anybody who listens to this program every Wednesday, and if you're going back to the beginning, basically, it's the history of politics for the year. And we were so captivated by what was going to happen in Minnesota because election night 2008, Norm Coleman had to leave, then Al Franken had to leave, then Norm Coleman was coming back. It wasn't until June where finally Norm Coleman conceded and now Franken was sworn in. But it was one of those soap opera dramas that kept many political junkies captivated during the year.

CONAN: And how many people have been the 60th vote for the Democrats in the Senate this year? First, it was Al Franken when he finally got in, then it was the...

RUDIN: Paul Kirk in Massachusetts went in after Ted Kennedy died. Paul Kirk - they had to change the rules to get a 60th vote in there because they needed 60 to pass. And as it turns out, they certainly will need 60 to pass it.

CONAN: Political junkie Ken Rudin. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we can go next to Julie(ph). Julie with us from the Meadowlands in Minnesota.

JULIE (Caller): Wow, I'm so excited. First of all, Neal, you are so hip. I listen to you every day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JULIE: And I've been called a political junkie many times. Ken, I take that as a compliment. But what I love about politics is the politicians who go down in flames. And, usually, it's the spouters who do it: Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, Blagojevich. Wow. It was a great year for that.

CONAN: Well, who can ever forget Rod Blagojevich being removed from office by the Illinois State Senate, barred from ever holding office in that state again? So, what did he do? Well, he did "The View" and then "Letterman".

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Late Show with David Letterman")

Mr. DAVID LETTERMAN (TV Host): Why exactly are you here? Honest to God.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Former Democratic Governor, Illinois): Well, you know, I've been wanting to be on your show in the worst way for the longest time.

Mr. LETTERMAN: Well, you're on in the worst way, believe me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Oh, that's a classic a moment of American politics there, Julie. And what is it about the mighty fallen that you so like?

JULIE: I'm sorry. I didn't hear you.

CONAN: What do you so like about watching the mighty fall?

(Soundbite of laughter)

JULIE: Because the ones that do fall are usually the ones who spout and speak the loudest about, oh, I don't know, sin. And they're the ones that sin the biggest, I guess.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Okay, Julie. Thanks very much...

JULIE: ...publicly.

CONAN: Thanks very much for your kind words and thanks very much for the call.

Here's an email we have from Randy(ph) in Anchorage. My nomination is Sarah Palin's resignation on Friday of July 4th weekend. I had to listen to her announcement three times to understand what she was saying. I'm still not sure I understand her reasoning.

(Soundbite of archived speech)

Ms. SARAH PALIN (Former Republican Governor, Alaska): I've determined it's best to transfer the authority of governor to Lieutenant Governor Parnell. And I am willing to do this so that this administration, with its positive agenda and its accomplishments and its successful road to an incredible future for Alaska, so that it can continue without interruption and with great administrative and legislative success.

CONAN: Resigning so she wouldn't quit.

RUDIN: Right. And running - and perhaps running for president so she'll fill out her term. A remarkable person, Sarah Palin. Nobody knew of her until the first week of September when John McCain picked her as running mate in 2008. It's - just over a year and yet she is probably the best-known Republican in the country. She may not be the most popular politician, probably the most - probably not the most likely Republican to win the presidency in 2012. But if you ask Republican, dye-in-the-wool conservatives, Sarah Palin is at the top of the list.

CONAN: Another big event this year, not one event in particular, but a series of them, a strong conservative movement came to life over the summer, galvanizing around tea parties, people upset with the economic stimulus package, bank bailouts, Democratic health care overhaul proposals did their best to pack town hall meetings with legislators. Here's an exchange between Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, Democrat, and one of his constituents.

(Soundbite of archived meeting)

Unidentified Man: I'm not a lobbyist with all kinds of money to stuff in your pocket so that you can cheat the citizens of this country. So I'll leave, and you can do whatever the hell you're pleased to do. One day, God's going to stand before you and he's going to judge you and the rest of your damned cronies up on the Hill, and then you will get your just desserts.

CONAN: And you can hear the passion of this movement, which has made a change in politics.

RUDIN: It has. If you think of the beginning of 2009, you think of the Democrats on the ascendancy, President Obama with tremendous ratings, Republicans not knowing where to go. And I don't know if the tea party will ultimately help the Republican Party, but the opposition to the bailout, the health care bill, things like that seems to have grown since then.

CONAN: One last call. Let's go to Sonia(ph). Sonia with us from Boulder, Colorado.

SONIA (Caller): Hey, Neal and Ken. My favorite moment this year was being the first woman to win the no-prize T-shirt.

CONAN: Well, Sonia, congratulations.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: How's it holding up in the wash?

SONIA: Well, it went to China.

CONAN: Wow.

SONIA: And then it's been a couple other wonderful places. And I'm sad to say I owe you a picture, so I promised David Gura(ph) that I would send you one. So I promise I will do it.

CONAN: All right, it's our producer, David Gura. You took the - the wall of shame will go to the Great Wall of China, I hope.

SONIA: Yes, I have a picture of it with me - well, actually, in Shanghai.

CONAN: All right, Sonia. We'll take Shanghai. Thanks very much for the call and keep calling in.

SONIA: All right, keep up the good work and have a great new year.

CONAN: Bye-bye. New Year's to you. Ken Rudin, happy holidays and we'll see you in the New Year.

RUDIN: Merry Christmas. And you're right, that T-shirt story is probably the best moment of 2008 - 2009.

CONAN: Coming up, yesterday, Dean Baker told us to calm down about public debt. Today, we'll talk with economist Robert Samuelson with a different view. This is NPR News.

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