Since there just aren’t enough list stories out there this year, here’s my effort to make up for this glaring deficit in American journalism. It’s three list stories in one: five newsmakers to remember in 2013, five to forget and 10 to watch in 2014.
First, five who captivated our attention this year:
• Nelson Mandela. His death brought his triumph in a lifelong fight against racial discrimination back to the fore. He was a giant among giants, a leader of the tumultuous 20th century who wrenched social change from a viciously repressive South African government and inspired the world.
• Ted Cruz. His made-for-TV faux-filibuster was one of the year’s biggest media moments. Unsuccessful in his goal of repealing Obamacare, ultimately responsible for the government shutdown, the Texas junior senator succeeded in increasing his name ID and redefining political polarization.
• Edward Snowden. The government calls him a felon and a traitor. Most of the world calls him a whistle-blower and a hero. Even as he is lambasted as an aider of terrorism (ridiculous), the Obama administration and the National Security Agency have been forced to make key reforms. And it’s not over by a long shot.
• Kathleen Sebelius. It all happened on her watch: The worst Web rollout since Al Gore invented the Internet. The repeated inquisitions on Capitol Hill, where she was by turns businesslike, exasperated and defiant. And the ongoing implementation of the Affordable Care Act itself. Has a secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services ever had a year like this one (and survived)?
• Kirsten Gillibrand: The junior senator from New York became a powerful symbol of the new order in the upper chamber. Unafraid to speak forcefully against the status quo and on behalf of the victims of a crime rarely reported or successfully prosecuted (sexual assault in the military), Gillibrand was a powerhouse in 2013.
Five to forget:
• Steve Stockman: Dogged by ethical and financial issues, Stockman decided to leave his House seat by going out in a blaze of glory, running against John Cornyn in the U.S. Senate primary in Texas. Whatever else happens, one thing is sure: He will lose.
• Steve King: The Iowa super-conservative decided against a run for the Senate – but did not shy away from controversy, with his racist remark about Mexican drug smugglers with “calves the size of cantaloupes.”
• Wayne LaPierre. Whatever you think of the National Rifle Association, does its leader have any credibility left?
• Anthony Weiner. The former congressman is not the mayor of New York City. Which is good. Because calling this sleazeball “Hizzoner” would be an oxymoron.
• “60 Minutes.” Thank goodness Mike Wallace is not around to see this onetime news paragon’s execrable self-parody. As bad as Lara Logan’s gaffe on Benghazi was, the NSA puff piece was the lowest of the low.
And 10 to watch:
• Janet Yellen: Can her progressive ideas reshape the Federal Reserve into a force to fight income disparity and increase shared prosperity?
• Paul Ryan: The budget deal and his temperate approach during the shutdown make the Wisconsin representative the leader of the sane wing of the GOP. Can he avoid being turned into chopped liver by the rabid right?
• Chris Christie: Can the New Jersey governor avoid that, too?
• Mitch McConnell: How much blame for Congress’ record-setting dysfunction will the Senate minority leader bear as he goes into a tough re-election fight?
• Hillary Clinton: Will she or won’t she?
• Joe Biden: If she won’t, he will. And gaffe machine or not, the vice president is enormously connected and a skilled retail campaigner.
• Jim Himes: The Connecticut Democrat has impressed Washington watchers as a moderate with skills and connections that belie his relative youth. This year he took a coveted Intelligence Committee post, and the financial leadership of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
• Ron Wyden: Posed to be the new chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, this Oregon Democrat will be at the center of one key issue after another.
• Rand Paul: Can the Kenntucky senator leverage tea party roots and get mainstream enough to matter in 2016?
• John Boehner: Will the House speaker be “Shutdown Boehner,” catering to the right, or “Heritage Foundation-bashing Boehner,” as he was at the end of the past session? What his next act is will have a lot to do with whether or not this Congress actually gets anything done.