Paul Jacob

'Tis been the season of presents, rewards, awards. Now political awards?

Often, awards in politics are suspect. I remember the local pol who won an award as a champion of something-or-other. A bit later, it came out that the group awarding the politician was founded and run by ? you guessed it ? that same politician.

As you'll see, my awards don't work that way.

The Biggest Hypocrite Award

Awards for hypocrisy are always the most competitive. Of course, members of Congress have long dominated the winner's circle, and this year was no exception.

Runner-Up: Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland

In July, Hoyer condemned House Republican leaders for holding floor votes open ? when GOP leaders were losing ? until they had twisted enough arms, i.e., dangled enough district pork or campaign cash, to change a losing vote into a winning one.

Hoyer said Republicans were "running roughshod over the most basic principles of democracy." Adding that, "These back-alley tactics have no place in the greatest deliberative body in the world."

Republicans countered that Democrats did the same thing when they controlled the House. So, Hoyer was asked a simple question: Was he saying Democrats would behave differently if they gained the majority in the House?

"I am not," said Hoyer.

First Place: Congressman Charles Rangel of New York.

Rangel spent the whole year blabbering on the television about his bill to reinstate the military draft. Then when it came up to a vote, he voted AGAINST his own bill. Actually, it is likely Charley's best vote ever. A draft is wrong and destructive. But, it was his bill. To cinch the award, Rangel accused the GOP leadership of being "hypocritical" and "playing politics" with the legislation.

Now that's congressional experience for you! Rangel, the 34-year veteran, wins hands down.

Best Junket Explanation Award

Politicians like free vacations. But, how to explain?

Arkansas House Speaker Herschel Cleveland is term-limited and won't return to the legislature this session. Still, he took several trips at taxpayer expense in 2004. One was to an Energy Council event in Alaska. His justification? "I am working on this alternative fuels stuff. If the thing in the Middle East blows up and we don't have the fuel we need, we're going to be in trouble."

Cleveland is our winner here. Funny that in November, Arkansas voters slammed an attempt by Cleveland and other legislators to lengthen their stays in office, 70 to 30 percent. (Could that trigger a global energy crisis?)

The I-Vote-Communist Award

This award is usually known as "The Best Argument for Term Limits Award," but in honor of this year's recipient, termed-out Michigan House Speaker Rick Johnson, we've adjusted the name. In a departing interview, Johnson told reporters:

You know there isn't the relationship-building that there used to be. And what goes with that is there isn't the voting trade-offs there used to be. You know, where you voted for my bill so I agree to vote for your bill. The example I like to use is the Rep. Ed Gaffney bill . . . I said that's the most communist bill I ever heard of. I voted for it. I voted for it because Ed Gaffney voted for my charter bill. He voted for mine, and I voted for his.

The Fattest Pig Award for the Biggest Pork-Barrel Spenders

It takes a lot of something to spend a lot of money on a lot of nothing. And you know who has what it takes!

Runner-up: Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa

The year began with a rousing success for the most likely candidate for the award, Senator Grassley. He's served in Congress for 30 years, obviously at least one year too long, since in January his plan to build a rain forest in Iowa was funded by Congress.

Yes, a rain forest. In Iowa. The cost? $50 million. The idea is idiotic on the surface. Dig down and . . . it's still idiotic.

But to single out Grassley for reckless, extravagant spending would be unfair. The indoor rainforest may be one of the most expensive and ludicrous items to get into an omnibus bill, but it was just one of thousands. And the sheer volume of idiocy, prodigality, and recklessness means the award must go to Congress as a whole.

First Place: 535 Grunting Spenders

After all, almost everybody in Congress crawls all over each other constantly for a chance to grab the gold or the taxpayer's wallet; whatever's in reach. So let's take off our hats to the $388 billion appropriations bill of 2005 ? Congress's latest ominous, I mean, Omnibus bill ? which has more than 11,000 of the special-interest earmarks we call pork. They've stuffed in $3.5 million for buses in Atlanta, $2 million to relocate a kitchen in Alaska, $100,000 going to the Punxsutawney Weather Museum in Pennsylvania. The list goes on and on. It's a complete abandonment of rationality and principle. It's worth an award.

The F Award

The Brennan Center studied the New York State Assembly from 1997 to 2002, and discovered that during that time every single one of 11,474 bills that hit the floor in either chamber passed. None failed. That's not democracy, that's the efficiency of Saddam Hussein.

And less than one percent of the bills even had a public hearing.

Joseph Bruno, the leader of New York state's senate, wins our award. Why? His response to the study was refreshingly honest: "When I study civics, if I were relating to my civics classes, I would fail as a senator. I'd get an F as a leader. I'd get an F-minus, if there is such a thing. You've got to get in the real world."

Well, Mr. Bruno, we've seen your actions as they've tilted New York's "real world," and we have only one question: in civics classes, do they give F minus grades?

The Judicial Inactivism Award

This award goes for the court decision that upholds the most unconstitutional and disastrous law. This year's winner is the U.S. Supreme Court for upholding the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Act in late 2003 and thus allowing Congress to silence criticism against them during this past year's elections.

Under the law, in addition to muzzling issue groups, incumbent fundraising went up 20 percent, while challengers fundraising was down six percent. Once again, the congressional re-election rate is over 98 percent.

For Congress, the law is working!

The Shame of the Nation Award

Our final award marks the most disturbing development of the year, the event that casts the darkest shadow across our country.

Runners-up: Buick Boat Hijackers

In any normal year, the Buick Boat scuttling would have won hands down.

You see, Luis Grass Rodriguez had a great idea: take a 1959 Buick, replace the wheels with a propeller, seal it up, fill the fenders with foam, add a steel bow, then launch it from Cuba, navigating the sea to Florida.

To freedom.

But that's not what he found. The majority of his companion "autonauts" were sent back to Cuba, and he was put in detention (prison) awaiting asylum proceedings. Oh, and the hijackers sunk his Buick. Later the U.S. diplomatic corps went into high gear getting Costa Rica to accept Mr. Grass and veterans of similar argosies.

That's why we have satellite nations, folks, to take our unwanteds. You know, inventive, courageous freedom lovers like Mr. Luis Grass Rodriguez. America, apparently, is no longer a place for the likes of them.

First Place: The Neo-Torturers

This year was a year of infamy. And one picture captured its lowest point: a row of Iraqi men, prisoners, standing naked but hooded, while an American female soldier taunts them.

Humiliation of this sort is not only against the Geneva Conventions, it's profoundly un-American. George Washington, when he was general ? long before becoming our First President ? set a good precedent by carefully instructing his troops to treat captured enemies with humanity and dignity.

The practices used at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and elsewhere, are repulsive, immoral, and a p.r. nightmare. They have also yielded little good information. Torture isn't new, and information professionals have long known how little evidence there is for the idea that torture provides reliable information. It merely reflects on the perpetrators. In our enemies' minds, it justifies their own atrocities. Torture, a method of terror, nurtures terrorism while pretending to fight it.

But who gets the award? It certainly does not appear to be just a few "bad apples" on the ground. Who's ultimately responsible?

That's a resolution I'd like to see in 2005. Let me know what you think: email me. And have a Happy New Year!


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.