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As 2015 stutters to its fittingly awkward and confusing close, it’s time to reflect on the moments in politics that made us laugh, made us cry and made us say “wait… what?”
It’s an annual tradition we like to call “Our Dumb Year in Politics.”
To be clear, this listicle has some different criteria than you might see on the other political year-end lists that litter the Internet this time of year. These political moments must be head-scratching, silly or just plain dumb. They also must be pretty much inconsequential to the political landscape overall. They must be absurd. And — importantly, at a time when truly hateful rhetoric from the peanut gallery can make politics seem very deeply unfunny sometimes — they must be harmless.
Yes, we know that helpful internet commenters will tell us that “There’s nothing funny about [CANDIDATE X] destroying America!” To them, we say, best wishes for a Happy New Year!
For the rest of you, without further ado, here is Our Dumb Year in Politics.
If there’s a single news story that sums up the goofy cocktail of political mischief-making, shock polling, the appeal of “outsiders” and our shameless glee as humans in puerile puns — yeah, it’s the rise of Donald Trump. But a more, er, heartwarming story with the same elements is the rise of a different presidential candidate by the memorable name of Deez Nuts. The 15 year-old Iowan (actually named Brady Olson), managed not only to fill out an FEC form to declare his presidential candidacy, but he also asked Public Policy Polling to test him in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. When the pollster obliged — because why not? — his impressive nine percent showing briefly made him the most blush-inducing household name in American politics. As a teenager, Deez Nuts isn’t constitutionally qualified to be president, but who cares? He’s not weighed down by any of that stuffy Washington “experience” and he’s got a hell of a lotta heart. We believe in you, Deez Nuts. Thanks for being you.
The Scooby Van and the Running of the Reporters
No matter what you think of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, you’ve got to admit that it delivered a true masterstroke this summer when it comes to the art of making the press look ridiculous. In a spree of focus-grouped spontaneity, Clinton and her most trusted pals ditched their typical private planes and limos in favor of a cross-country drive in an armored shuttle dubbed “The Scooby Van.” How fun and yet down-to-earth! Clinton aides stressed to reporters that the wacky 1,000 mile caper was all Clinton’s idea. And just like all everyday Americans — of which, these same aides stressed, Clinton is one! — the ragtag band even chowed down at Chipotle, going unrecognized until media outlets launched frantic operations to procure security camera footage of the event. (We assume the whole thing will be the plot of “Spotlight II.”) But the piece de resistance came when the Scooby Van arrived at an Iowa venue and failed to stop where the assembled cameras expected, launching a full-fledged Olympic sprint by panicked journalists. The whole tableau was broadcast live on television, a cruel fate for a class of professionals not particularly renowned for their natural athleticism. In the immortal words of Thomas Roberts, though: "The guy in the orange pants is pretty quick!"
Rubio Hits a Kid in the Face With a Football
Is there anything more delightful than when a politician’s attempt to look like a regular human goes horribly awry? Marco Rubio, a football-loving dad himself, was simply enjoying a playful moment with Iowa kids when he accidentally lobbed the pigskin onto the head of a four year-old boy. The kid was uninjured and even gamely sassy about the incident, telling Rubio in a viral video that he’ll be ready next time. The exchange was, as you’d expect, reported with headlines like “WATCH: RUBIO HITS KID IN FACE WITH FOOTBALL” and the whole back-and-forth turned into a three-day story. Why? Because it was August, and we had nothing better to do. You’re welcome, America.
Bernie Sanders Assures America That He Has Numerous Pairs of Underwear
This year, comedian Larry David gave us the Bernie Sanders impression we desperately wanted but didn’t think we deserved, appearing on "Saturday Night Live" to kvetch about the state of the world and solicit change from supporters’ vacuum cleaners. The act was so dead-on that we’re pretty convinced that a significant portion of the electorate thinks that the real Bernie Sanders is actually afraid to drive through tunnels. But the crowning moment came when David-as-Sanders declared the definitive evidence that he isn’t a Washington insider: “I own one pair of underwear. That’s it!” Perhaps dazzled by David’s curmudgeonly accuracy, a reporter asked Sanders the following day about his supply of underwear, which we’re sure is what Edward R. Murrow would have done, too.
“Last week I bought my second pair of underwear,” the real Sanders replied, adding for the truly literal among us: "That is a joke. Don't write it down, that was a joke. I have an ample supply of underwear." Which is good news for a candidate whose unofficial slogan is “feel the bern.” #SeeWhatWeDidThere?
The Duds of August
Like the tides ebbing and flowing, like the arrival of the first breath of spring, the cycles of life reassure us and remind us of our place in the universe. And so, every four years, usually in late summer, there is a certain comfort to knowing that the names of famous people who will never become president get floated for presidential runs. And float they did, this summer, at the very moment when Clinton seemed to be at her weakest. For a full eight or so hours in August, “officials with knowledge of the decision” suggested that Al Gore was leaning heavily towards jumping into the race. Earlier the same week, “some” Democrats were reportedly “intrigued” by John Kerry’s meetings with a “wise man” billionaire. Even Michael Dukakis “refused to rule out a run.” That’s not even to mention Joe Biden’s emotionally wrenching months-long Hamlet act or the “Mitt Romney, Party Savior” FanFic we’ve all come to know and love. Our only relief: We’re pretty sure Kanye actually means it.
Ted Cruz Declares World Aflame, Frightens Tiny Child
If you think nothing says “folksy” like scaring the bejeezus out of a three year-old, Ted Cruz is practically Garrison Keilor, folks. At a campaign event in New Hampshire in March, the conservative firebrand warned a rapt audience of the horrors of “the Obama-Clinton foreign policy of leading from behind,” adding with flourish that “The whole world is on fire!” That last quote caught the attention of three-year old tot Julie Trant, who took the hyperbole literally and expressed understandable alarm. Chuckling, Cruz confirmed his earlier statement, even adding a personal touch. “YOUR world is on fire!” he clarified. To be fair, the Texas senator added a note of reassurance, saying “Your mommy's here, and everyone's here to make sure that the world you grow up in is even better." Precious moments, indeed.
Poor Lincoln Chafee and the Metric System
Not content with being a deeply unpopular ex-governor with a heart as big as his own home state, Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee took it upon himself this year to use his presidential run to show us the wisdom of kilometers and Celsius. “Here's a bold embrace of internationalism: let's join the rest of the world and go metric,” he said in his announcement speech. Chafee’s quixotic run otherwise only made headlines for his single — and disastrous — debate performance. But his call for metric parity launched a flurry of thinkpieces about whether or not we should trade in our gallons and ounces for liters and grams. He dropped out after failing to top one percent in national polling. So pour one out for Lincoln Chafee, America. Preferably in cubic millimeters.
Donald Trump’s Physician Letter
You knew we were going to get to Trump sooner or later, didn’t you? There are perhaps too many examples of quotes and claims from Trump that are bombastic or generally laughable even to those who agree with his political views. So instead of referencing The Donald’s own rhetoric directly, we’ll point to the Manhattan gastroenterologist who penned a letter about Trump’s health with hyperbole that out-Trumped Trump himself. (By the way, Trump originally tweeted that the letter came from Dr. Jacob Bornstein, who died in 2010. But we’ll set that aside, because it is not nearly the weirdest part of this story.) From the actual doctor who wrote the letter, Harold Bornstein, we learned that Trump is not just healthy; his lab results were “astonishingly excellent!” and his “physical strength and stamina are extraordinary!” And of course, there’s this line for the ages: “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” Of course, the only way to know that for sure is to assemble all former presidents, living and dead, and make each one challenge a bear to a televised fist fight. Which, if that happened, would not even be the weirdest part of this campaign.
Happy New Year, everyone!