Now that the Christmas season is behind us -with all of its well-wishing, hopes for peace on earth and goodwill to men- we can take a moment to look back at the year that was. I'm referring, of course, to my first annual Winners and Losers of the Year column.
And just to prove that my panel of judges (me and my dog Cosmo) are merciless in our uncritical gaze, let me concede that the first loser on the list is yours truly for resorting to this tired cliché of a column device.
Anyway, starting in the world of politics, the most obvious loser is Trent Lott. By accidentally waxing nostalgic for Jim Crow with the cameras on, he managed to take attention away from his hypnotically bizarre hair and turn it to his long record of nodding and winking to would-be segregationists.
There are other losers in the Lott affair. Pascagoula, Miss., Lott's hometown, could lose billions in Lott-facilitated pork (no, Cosmo, not that kind of pork). Headline writers lost an inexhaustible supply of Lott puns -"A Sorry Lott," "A Lott on the Line" -and gained Bill Frist, whose last name, at best, lends itself to dyslexic jokes "Frist things Frist" or tasteless jokes about Charlie Chan-accented Americans, a la "Putting his Frist Down."
Winners: Despite the GOP's fourth-quarter setback with the Lott fiasco, this was a phenomenal year for Republicans in general and George Bush in particular. Bush created the Department of Homeland Security, got congressional approval for war, bent the U.N. to his will and made his dog Barney an international celebrity (Cosmo made me add that one).
Meanwhile, the 2002 midterm elections were a huge turkey dinner for the president. Not only did Bush's party buck historical trends by winning back the Senate and gaining seats in the House, but many of the Democrats managed to keep their seats only by clinging to Bush like a boxer desperate to stay on his feet until the bell rings. Bush boldly weathered the heckles of pundits who thought he was nuts for making the congressional elections about him. Now large segments of both parties are invested in his agenda.
Honorable Mention Political Losers: Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe, obviously. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who's fast on his way to becoming the Jimmy Carter of urban politics. Tom Daschle, who lost the Senate and blamed it on Rush Limbaugh.
California Gov. Gray Davis, who won re-election to the position of America's Most Despised Politician. Jesse Jackson, who was asked to stay away from pretty much every Democratic campaign in 2002 and who solidified his has-been status by attacking "Barbershop," the most popular movie about and among African-Americans in years.
Honorable Mention Political Winners: Al Gore for cutting his losses and staying out of politics for a while longer. Democrat consultant Donna Brazille for winning the Louisiana senatorial run-off for Mary Landrieu. Karl Rove and Bill Frist, obviously. Hillary Clinton, who's consolidated her power inside the Democratic Party masterfully.
Of course, there's a world beyond domestic politics (Cosmo nods approvingly). On the world stage, the winners and losers are pretty easy to find. Ariel Sharon, the most demonized Israeli prime minister in the nation's history, has managed to be seen as a popular moderate.
Meanwhile, Yasser Arafat, a grizzled and recrudescent mobster whose vanity demands respect and attention more than a heroin addict craves junk, has spent the last year trying to keep himself in the headlines and fighting to keep his peaceful subjects from ousting him and the militant ones from killing him.
Other big losers in 2002: France, which has been on the loser list so long it should start receiving its mail there, once again boiled down its geopolitical interests to behaving like the school kid who won't play at all unless he gets to be team captain.
Canada, once a staunch and valuable ally in war and peace, has been exposed to have the military might of the Rhode Island National Guard, thanks to a liberal government intent on impressing the United Nations by bad-mouthing the United States.
Saudi Arabia spent millions on a PR effort to dispel the popular perception that the desert kingdom supports terrorists, teaches hate and lives in the Dark Ages. The effort has failed largely because the Saudis do in fact support terrorists, teach hate and live in the Dark Ages.
Winners: Russia -under Vladimir Putin, the Russians managed to fully purge Soviet ideology and align their interests with America's in the war on terror. Turkey -it may not have won entry to the EU, but the relatively stable and market-oriented democracy has established itself as the role model for the entire Muslim world.
Next time in this space: winners and losers outside the realm of politics.