The best of times, the worst of times — and the silliest

One of the most famous New Yorker cartoons of all time shows two men in 19th-century garb, one sitting behind a desk and clearly a boss of some sort, the other in the boss’s guest chair leaning anxiously forward. The boss is speaking. Caption: ”I wish you would make up your mind, Mr Dickens. Was it the best of times or was it the worst of times? It could scarcely have been both.”

The cartoon is memorable because it skewers the pedantry behind the demand for neat categories. Life, as Dickens suggested, is always both. And so is politics. Without further ado then, some nominees for the best and worst of the campaign just concluded.

Best speech
Others may be better known, but Barack Obama’s thunderous oration at the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner on November 10 2007 was a turning point. He was stuck in neutral, and Hillary Clinton looked inevitable. Then he tore the roof off the place.

Remember, if he’d lost the Iowa caucuses, he may well have been forced out of the contest. The momentum that led to his Iowa victory began that night.

Worst pre-campaign political decision with the benefit of hindsight
Hillary Clinton’s vote for the Iraq war. She couldn’t have known how badly the war would go of course. But if she’d voted against it, it’s entirely possible that Obama never even would have run in the first place. Being the only top-level candidate against the war was his chief selling point to Democratic primary voters.

Worst candidate
Many conservatives predicted that Republican Fred Thompson would unite the party and be the answer to their prayers when he entered the race in mid-2007. Instead he always looked like he was wondering ”God, when will this be over?” He once even refused to don a firefighter’s hat for a photo-op, saying ”I’ve got a silly hat rule.” Earth to Fred: hats that people wear when saving little children from fiery deaths aren’t ”silly”.

Worst campaign
Easy. Rudy Giuliani’s, specifically his decision to skip the first four GOP primary contests. You know — the ones that mattered.

Best Clinton moment
Hillary’s New Hampshire comeback. Not only the famous crying episode, but the moment when she ”found my own voice”.

Worst Clinton moment
Hillary’s gaffe when she said she had come under sniper fire when arriving in the Bosnian city of Tuzla? Nah. Hillary saying she and McCain had commander-in-chief credentials while Obama had ”a speech he made in 2002”? Getting warmer. But I choose Bill’s comparison of Obama’s South Carolina win to Jesse Jackson’s wins in the state in the 1980s. Both Clintons did their part against John McCain, but the Big Dog’s primary season comportment isn’t completely forgiven or forgotten.

Worst Obama moment
In a New Hampshire debate, saying snidely to Hillary: ”You’re likeable enough.” Cringe-inducing. He’d better keep that arrogant streak bottled up for four years.

Worst press conference
The controversial preacher Jeremiah Wright’s preening appearance at the National Press Club, April 28 2008. The lowlight: the head of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, ”is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century”. Thanks a lot, Jer.

Best ”Man, thank God that guy didn’t win the primary” moment
August 8, when John Edwards finally acknowledged his extramarital affair with Rielle Hunter – conducted while his wife had cancer. His career is over. Silver lining: not everyone has a 29,000 sq ft house (2,700 m2) to go home to.

Worst McCain lie
Amid stiff competition, the nod goes to the television spot in which he accused Obama of cancelling a visit to American troops in Germany because he couldn’t take cameras in to capture the moment. Completely false, as he almost had to know at the time, and a particularly toxic allegation.

Best Sarah Palin moment
Her convention speech. Like her or not, it was a rip-snorter. Remember when Democrats were nervous that she might actually be an asset to the Republican ticket?

Worst Sarah Palin moment
Well … golly, let’s see. The shopping spree? Not quite, because the damage had largely already been done by then. Clearly, the winner here is the interview with Katie Couric. It killed her. And as for the worst Palin micro-moment within the worst Palin moment, I’d have to go with the fact that she couldn’t name a single supreme court decision in the entire history of the country besides the abortion decision Roe v Wade. This was of course before we learned that she didn’t know what countries constitute North America.

Best classic Joe Biden moment
His remark in late October that Obama would be ”tested” in his first six months in office by hostile world leaders was clearly his most off-message remark of the campaign. But Biden showed pretty good discipline — for Biden — through most of the campaign. And he probably did help in Pennsylvania, where Obama rolled.

Best debate moment
Obama’s wins in the debates weren’t so much about moments as they were steadiness and consistency. But forced to choose one parry I’ll take this one, from the first debate: ”John, you like to pretend the war started in 2007 … The war started in 2003. And at the time, when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy.”

Worst debate moment
Easy. Second debate. McCain. ”That one!” Nuff said.

Worst strategic decision
McCain’s suspension of his campaign after the financial crisis hit. It was a bid to look serious, but it looked gimmicky. Obama’s more sure-footed response to the meltdown is probably what won him the election more than any other single factor.

Best John McCain moment
His speech at the Al Smith Dinner in New York, October 17, where he was both funnier and more gracious than Obama was in his remarks. ”Whatever the outcome next month,” McCain said, ”Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country and I congratulate him.” Where was this guy the rest of the time?

Worst Joe the Plumber moment
His attempt in an interview to defend his belief that Obama’s election would mean the death of Israel. The television anchor was aghast and said: ”Man. Some things — it just gets frightening sometimes.” And this was on Fox News, folks!

Best moment for America and the world
Election night.

Best upcoming airplane ride to look forward to
Next January 20, when George W Bush takes his last trip on Air Force One, back to Texas. – guardian.co.uk

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Michael Tomasky
Guest Author

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