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Poking Fun At Politics: A Year In Review


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. My thanks to Celeste Headlee for sitting in while I was away. Coming up, a new way to retire or keep a frail, aging loved one close. It's a new kind of prefab housing that you can set up in your back yard. We'll tell you more about it later in the program.

But first the year is wrapping up so that means it's time to look back at the best political moments of 2012. Moments that made us laugh, made us cry, made us throw our shoes at the TV. For the third year in a row, we're handing out our own Tell Me awards, black tie optional.

We'll give our prizes in categories like Best Female Performance, Lifetime Achievement, and even Best Comedy Album. Returning to the red carpet for a third year in a row is Mary Kate Cary. She's a former speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush. She's now a columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report.

And making his Tell Me Awards debut is Corey Ealons. He's a former communications advisor for the Obama administration. He's currently a senior vice president with the communications firm Vox Global. They're both here in the studio. Welcome back to you both. Happy New Year.

MARY KATE CARY: Great to be here.

COREY EALONS: Absolutely good to be here. Wish I'd gotten the note about black tie optional.

MARTIN: You're always welcome.

CARY: Yeah. I had to get a new dress this year. I couldn't wear the same one three years in a row.

MARTIN: No, no. But you're always clean, so.

CARY: For the red carpet.

MARTIN: Exactly.


MARTIN: So let's start by handing out the awards for Best New Artist. Mary Kate, you chose a best new artist who made a splash at the Republican Convention. Let's play a clip.


GOVERNOR SUSANA MARTINEZ: Growing up I never imagined a little girl from a border town could one day become a governor, but this is America. En America todo es possible.

MARTIN: So Mary Kate, that is?

CARY: That is Susana Martinez, the governor of New Mexico, the Republicans' most prominent Latina. First female Hispanic governor in the United States. And I believe she's the future of the Republican Party. She's been very vocal, especially about the way Mitt Romney handled the immigration debate. I think she's going to change the debate substantially as we head into comprehensive immigration reform in the next year.

And I think a lot of us saw her for the first time at the Republican Convention and thought, wow, who's she? And so I think she's going places.

MARTIN: Corey, you also picked a rising star who is also of Latino heritage. Who is that? Who did you pick and why?

EALONS: Julian Castro. And you know, the DNC and the RNC conventions, that's really the time where you have an opportunity to showcase your up and coming talent. And so we chose, the Democrats chose, to pick Mayor Julian Castro. He's 38 years old, mayor of San Antonio, Texas and this guy is on the move.

He really is. He has the same kind of stature as Barack Obama did eight years ago. Nobody really knew him. He kind of came from out of nowhere. And he's just a really, really strong performer. He is already being talked about in 2016 and it's been a while since we've had anyone come from the mayoralship to the presidency, but people are talking about him in that way.

And he's a wonderful, positive face for Latinos in the party. So we appreciate what he'd done so far.

MARTIN: And he's also got that Kennedy-esque thing, too, because he's got a twin brother.

EALONS: Exactly. Yes.

MARTIN: Who's also heading to the Congress.

EALONS: Exactly right.

MARTIN: And they are quite a pair. You both picked Latino politicians for your Rising Star Awards and I was wondering why that was. Corey, why do you think that is?

EALONS: Well, I think it's fairly obvious. I mean, this is the fastest-growing demographic in the country right now and I think we saw in this election the importance that they're going to play in future elections. The fact that the Republican Party basically shunted the Hispanic community this year in their doubletalk on immigration reform whereas, on the other hand, you had the Democratic Party who basically reached out and said please come in, you are one of us.

President Obama did a great move, obviously, with his executive order supporting those who wanted to stay in this country legally. And that was just an extraordinary move. So I think you have two really different ways that this is being discussed right now in the parties. And I think, again, it's the fastest-rising demographic. So you have to go where they are right now.

MARTIN: Let's turn to another category - fun or cringe-worthy depending on, you know, how you feel about this - Best Comedy Album. OK, Mary Kate, we have some tape from your pick. Let's see if anybody recognizes this gaffe.


VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Now is the time to heed the timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt, "Speak softly and carry a bit stick," end of quote. I promise you, the president has a big stick.

I promise you.



MARTIN: I'm still processing that, Mary Kate, but I think everybody recognizes that that's the vice president.

CARY: That is.

MARTIN: Why was this your pick for Best Comedy Album?

CARY: Well...

MARTIN: Was it just this one?

CARY: Oh, there was an endless supply to choose from. When I Googled top Biden gaffes, pulled up with a website of nothing but Biden gaffes and it said in caps: Updated Frequently. So that tells you there's just an endless supply.

I think he's going to give a long and happy career to Jason Sudeikis of "Saturday Night Live" and the last thing I found out about him as I was researching the Biden gaffes, which is a delightful project for an afternoon is...

MARTIN: For a Republican.

CARY: For a Republican. His nicknames: the Bidenator, Cuppa Joe, and the first lady's office calls him Captain America.

EALONS: Absolutely.


CARY: Captain America.

EALONS: Absolutely.

CARY: So he's my favorite.

EALONS: I like that one. That's a good one.

CARY: He was a hands-down winner.

MARTIN: And the problem is that now I can't get that big stick thing out of my head.

CARY: I'm so sorry.


MARTIN: Kind of - you just - it's like a mind control thing that you've got going on here Mary Kate. OK. Corey, what's your pick? Let's hear it. I can play a clip from your pick, a former Republican presidential hopeful and apparently a former Swiss citizen. Here it is.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Just quickly, I understand you just got Swiss citizenship.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What is particularly Swiss about you?

BACHMANN: Well, my husband is 100 percent Swiss and his parents were raised in Switzerland. They were married there. They came to the United States. They bought a farm in Wisconsin and raised their three sons here.

MARTIN: And that is?

EALONS: That is Tea Party leader Michele Bachmann. And quite honestly, let me just say, any of the members of the GOP primary field could have been in this category. I'm just sorry I have to say that. But the reason that Bachmann rose to the top is because she's just the gift that keeps on giving. She's like Sarah Palin squared.

I mean, it's really unbelievable. She's a walking "Saturday Night Live" skit. I mean, in addition to that comment, she also this year accused a State Department official of being an agent for the Muslim Brotherhood. Just one of these random things just out of the blue.

And then later on she actually used the comment, tar baby, talking about President Obama wielding a tar baby to try to distract people from a policy he was attempting to implement. So things just come up and come out without much thought from Michele Bachmann and that's why she's so entertaining in this way.

Some would argue that that's not comedy but I would certainly argue that it is dark comedy when it comes to Michele Bachmann.

MARTIN: No pun intended.

EALONS: None at all.



MARTIN: Just to put a bow on that, we want to point out that after the backlash Michele Bachmann put out a statement renouncing her Swiss citizenship, saying that she is a proud citizen of the United States and 100 percent committed to the U.S. constitution. Just to clarify that.

EALONS: And then she almost lost her seat this year. After all of that she almost lost her seat. So it's really extraordinary.

MARTIN: Was that funny?

EALONS: It was hilarious. Considering she won the Iowa Straw Poll. Oh, and by the way, they decided to do away with the Iowa Straw Poll. So she single-handedly killed the Iowa Straw Poll after winning it in 2011. So, again, she keeps it coming.

CARY: Not a bad thing.

MARTIN: Just pointing out that Corey is a Democrat. So it's funny if you're a Democrat. OK?


MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're handing out awards for the best and worst political moments of the year with Mary Kate Cary and Corey Ealons. Corey, now let us hear your pick for Lifetime Achievement Award.

EALONS: Well, I had to go with Barney Frank, retiring congressman from the state of Massachusetts. Just an extraordinary individual who is a really tremendous term of service in the House of Representatives. And this is a guy who, you know, say what you want to say about Barney Frank, he is feared and loved on both sides of the aisle.

People appreciate him for his intellect. People appreciate him for his commitment and for his service. And people appreciate him for his courage. I mean, he's the first openly gay man to serve in the House of Representatives of the United States Congress. It's really extraordinary. So I have to give it to Barney Frank.

And he says that now that he's leaving Congress he can really begin to speak his mind, so that - if anybody's ever heard Barney Frank speak in any way, that's something that we should all look forward to in the weeks ahead.

MARTIN: Well, what do you think he's going to speak his mind about? Has he given any clue about what he's going to turn his attention to, on what kinds of issues?

EALONS: Not really. He's really said that he wants to take it easy, but he still continues to have very strong opinions. I mean, if you know anything about Barney Frank, he's been a very strong advocate for the poor, the hungry, for those he believes that government should be in the business of serving, the least of these, basically. He's been an outstanding spokesman for them for many, many years, in addition to issues associated with gay rights. So I think those will still be two real platforms he'll continue to stand on.

MARTIN: Mary Kate, and who is your choice for a Lifetime Achievement Award?

CARY: I decided to reach across the aisle and pick an old school bipartisan Washingtonian, Senator Daniel Inouye, who we just lost recently. He was third in line for the presidency as President Pro-Tem when he died. Fifty years in the Senate, which is remarkable. His best friends were Ted Stevens and Bob Dole, who are both longtime Republican senators who were also war heroes.

He, like George H.W. Bush, found out about Pearl Harbor before he was 18 years old and was not allowed to sign up until his 18th birthday and did so then, which is remarkable, as a Japanese-American, and I think he faced tremendous obstacles within the Army, lost his arm, and won the Medal of Honor.

He was a native Hawaiian, but also an honorary member of the Navajo Nation because of all his work for Indian affairs and the last remaining senator to vote for the Civil Rights Act of '64. So quite a piece of history and really a pretty cool guy. Last word was: aloha. I thought that made him really cool.

MARTIN: We were looking up, as we were preparing - you know, sadly, to report on his passing, we were looking up the record of why he got the Medal of Honor and it really gives you chills to think about...

CARY: It's an unbelievable story.

MARTIN: ...just the incredible physical...

CARY: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...physical bravery, the incredible kind of mental focus, the drive, just the...

CARY: Yeah.

MARTIN: You know, courage almost doesn't capture it and then to think about just how young he was...

CARY: Yeah.

MARTIN: know, at the time is just really remarkable.

CARY: Corey, have you heard that story? Shortly - briefly, the story is he's on the battlefield in Italy. Germans spray his platoon with grenades. He grabs a grenade with his right hand and, as he's about to throw it back, realizes his arm is hanging barely off of his body, so he reaches over with his left hand, pries the live grenade out of his hand and throws it at the Germans and says: I hit my target. That's pretty unbelievable.

EALONS: Unbelievable.

CARY: Talk about grace under pressure, you know.

MARTIN: And then it's been reported and this is well attested because he continues the advance and then he finally loses consciousness because of all the loss of blood and the shock to his system and then he sees all the men of his platoon hovering over him. He orders them back to his position, saying, look, nobody called off the war.

CARY: Oh, my gosh.

MARTIN: You know, he just...

EALONS: Unbelievable.

MARTIN: You know, anyway...

CARY: And he was what, eighteen? Amazing.

MARTIN: So we're handing out awards for the best and worst political moments of the year. Our guests are Mary Kate Cary and Corey Ealons. I'm going to ask you to stay with us while we take a short break. When we come back, we're going to hand out trophies for best male and female performances. Please, stay with us. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.


MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, Jamaica is 50 years old. We are celebrating the golden jubilee of their most famous export - reggae music. That's later in the program and we're going to do that with a former prime minister, if you can believe that, so please stay with us.

But, first, we are celebrating the top political performances of the year here in the U.S. We're handing out the annual Tell Me Awards. Still with us are our presenters, Mary Kate Cary. She's a blogger for U.S. News and World Report. She's a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, Republican. Corey Ealons - he's a former communications advisor for the Obama administration, a Democrat. He's currently a senior vice president with the strategic communications firm, VOX Global.

Thanks for staying with us. Now, we're going to hand out the big individual awards. We'll start with Best Male Performance. We'll save the ladies. Corey, we have a clip of tape for your pick for Best Male Performance. Here it is.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggest. We're not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and forever will be, the United States of America.

MARTIN: And we have here a slightly hoarse who, Corey?

EALONS: That is one President Barack Obama, to be sure. For me, this was sort of like Time Person of the Year. If you win re-election as president, you kind of sort of win this award as far as the Tell Me Awards, but I got to give a close, close runner-up to one President Bill Clinton.

MARTIN: Mary Kate, you also have a repeat winner in this category, for people who heard our Tell Me Awards from last year. Tell us who it is and why you picked him for a second year in a row.

CARY: Yeah. I decided, if Blake Shelton can win Male Vocalist of the Year at the CMA Awards three times, Paul Ryan can win a Tell Me two years in a row. And it was a little tough. I thought it wasn't the strongest field this year on the Republican side, but I do think that Ryan - if we're talking in Grammy language, he had a crossover hit because he singlehandedly turned around the debate on entitlement reform, and specifically Medicare, that a lot of people thought was going to be a disaster for Republicans and he took the third rail of American politics - was what they call it here in Washington - the entitlement reform - and made it OK to talk about and I think that's going to have a big effect going forward.

Most Americans now, polls show, believe that entitlement reform has to be part of deficit reduction, and that wasn't true a year ago.

MARTIN: And to what do you attribute his success in reframing this argument?

CARY: I think he reminded a lot of people of Jack Kemp on the trail. I think he's a rising tide, lifts all boats kind of conservative, a happy warrior. He didn't come across as mean or nasty or hating old people or anything crazy like that, which is what the Republican caricature has been for years and I think he's got a real charisma to him that some of the other Republicans in the primaries did not have. So I think that goes a long way.

MARTIN: We're on to our last award. Drum roll, please. OK. So you can imagine the drum roll. Best Female Performance. Corey, the envelope, please.

EALONS: This one, hands down, goes to Democratic National Committee Chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is just extraordinary. I mean, that's the only word I can think of to really describe her. This is someone who has been a rising star since she arrived in Congress almost 10 years ago, or more than 10 years ago at this point, and has really taken the reigns and did something this year that people didn't think she would be able to do.

She won seats in the Senate, which Democrats were supposed to lose. We picked up seats in the House, which was supposed to be an impossibility, and then the president was reelected. And, again, Debbie Wasserman Schultz is not a booming orator. She's not someone who comes across as a looming figure as we define these things in Washington, but she's a consistent performer. She's like Eli Manning with the New York Giants; very unassuming when you talk to him or see him in interviews, but you put him on the field and he performs consistently.

MARTIN: And, finally, Mary Kate, your pick for Best Female Performance choice. I think we can actually play a clip of your mystery woman. Here it is:

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: A little girl grows up in Jim Crow, Birmingham, the segregated city of the South where her parents can't take her to a movie theater or to a restaurant, but they have her absolutely convinced that, even if she can't have a hamburger at the Woolworth's lunch counter, she could be president of the United States and she wanted to be and she becomes the secretary of State.

MARTIN: And who else could that be but...

CARY: Who could it be? Drum roll, please. It's Condoleezza Rice and a lot of competition on the Republican side, I thought, amongst the women. There was all kinds of people I wanted to pick, but I went with her because, after that speech, so many of us were left wondering, why wasn't she the nominee herself? She's a talented musician, which is important for our musical aspect here, but she's also former secretary of State, former provost at Stanford and now just...

MARTIN: Former National Security Advisor.

CARY: Former National Security Advisor and then, most recently, the Washington Post financial page named her the new face of Venture Capital and she is going into emerging markets with her business, helping investors figure out who the world leaders are that they need to know, how to navigate regulations, things like that.

So she's got some great experience that I think could make her a very formidable opponent if Hillary Clinton runs in 2016. I think that would be a great match.

MARTIN: Well, something to keep an eye on and thank you all for keeping your eyes on doings in politics all year long for us. We certainly appreciate it. Mary Kate Cary is a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush and we're going to keep a good thought for him, as well...

CARY: Thank you.

MARTIN: ...because he has not been well.

CARY: Yeah. We're all pulling for him.

MARTIN: So we're going to keep a good thought for him.

EALONS: Absolutely.

MARTIN: She's a columnist and blogger with U.S. News and World Report. Corey Ealons is a former communications advisor in the Obama White House. He's currently with the communications firm, VOX Global. They were both here in Washington, D.C.

Thank you both. Happy Holidays to you both and Happy New Year.

CARY: Thanks for having us.

EALONS: Thank you, Michel. Happy New Year.

CARY: Happy New Year.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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