If you just sort of pay attention to politics, then the entire 2012 election process would appear to be nothing but a string of embarrassing gaffes by Republican politicians you had never really heard of before this year. If it seems like a ridiculous slapdick affair, that's because it is. In this article alone we're managing to mock no fewer than three of them (Jack picked Donald Trump, Kristi takes on Rick Perry).
The point isn't that the Republican Party has been entirely replaced by crazy people -- it hasn't. To make sense of what happened in 2011, you must understand two things:
A. In America, the sitting president almost always wins re-election;
B. In America, once you lose a presidential election, the party does not allow you to run again -- they cannot bear the shame of you having been mocked by Jay Leno for three months after the election.
So on that first point, we re-elect the current president about 75 percent of the time (see: Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Nixon, Eisenhower, Truman, FDR and FDR again). On the rare occasion that the sitting president loses, it's usually due to something weird, like Ross Perot stealing Republican votes from Bush Sr. in 1992 (Clinton won with only 43 percent of the vote). Even a big loser like Jimmy Carter was tied with Reagan in the polls just weeks before election day. The system is just heavily stacked in favor of the sitting president because, as you have seen, a year before the election he gets to sit there and look presidential while the challengers on the other side play the game of monkey shit dodgeball known as the presidential primaries.
And losing to the president means your career is over -- even Al Gore, who was still young and only lost by a couple hundred votes and a Supreme Court decision, was never considered for a second try (also see: Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bob Dole). The point is, if you are a Republican who aspires to be president, you probably don't want to run in 2012. If you are smart, you play the percentages and sit it out to run in 2016. That's why prominent, popular and respected Republicans like Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee all stayed on the sidelines.
What was left, unfortunately, was the exceptionally uninteresting Mitt Romney and a ragtag group of goofball fringe candidates. Both the voters and the news media immediately went about amusing themselves by marching these characters out into the spotlight one by one to watch them combust into a flaming ball of crazy.
There was even one bizarre stretch when Donald Trump led in the polls, even though he was only pretending to run in order to drum up publicity for the new season of Celebrity Apprentice, a reality show where Meatloaf and Lil Wayne must cooperate to make balloon animals on camera (Trump has been doing this since 1988, each time pretending to run in order to get free headlines when he has a book or some other project to promote). That's oddly appropriate, because there has been something of a competitive reality show atmosphere about this, and no one epitomized this process more than Herman Cain.
Cain, if you didn't know, has never held an elected office. Not even for city council. Not even dogcatcher. He used to be CEO of Godfather's Pizza, and then became a talk radio host (even filling in for Rush Limbaugh at times). He appeared to be a Donald Trump-type candidate, somebody looking for free advertising for his burgeoning media career. Thus his early campaign appearances avoided crucial primary states in favor of book signings.
It's a no-lose proposition. Because you're running, the media HAS to cover you. If they dismiss you as a fringe huckster on a glorified book tour, they'll be accused of bias. Therefore they're required to put your name on the national news, guaranteeing prime placement for your book in all the major bookstore chains. Best of all, the campaign itself is paid for by other people, with their donations. People who don't realize it's all a sham.
But to be clear, Herman Cain had no desire to actually be president. He wanted a cushy, high-paying job as a talk show radio host and author, spending the rest of his life making millions by saying intentionally outrageous things. He treated his run as a joke at every turn -- his early campaign commercials were silly video clips that were clearly just him and his buddies fucking around:
If for some reason you can't play the above clip, let me summarize it with this still:
Then there's this one, which involves a fake actor on the set of a fake Western movie, in an impenetrable setup that doesn't seem to have anything to do with anything:
He cited the Pokemon movie as a source of inspiration. On the subject of his knowledge of the geopolitical situation around the globe, Cain said, "When they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan I'm going to say, 'You know, I don't know. Do you know?'"
Cain's sarcastic "run" for "president" was going swimmingly until a brief stretch in October and November of 2011 when suddenly Cain found he was in the lead. In that moment, according to the polls, Cain was America's number one choice to replace Obama above all 300 million other humans who live within the nation's borders. It was like an '80s comedy premise come to life: "A goofy pizza shop owner runs for president to drum up publicity, and winds up winning!"
It was the perfect snapshot of the bizarre, scary, tumultuous situation America finds itself in. All of the fear and frustration of a country that has no goddamned idea what to do next led it to turn, however briefly, to this man, who showed comically little curiosity about foreign policy or the complexities of the tax code or what the president even does.
It didn't last long. In one brief campaign-killing stretch, Cain was shown in an interview to not seem to know what a "Libya" was ...
... and then sexual harassment allegations started popping up from former employees and that was that. Cain dropped to 13 percent in the polls and then quickly dropped out, no doubt a couple million dollars in book royalties richer.
Who replaced him as the front-runner of the month? Newt Gingrich, someone else who I'm 99 percent sure only ran because he had books to sell. Then all of his skeletons will come tumbling out of the closet and this ridiculous sideshow will continue right up until the country (probably) just elects Obama again and hopes that things can somehow get better in 2013.
Growing up watching James Bond movies, I couldn't help but wonder, where are those guys? I know part of their M.O. is avoiding detection by shithead 11-year-olds in a movie theater, but nevertheless, I wondered. Where are all the surgically precise assassinations the world is so desperately in need of? I was a pretty cynical kid.
But all that cynicism has finally paid off ... in blood. Just as the Bond franchise hit the ropes in 2011, a bunch of nameless badasses kung-fu'd their way into Osama's compound, boned his secretary while surreptitiously taking her fingerprint for access to the command level, used a laser watch to cut a small circle in the ceiling directly above him, then kicked the door down and shot the part of his body encasing the brain with their powerful guns. Great plan, really. And what's more, they have to remain anonymous, allowing Internet wags everywhere to grossly misrepresent the details of their mission!
This attack on bin Laden's potato farm was a harsh blow on their food supply.
SEAL Team 6 gave me all I'd ever hoped for from my government -- that they'd dispatch a team of faceless professionals to kill people I hate. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Just like bin Laden! Oops, assassination zing! It's nice to know that even as we slide into Armageddon, our ability as a nation to find and kill the shit out of you remains unchecked.
And what a great team name. Admittedly, it's a bit of a rip-off of the team of six trained seals I used to tour with, but I'm not about to bring it up to them. Not that I could bring it up, because obviously only the members of SEAL Team 6 know who the others are, and we're really not supposed to spread the roster around or contact each other too much. Let's just say this: There are 14 Cracked columnists. Six of them update only sporadically, often with long gaps between columns. The other eight are NOT members of SEAL Team 6.
... but perhaps I've typed too much.
If there's one picture I want to remember the year by, this is it. Gabrielle Giffords, a woman who was shot in the brain, is positively glowing. The last time I heard of someone getting shot in the head and living to tell the tale, he became a hardened gangsta rapper. And while Giffords' rhyming chops remain to be seen, I'm pretty sure she's going to just continue on the path of recovering and being awesome. In a year full of earthquakes, tornadoes, Charlie Sheenish disasters and the end of the Harry Potter movies, this is what I want to remember. Life goes on.
In keeping with my theme of bullshit and the bulls that shit them, here's a bullshit move on my part: I pick Anonymous as my person of the year. Hey, Time magazine did it back in 2006. You're not holding me to a higher standard than Time, are you?
Yes, I know that Anonymous is a group, not a person, but in all fairness, they do present one public persona, one face and one mission statement.
That persona is "dangerous, irreverent asshole."
That face is this:
And that mission statement is: "I don't know ... fuck you?"
Anonymous fucks shit up because they can't think of anything better to do. And like so much of this year, that's as respectably badass as it is total bullshit. LulzSec were the most prominent aspect of Anonymous this year (even if they were only tangentially connected to Anonymous, the media still considered them one and the same), and their exploits, for better or worse, finally put some teeth in that irksome smiley face.
Among other things, LulzSec hacked Sony and released user account information, leaked contestant info from Fox and even crashed the goddamn CIA's website. They were perhaps the most effective, and certainly the most publicized, terrorist force of the year, and if you asked them toward what end they did all of it, they'd tell you it was "for the lulz."
And then they'd probably say something about mudkips.
That's apathetic, incomprehensible and borderline sociopathic. In short, it is a damned appropriate statement for this bullshit year. 2011 was the year the world asked:
"Why'd you burn that house down, son?"
And we all answered:
"Because it needed burning, sir."