Fare Thee Well, 2004!
All in all, it was a pretty good year
Of course some will disagree—Bush was re-elected, the war in Iraq continues to simmer, federal spending actually makes inebriated sailors look tight-fisted and the last episode of “Friends” aired. But, given all the craziness in the world today, 2004 could have been worse—and, remember, things could always get worse (imagine Boy George and Culture Club reuniting).
When they don't, just thank your lucky stars and leave it at that.
So, as we prepare for this year to give way to 2005, let's take a look back on some of the good, the bad, the ugly and the entertaining events that were part of the 365 days past.
Man of the Year—Time recently dubbed George W. Bush its "Man of the Year" for 2004. I respectfully disagree. Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko deserves the honor.
As we've since learned, during his first election "Yush" was poisoned by opponents with enough Dioxin to knock off him and the Ukranian national soccer team. Instead, he somehow managed to live but his face was left horribly disfigured. Nevertheless, the candidate soldiered on only to have the election stolen through widespread voter fraud and intimidation.
Most candidates would have cashed in whatever chips they had left and hoped to God that another assassination attempt wasn't coming down the pike. Not Yush.
In moves reminiscent of Lech Walesa, Vacel Havel, Nelson Mandela and Boris Yeltsin, Yuschenko and his supporters (the majority of Ukranians) took to the streets of Kiev and insisted on a fair and honest election—a point that would quite literally determine Ukranian independence and the nature of Ukranian democracy.
They won and, by the time this is printed, Yushchenko should be the newly-elected president of Ukraine.
For guts, grace and tenacity in the face of political attacks that make any 527(c) look like a United Way campaign, Vicktor Yushchenko wins in “Payne's World,” hands-down.
Despot of the Year—No, it's not Kim Jong Il or the mullahs running Iran. And, MoveOn.org, it's not John Ashcroft, either. This honor was taken going away in 2004 by Russian president Vladimir (Ras)Putin.
Imagine the reaction in this country if the Bush administration jailed Teresa Heinz Kerry for trumped up charges then systematically dismantled and sold-off the Heinz Corporation in retaliation for Heinz supporting someone other than George W. Bush. But that's exactly what Putin did in his own country.
After Mikhail Khodorkovsky—chief executive of YUKOS, Russia's second largest oil and gas corporation—began dabbling in politics while funding liberal political groups that opposed Putin, he was soon arrested and YUKOS put on the chopping block.
That's just the tip of the iceberg. Political and economic freedoms have become so restricted in Putin's Russia that Freedom House—a nonpartisan, nonprofit foundation—downgraded Russia from "partly free" to "not free" status.
A few years ago, Boris Yeltsin famously stood on a tank and rallied pro-democracy forces, saving the fledgling Russian democracy. Today, Putin is in the tank's driver seat and steamrolling right over them.
Best political talk show moment—Jon Stewart's schooling of Crossfire hosts Paul Begala and, in particular, Tucker Carlson was classic. Stewart, making the point to Carlson that the show was little more than political theater: "How old are you?" Carlson: "35." Stewart: "And you wear a bow tie?"
My favorite line out of Stewart? "No, I'm not going to be your monkey."
If you haven't seen the whole exchange, Google it. It's still on the Internet.
"Why the %#!& did we take pictures?!" moment—Photos of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees at the now notorious Abu Ghraib prison spilled into the public realm.
"Amnesia" is a French word, isn't it? Heads of state and thousands of World War II war veterans—including many American GIs—gathered in France to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, which resulted in the eventual liberation of that country from Nazi rule.
"Gay baiters" of the Year—John Kerry and John Edwards for going out of their way during the presidential and vice-presidential debates to remind the nation that Dick Cheney has a gay daughter—not that there's anything wrong with that.
Public overreaction of the year—The saga of Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at the Super Bowl halftime show. Forget the "family friendly" ads for beer, erectile dysfunction and flatulence, that two-second shot of Jackson's partially exposed boob darn near brought down the Republic!
Mommy Dearest moment—The way Nancy Reagan practically shunned Michael Reagan (adopted by Ronald Reagan during his first marriage) at the funeral service of the late president.
Great exit of 2004—The memorial service of President Ronald Reagan. Set atop a hill at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., as the sun was setting. The eulogies and service ended literally as the sun dipped below the horizon. A "Hollywood moment"? Sure. But man, did it win one for the Gipper.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. Payne, a former city councilor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.