The single biggest event of 2004 was the Election Day exit poll, which, like John Steinbeck's "The Short Reign of Pippin IV," made John Kerry the president for a few moments.
But in a move that stunned the experts, American voters chose "moral values" over an America-bashing trophy husband and his blow-dried, ambulance-chasing sidekick.
The second biggest event in 2004 came on Sunday, Dec. 26, when The New York Times referred to an organization as a "liberal research group." (I think it may have been the Communist Party USA, Trotskyite wing, but, still, it's progress.)CBS eminence Dan Rather was driven off the air in disgrace after he tried to take down a sitting president by brandishing Microsoft Word documents he claimed were authentic Texas Air National Guard memos from the '70s. By liberals' own account, the pompous blowhard was exposed by people sitting around their living rooms in pajamas.
John Kerry's meal ticket, Teresa Heinz, continuously made remarks that were wildly inappropriate, such as when she strangely referred to the "seven-year itch" in relation to herself and John Kerry, creating at least three images I didn't want in my head. On the other hand, for any voters who considered the most important campaign issue to be whether the first lady was an earthy, condescending foreigner who had traveled extensively and spoke several languages, Teresa was a huge asset.Surprisingly, Teresa never became a major campaign issue. It turned out that supporters of a phony war hero who preyed on rich widows were also OK with the notion of a first lady who might use the F-word during Rose Garden press conferences.
By the same token, anyone who was put off by the not-so-affable Eva Peron of American politics already didn't like John Kerry -- thanks largely to John O'Neill and the Swiftboat Veterans. Like the archers of Agincourt, John O'Neill and the 254 Swiftboat Veterans took down their own haughty Frenchman.
Meanwhile, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom is nipping at O'Neill's heels as the man second-most responsible for Bush's re-election. Thanks largely to Newsom's hard work, gay marriage was big news all year. In retrospect, the Democrats would have been better off if they had found every gay guy in America who actually wanted to get married and offered each one a million dollars in exchange for the Democrats not having to talk about gay marriage. (Finally -- a problem that could have been solved by throwing money at it!)
On the basis solely of media coverage, Abu Ghraib was the biggest story of 2004, maybe the biggest story ever. And for good reason: An American soldier was caught on film not only humiliating Iraqi prisoners -- but smoking! The New York Times even had to drop its coverage of Augusta National Golf Course to give Abu Ghraib due prominence. Only the Rumsfeld autopen scandal was big enough to knock Abu Ghraib off the front page. I personally haven't been so singularly disturbed by an atrocity since I had to sit through all of "The Matrix: Reloaded." By contrast, the least important story -- again, judging by media coverage -- was the peculiar development of a Clintonite caught trying to get into his own pants. Sandy Berger was spotted by National Archives staff repeatedly stuffing top-secret documents into his undergarments in preparation for defending the Clinton administration's record on fighting terrorism before the 9/11 Commission. If you happened to take a long nap the day the Berger story broke, you would have missed it entirely.
On the bright side, The New York Times has adopted an all-new standard for covering the extramarital affairs of public figures. With no fanfare, the Times quickly abandoned its earlier position that a U.S. president molesting White House staff -- including while on the phone discussing sending troops into battle -- is not news. The new rule rolled out for Bernie Kerik makes extramarital affairs major front-page news deserving of nonstop coverage, even after the public figure has withdrawn his name from consideration for any government office. American hero Pat Tillman won a Silver Star this year. But unlike Kerry, he did not write his own recommendation or live to throw his medals over the White House fence in an anti-war rally. Tillman was an American original: virtuous, pure and masculine like only an American male can be. The stunningly handsome athlete walked away from a three-year, $3.6 million NFL contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the U.S. military and fight in Afghanistan, where he was killed in April. He wanted no publicity and granted no interviews about his decision to leave pro football in the prime of his career and join the Army Rangers. (Most perplexing to Democrats, he didn't even take a home movie camera to a war zone in order to create fake footage for future political campaigns in which he would constantly palaver about his military service and drag around his "Band of Brothers" for the media.) Tillman gave only an indirect explanation for his decision on the day after 9/11, when he said: "My great grandfather was at Pearl Harbor, and a lot of my family has gone and fought in wars, and I really haven't done a damn thing as far as laying myself on the line like that." He said he wanted to "pay something back" to America. He died bringing freedom and democracy to 28 million Afghans -- pretty much confirming Michael Moore's view of America as an imperialist cowboy predator. There is not another country in the world -- certainly not in continental Europe -- that could have produced a Pat Tillman.
On the anniversary of D-Day, as Americans like Pat Tillman risked their lives to liberate 50 million Iraqis and Afghans, in a year when Americans poured into theaters to see a movie about Christ and reaffirmed their support for moral values at the polling booth, America's greatest president died. Ronald Reagan appealed to what is best about America and so transformed the nation that we are now safe to carry on without him.