The Most Memorable Political Moments Of 2008

In this week's edition of the Political Junkie, NPR political editor Ken Rudin talks about a recent news conference held by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the long ballot recount for Minnesota's Senate seat. Also: A look back at the most memorable political moments of 2008.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We'd like to stop and catch our breath, but there's New York and Colorado, the recount that never stops in Minnesota, and yes, Illinois; time for a Christmas Eve visit with the Political Junkie.

Former President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Former Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your 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 President RICHARD NIXON: You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): I love those hockey moms. You know, they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH (United States): But I'm the decider.

(Soundbite of Howard Dean scream)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us to talk about the week in politics and to plug his blog. This week, the president-elect is on vacation, but Team Obama reports itself completely clean in the Blagojevich mess. Senate appointments still open in three states, one as yet undecided; Senate election a bit a later. We'll review one of the most remarkable political years in memory. And we have an email challenge for you: compose your version of "'Twas the Night Christmas" - the senators both nestled, all snug in their beds with visions of White House filling their heads - write your version and email it to us, talk@npr.org. Now, yours does not have to be about politics. Hey, what rhymes with Tishira(ph)? And again, the address is talk@npr.org.

Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A, and while the Political Junkie usually starts us off with a trivia question, this week he has a poem for us. Does it begin with 'twas? We'll get to that a bit later. In the meantime, what's your favorite, funniest, wow-iest political moment of 2008? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. You can email us. That address, again, is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our Web site. Go to npr.org; click on Talk of the Nation.

Again, we're reviewing the great political moments of the year, but Ken, let's start with news of this past week. Any movement on the Senate seats in New York, Colorado or - what's rapidly becoming known as the recount state - Minnesota?

KEN RUDIN: Yes.

(Soundbite of silence)

CONAN: And would you fill us in?

RUDIN: Oh, yes. Well, OK. Well, in Minnesota, for example, they have counted all the disputed ballots, and right now for the first time, Al Franken, the Democratic challenger, has a 47-vote lead. We always talk about whether every vote counts; it certainly counts in Minnesota. But the secretary of state says there probably will not be any declared winner before - not only by the end of the year - now the canvassing board doesn't meet until December 30th - but even before January 6th when the new Senate is sworn in. So, there are still 1600 absentee ballots that had been rejected for one reason or another. And so, now both camps, the secretary of state says both camps, both the Norm Coleman and the Al Franken camp, have to agree on whether to reinstate these 1600 votes. Most likely, Minnesota will go into what the 111th Congress with just one senator; that's Amy Klobuchar. We will not have a winner declared before January 6th.

CONAN: OK. And we have no clue as to when we might have another senator from Illinois.

RUDIN: No, none at all. The - Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney who's investigating Governor Rod Blagojevich, has told the impeachment committee in the Illinois state legislature that they are not, the U.S. attorney's office is not, going to supply any information because they don't want that to compromise their own investigation. So, I have a sense that the impetus for what's going to happen to Blagojevich may not come from the general assembly, the legislature, but from Patrick Fitzgerald's office. But meanwhile, there's been no indictment as of yet. But again, when you heard when he was arrested on December 9th on many charges, including the alleged selling of a U.S. Senate seat, and of course, that's what got the Obama team releasing their report yesterday.

CONAN: OK. We are taking calls today on the most important political moments of 2008. Give us your nominee, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. The other Senate seats that are open - New York, Caroline Kennedy still the leading contender there?

RUDIN: Well, maybe. It's interesting now that, you know, she's been talked about most and a lot of people saying that it's all but a done deal. That seems to be the word coming out of Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, his camp, because they are working very close with Caroline Kennedy. And there seems to be some resentment, some reaction, that you're putting undue pressure on David Paterson. After all, that's the only vote that counts in New York; it'll be decided by the governor of New York, and while Caroline Kennedy is doing her upstate Hillary Clinton-like tour, listening tour.

CONAN: Listening tour, yes.

RUDIN: But she's not talking, she's listening but not talking. She's not talking to the press, she's really not talking to many voters, and she's really not answering many questions. So, there are lot of people talking about entitlement and then, you know, she's getting this because she's a Kennedy and for no other reason. And there's no shortage of other Democrats who really want this seat - members of Congress, the Long Island, the Nassau County executive on Long Island, perhaps the mayor of Buffalo, a whole bunch of names are in that. But there seems to be some pushback from Democrats saying, wait a second, this is not a coronation; she is not entitled to this seat.

CONAN: And she did answer some written questions supplied by the New York Times, Politico.com, and some others laying out some positions, which, in terms of the ones she provided, seemed to be pretty standard Democrat, New York Democrat territory.

RUDIN: Except when she was asked whether she would endorse or would support the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York City in 2009. She hemmed and hawed on that, and for - the reason is because she is very closely linked with Mayor Bloomberg, who will run on God knows what party, probably as an independent.

CONAN: First ran as a Republican, now an independent.

RUDIN: Right.

CONAN: So, anyway - and Colorado, any movement there?

RUDIN: No, but that's the one when Ken Salazar has been named to be the next secretary of Interior, and Governor Bill Ritter, a Democrat in Colorado, says he has plenty of time to make his choice. John Salazar, the senator's brother, who is a congressman, is one of the people mentioned. John Hickenlooper, the mayor of Denver, is on the list, as well as Ed Perlmutter. Again, there's no leap of - unlike New York and unlike Illinois, there seems to be no controversy in Colorado.

CONAN: And we have to go revisit perhaps one of the really dramatic elections this past November - even more dramatic than Minnesota, if that's possible to imagine - and that's the Senate race in Alaska. There's been a whistleblower emerging saying that the prosecution in the case against Ted Stevens, the senator from Alaska, the Republican, withheld crucial evidence.

RUDIN: Right and there's an FBI agent who's talking about that, too. There are some complaints that the Justice Department did not let all the information out that it should have been available to the jury, to the defense. Now, of course, that won't undue the election results where the Democrat Mark Begich defeated Ted Stevens, who had been the longest-serving Republican, but it does put some question on the tactics - the Justice Department, the government's case against Ted Stevens. And of course, Ted Stevens' name is one of the names that have come up for a possible pardon by President Bush. Obviously, the names released yesterday were of no major significance, but of course, Lewis Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Cheney, and Ted Stevens are the names on the top of that list.

CONAN: And as we go through this, there has been a completion of the Obama Cabinet, and nevertheless, the first thing that the transition team had to do was respond to the mess in Illinois, where there were all questions about who had spoken with Rod Blagojevich or his chief of staff about the open Senate seat, what did they know and when did they know it.

RUDIN: Well, ultimately, I think this was much ado about nothing because, well, first of all, very interesting that the Obama team put out a report clearing its own team on improper conduct.

CONAN: Amazing how that happens.

RUDIN: Well, but having said - I mean, of course, you know, I can mention the Bush people doing that. But having said that, there does not seem to be any improper or unethical contacts between Team Obama and Team Blagojevich. Rahm Emanuel, the congressman from Illinois who is going to be Obama's new chief of staff, made two phone calls to the governor, four phone calls to the governor's chief of staff, John Harris, both of whom were arrested on December 9th. But again, there was no quid pro quo. There was nothing, no deals being made. But you know, so the fact - had Rahm Emanuel, who is a real wheeler-dealer, not spoken to anybody in the governor's office about the Senate seat that would have been surprising. But ultimately, I think, there was much - you know, it was greatly anticipated the report, but ultimately, I think it just said that, you know, they spoke several times. Nothing improper, nothing unethical.

CONAN: The FBI, though, did speak with the president-elect.

RUDIN: Yes, and we didn't know that until the report came out. They spoke to him last Tuesday, I believe, at the president-elect's office in Chicago. They also met, I think, with Valerie Jarrett, who's name had come up as a possible Senate choice. But of course, she'll stay in the - working with the new White House. And I think David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel also spoke to Patrick Fitzgerald.

CONAN: And the prosecutor's office there in Chicago has said the president-elect is not a target. Of course, he hasn't selected Jesse Jackson Jr. as a target either, and well, his name has certainly come up in relation to, well, candidate five, who may or may not have offered - at least according to Blagojevich's transcripts, just Blagojevich's side of the story - some money for the senate seat.

RUDIN: And also it's very interesting that Blagojevich actually met the press, though he didn't take any questions, but he spoke to the press last week. And you know, one would have thought that after the dramatic arrest on December 9th, that Blagojevich was not long for this world, let alone the governorship of Illinois, but he said he was going to fight; he said he was going to stand and fight. And ultimately, some people are questioning whether there was a real case that Fitzgerald had. Obviously, the U.S. attorney wanted to move early because he didn't want a U.S. Senate seat offered and tainted in the process, but some people are saying that if it's just, you know, if it's just conversations on the phone, Blagojevich, and with his very canny lawyers, can fight this out for perhaps a long time. So, there may be no resolve soon, both about Blagojevich's fate and the next senator from Illinois.

CONAN: Still, there has to be some debate. A cynic might say, he's looked at the situation, said, hey, you know, this resignation, it's got to be worth something.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Exactly, but bleeping something.

CONAN: Bleeping something. And finally, we have the prospective secretary of State, the current junior senator from the state of New York, Hillary Clinton, retiring her campaign debt.

RUDIN: Well, swallowing her debt, actually $13.2 million. I mean, you know, from the moment she dropped out of the race in June for the Democratic presidential nomination, there was no shortage of ways she was trying to raise the money. There were fundraising appeals by her mother, by her daughter. They would come into reporters' and journalists' and Democratic activists' mailboxes all the time. But ultimately, I think the time has expired; she can no longer raise money for this. And so, the $13.2 million, she'll just have to swallow that. Now, of course, Bill Clinton has raised millions and millions of dollars with speeches and things like that. So, it's not that the Clintons are hurting, but again, she was hoping to have either the Clinton apparatus or the Obama team help erase that debt, and she's stuck with $13.2 million of it.

CONAN: Also we learned this week, expense for a new, expanded and better secretary - State Department with not one, but two deputy secretaries of state - one to, well, be - think great thoughts, and the other one to run the place on a day-to-day basis.

RUDIN: She seems to get - she's going to have her own - Hillary Clinton will have her own power structure at Foggy Bottom, absolutely.

CONAN: All right, Ken Rudin. Stay with us, the Political Junkie visits us every Wednesday. This week, we're talking about the great political moments of 2008, a year that began really in Iowa, 355 days ago.

(Soundbite of speech, January 4, 2008)

President-elect BARACK OBAMA (Democratic Senator, Illinois): But on this January night, at this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn't do.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

CONAN: Then Senator Barack Obama claiming victory in the Iowa caucuses, which rocketed him on the way to the Democratic presidential nomination. No, you can't pick that as the most telling moment of 2008. It's stipulated; we're done with it. Pick something else. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@nor.org. The Political Junkie Ken Rudin stays 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. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We know you're cooking your holiday meals, wrapping presents, and sneaking a little eggnog, but we have an email challenge for you: Take a break to tell us about your most memorable holiday reunion. Be it family, high school, fraternity, tell us what burned it into your memory. Drop us a line, talk@npr.org. Tune in tomorrow at this time, to share your memories with us.

It would take a year to go through the most memorable political moments of 2008, but don't worry, Political Junkie Ken Rudin is here, and he talks really fast. Tell us your favorite moment, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our Web site; go to npr.org and click on Talk of the Nation. And well, we already wrote off Barack Obama, Ken Rudin, so what is the next most amazing political moment of the year for you?

RUDIN: Well, I mean, the fact is, also in addition to Barack Obama, because we all - a lot of us thought that Hillary Clinton would be the nominee. Same with John McCain; we thought that he was down and out in 2007. He had no money; he had staff dissentions; he was on the wrong side of many issues among many Republicans. I thought Mitt Romney was going to be the nominee; others thought Rudy Giuliani, even Fred Thompson, which sound so funny now, but some people were touting him. So, the fact is that two people who were almost counted out - well, certainly, Obama - McCain was counted out in 2007, and Obama never thought...

CONAN: Was dismissed.

RUDIN: Dismissed, exactly - given the fact that there was a Hillary Clinton juggernaut. So, the fact that we had those two candidates was amazing in itself, but we also had these Senate races, people who were clearly going to win, can't - you know, fell - Bill Jefferson is a perfect example, somebody - a Vietnamese-American, Republican, in African - in overwhelmingly African-American, New Orleans...

CONAN: Elizabeth Dole.

RUDIN: Elizabeth Dole, who, again, they couldn't get a decent Democrat to run against her; nobody ever heard of Kay Hagan before.

CONAN: Are you suggesting she's an indecent Democrat?

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: No, I'm just saying that we couldn't - they couldn't find everybody. And yet, it shows you that the election that matters is November 4th. It's not the year before; it's not months before; it's - every day counts. And we certainly start...

CONAN: Can we start going to the polls for 2012 now?

RUDIN: You see, that's the thing that always drove me nuts. We would always talk about frontrunners when voters never even had a say. So, you know, don't - but I guess the lesson is: don't discount the wisdom of the voters.

CONAN: Let's get some of those voters on the line, 800-989-8255. Brad joins us on the line from Denver.

BRAD (Caller): Hi, I'm wondering if you put the pop-culture phenomenon of Tina Fey's portrayal of Sarah Palin aside, I'm wondering what the impact was of the "Saturday Night Live" skits about her, because they so withheld her from the media and she was an unknown. And I'm wondering - I guess a few questions, is one, did - how much Tina Fey's portrayal of her define who Sarah Palin was? And secondarily, did putting her on the ticket really have, in the long run, much of the effect of the outcome of the election?

CONAN: Brad, hold on. I'm going to play a piece of tape for you. Listen to this cut of tape.

(Soundbite of TV show "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric," September 25, 2008)

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): As Putin rears his head and comes into the airspace of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska; it's just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to our state.

CONAN: OK. Palin or Fey?

BRAD: I would have to guess Palin, but the fact that I'm not sure says a lot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: You were absolutely right, Brad, and Ken, it does say a lot.

RUDIN: That's exactly right. I mean, there was a time when Sarah Palin's pick did energize the Republican Party, did give a big boost to the Republican ticket. John McCain, who was counted out, seemed to have come back. But ultimately, the fact that nobody - very few people knew who Sarah Palin was, and if the satirists could define Sarah Palin before the Republicans could - and that's exactly what happened - I think that's part of the problem. Of course, I think the Republicans and the economy - I think that's probably ultimately what decided this election. But any positive effect that Sarah Palin may have had - might have had I think disappeared once the satirists took control.

CONAN: Brad, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

BRAD: Thank you.

CONAN: Here's an email from Siobhan in San Francisco, on the same point: The nomination of Sarah Palin is what sealed John McCain's fate. I can't tell you the number of people who'd been on the fence until that moment. Relatives and friends all over the country, when they took a careful look at his running mate - something he really should've done, too - they questioned his judgment to the point where they just couldn't vote for him.

Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And let's go to Mary, Mary with us from Birmingham, Alabama.

MARY (Caller): Hi. Thank you for letting me be on the show. I would like to say that I think one of the defining political moments, other than, obviously, the election of Barack Obama, was actually John McCain's concession speech, because I felt that he had been very aggressive during his campaign, but his concession speech was full of grace and just absolutely made me feel like the Republican Party and John McCain, as a representative of that party, really did want to work together to just further the American people and fix some of the problems that we're having.

CONAN: And here's John McCain conceding on election night.

(Soundbite of concession speech, November 4, 2008)

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together.

CONAN: And Ken, it's interesting what Mary is saying. Through the campaign, a candidate speaks through so many different voices: all the different speech writers, all of the different consultants and the pollsters and all of that. Here, he was speaking back in Mark Salter's voice, a man with whom he is extremely comfortable, who's extremely comfortable with him, who co-wrote his books, and he sounded like himself again.

RUDIN: Well, I was going to say exactly that. I think this is exactly that the John McCain that a lot of people saw and liked in 2000. And though that maverick voice you heard of McCain in the past, seemed to be subsumed in 2008 by the fact that many Republicans didn't trust him, that he had a win over many Bush Republicans. And you almost wondered what voice you were hearing from John McCain. The dialogue got nasty; the rhetoric got ugly. And yet, I think the finest moment, in many politicians' cases, but certainly with John McCain, was on that concession speech that night.

CONAN: Mary, it's a great point. Thanks very much for the call.

MARY: Thank you.

CONAN: All right. Let's go now to - this is Mike, and Mike with us from Columbus, Ohio.

MIKE (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi there. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

MIKE: No. I will - you were asking about the singular most important political moment in the year of 2008.

CONAN: Yes.

MIKE: And you know, I would declare that it was Oprah Winfrey's public endorsement of Barack Obama, particularly in front of a large crowd in Iowa.

CONAN: Oprah Winfrey's?

MIKE: Yes.

CONAN: That was a big moment, Ken. Oprah Winfrey, obviously, you know, an absolute magnet for so many people on television every single day, had never endorsed a presidential candidate before.

RUDIN: Right. I think - ultimately, I think endorsements are overrated. Remember when Ted Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama, which was very played up by the National Press, but of course, Hillary Clinton won the Massachusetts primary overwhelmingly. But having said that, I think the Winfrey endorsement seemed to really generate a lot of people, including many African-Americans, who said, well, I'm excited about Obama, but I don't think he could win. And I think for the first time, they said, well, maybe we can; maybe he can. And I think that was the beginning of momentum.

CONAN: Maybe this is something beyond politics; maybe this is sweeping into some sort of big, mass movement, which is, indeed, what the Obama campaign became.

RUDIN: And I think if you looked at what happened in South Carolina - of course, you know, Obama won Iowa, lost New Hampshire - but winning South Carolina, I think, was a remarkable thing. And the speech he gave - everything, it basically put race and politics, which have often been at odds with each other, put it in the same page on that night.

CONAN: Well, another thing that happened in Carolina was a seemingly off the cuff - by the way, Mike, thanks very much for the phone call.

MIKE: Well, let me - let me add that one thing, that when Oprah appeared in Iowa...

CONAN: Yes?

MIKE: That she drew, I don't know, it was well over 30,000 people. You know, that's very, very significant. That brought a lot of people into the door for Obama. That really put him on, you know, on center stage, just that singular appearance by her...

CONAN: OK.

MIKE: That endorsement. I think that was huge.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Mike.

MIKE: You're welcome.

CONAN: I was mentioning another thing that happened in South Carolina; after Barack Obama won, was a comment, apparently off the cuff, by former President Bill Clinton.

(Soundbite of press conference, January 27, 2008)

Former President WILLIAM J. CLINTON: Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice in '84 and '88. And he ran a good campaign, and Senator Obama's running a good campaign here.

CONAN: There was a time when Bill Clinton was identified as America's first black president. I'm not sure a lot of African-Americans will ever see him quite the same way.

RUDIN: Well, it's certainly got - it certainly brought race back into the campaign, not that the thought of Barack Obama as a leading Democratic candidate meant that race would not be part of it. But I think for Bill Clinton, who was looked upon so favorably by so many African-Americans, the fact that he sounded like he was dismissing Barack Obama's victory in South Carolina and said, well, Jesse Jackson won there twice anyways; so, in the end, it doesn't mean that much. I think that almost put Bill Clinton - for the first time, you wondered whether he was actually helping his wife win the Democratic nomination or not.

CONAN: And let's get to Sarah on the line, Sarah with us from Vermillion in South Dakota.

SARAH (Caller): Hi, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

SARAH: I have to nominate Ted Kennedy's return to the Senate floor in July.

CONAN: An extremely moving moment; of course, Senator Kennedy diagnosed with a brain tumor, an operation that clearly - well, clearly there's a - I don't know how good his prospects are, but he came back to the United States Senate, then made a very moving appearance also at the Democratic National Convention.

SARAH: Yeah. And I don't know if people really truly appreciated how much he's done for the country until we heard people on both side of the aisle just really getting emotional about how much he's done and what a player he's been and what a fighter he's been. And I still get a little choked up when I think about it.

CONAN: All right, Sarah. Thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

SARAH: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go now to Patricia. Patricia is in Bemidji in Minnesota - Bemidji?

PATRICIA (Caller): Yeah.

CONAN: Go ahead. I can't believe what they wrote on my screen here, but go ahead.

PATRICIA: Am I on?

CONAN: Yes, you're on. Go ahead.

PATRICIA: I think the most laughable moment for politics is that the canvassing board here in Minnesota counted missing ballots in a recount. A hand recount is to count ballots that exist, but they decided to count ballots that they don't even have, and I think that that's just laughable.

CONAN: It's a long, slow-developing laugh. One of those of big belly laughs, maybe. It'll be wrapped up some time in January.

PATRICIA: No, I think that it's just a downright, outright laugh, that the purpose for a recount is to count ballots that are right before you, but these ones, these phantom ballots, have been counted. And I - that's just unbelievable. I can't believe that Minnesota has, you know, done this.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Well, you know, there was a similar election in New Hampshire in 1974 that was so disputed that it had to go to a special election. But during the recount in New Hampshire in 1974, one of the ballots said Crook - that's the guy's name. They wrote in a name Crook, and both the candidates, both the Republican candidate and the Democrat, fought for that ballot. So, you know...

CONAN: You're clearly referring to me.

RUDIN: That shows how much - how close and how tightly fought that battle was.

CONAN: Patricia, we're all here with bated breath.

PATRICIA: Pardon?

CONAN: We're all here with bated breath, awaiting the news from the final tally and then, of course, the news of who's going to file the first lawsuit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Bye-bye. Have a happy Christmas.

PATRICIA: You, too.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And let's see if we can go to one last caller, and this is going to be Andrew, Andrew with us from Phoenix.

ANDREW (Caller): Ah, yes. My favorite single most important moment of 2008 is when Ron Paul was banned from the Republicans' convention in St. Paul, because this signified the death of the religious right's stranglehold on the Republican Part, ultimately leading to the Goldwater Republicans' rejection of John McCain as a valid president.

CONAN: Come again?

ANDREW: It was Ron Paul. He was banned from the Republican...

CONAN: That part I got. I'm not sure how it signified what you thought it signified.

ANDREW: It signified the death of the religious right.

CONAN: In a Republican Party?

ANDREW: Yeah, their stranglehold hold on the Republican Party is no more.

CONAN: Ah, OK, we'll have to wait to see four years from now. But they're still a very big part of the Republican base, and I think if you talk people like former Governor Huckabee, I think he might disagree with you.

ANDREW: Well, I think as a - for me from Arizona, we'll see when Goldwater runs for a - for the governor. If he makes governor out here, then that pretty much signifies the death.

CONAN: All right. Andrew, thanks very much for the call.

ANDREW: Thank you. You're welcome.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's finally an email from Andrew in Greensboro, North Carolina: The most important political moment of the year, CNN's famous election-night hologram. So, will.i.am - for some reason, they picked will.i.am and not Ken Rudin; I can't believe that.

RUDIN: Well, I think Blitzen is part of that "'Twas the Night before Christmas." I think Blitzen is in there. Isn't that Wolf Blitzen?

CONAN: Wolf Blitzen. I believe we will get to that in just a moment.

RUDIN: That's right.

CONAN: We're talking with the Political Junkie, who else? It's Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And Ken, before we wrap up this year-end segment - because Ken is not going to be with us next week; he's taking a day off, deserved or not - we did want to go through some of the people who we lost in 2008, some of the great politicians, and not-so-great politicians, who will not be with us from now on.

RUDIN: Well, I put together a little list. I mean, later in my Political Junkie column, I'll have a humongous list. But every year, there are some people who I think made a difference. Tom Lantos was the first Holocaust survivor who was in Congress; he rose to be chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Foreign Affairs Committee. Howard Metzenbaum was a three-term senator from Ohio, fought big business and stood up for labor. William F. Buckley, the conservative columnist, he was a conservative when there were no conservatives. This is 1950s...

CONAN: Credited as the grandfather of conservatism.

RUDIN: Exactly. Tim Russert, who, well, probably the epitome of journalism and the confluence of journalism and politics, died before one of the greatest, you know, before the results of the greatest election of all time.

CONAN: Let's not forget that Tony Snow, before he was White House press secretary, a journalist...

RUDIN: Tony Snow, 53 years old, it was very tragic to see what happened to him. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, the Ohio congresswoman, died at the age of 58. Mark Felt - the answer to our trivia question; we always wondered who was going to be the answer; who was Deep Throat - died at the age of 95.

CONAN: Follow the money, Ken.

RUDIN: Exactly. Hamilton Jordan, he's the one who put together the road to Jimmy Carter being elected governor of Georgia and then president 1976. Jesse Helms, the five-term unwielding(ph) conservative - unyielding conservative.

CONAN: Unyielding.

RUDIN: Unyielding...

CONAN: And he wielded quite a bit.

RUDIN: You wabbit(ph)! From North Carolina. Let's see there, Earl Butts, who, of course, was known...

CONAN: Agriculture secretary.

RUDIN: Agriculture secretary under Nixon and Ford. Evan Mecham was the impeached governor of Arizona, very influential conservative there.

CONAN: I look on your list, and I see the name of - well, it's a curious name. It's Charlton Heston.

RUDIN: Well, Charlton Heston, of course, the actor, of course. And you know, I think for many reasons, but of course, he later became the head of the NRA, very influential on conservative causes, on issue of guns and things like that. But Charlton Heston, the actor, who became a political operative. And of course, Madelyn Dunham, who doesn't sound like a political person. You may not recognize her name, but she was Barack Obama's grandmother who raised him, and sad to say that she died two days before her grandson was to be elected president of the United States.

CONAN: One of the names I see on your list, I'm not sure you got to it, Margaret Truman-Daniel.

RUDIN: Right, the only child of Harry Truman. I incorrectly said last week on this show that she was a piano player and not a singer. She was probably terrible at either one, and of course, she got booed. She got a very ugly review by somebody, and Harry Truman castigated that reviewer, but Margaret Truman-Daniel was, I think, 95 years old. Also the only child of Harry Truman, the only president with a fake middle name.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: OK. Ken Rudin is with us every Wednesday, except for next Wednesday, as the Political Junkie. But we're going to ask him to stay over because in our next segment, we want to hear your rewrite of "'Twas the Night before Christmas." Make it your own, and if you can rhyme radio, extra points. Ken will have his own version of "'Twas the Night before Christmas." So, give us a call, 800-989-8255, or zap it to us by email; that's talk@npr.org. You can also find doggerel on our Web site and post your own. That's at npr.org; just click on Talk of the Nation. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us.

(Soundbite of song "I Want to Grow Up to Be a Politician")

THE BYRDS: (Singing) I wanna grow up to be a politician And take over this beautiful land.

I'll make you glad you got me with everything I do And I'll defend until the end the old red, white and blue

I want to grow up to be a politician, And take over this beautiful land. And take over this beautiful land. And take over this beautiful land.

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