By Chris Cillizza
Friday, December 17, 2010; 4:15 PM
It's been a tough year in Washington, with political leaders dealing with everything from oil spills in the Gulf to saber rattling on the Korean peninsula. But it's also been a great year in Washington, depending on where you stand: The GOP took back the House, and the Democrats passed health-care reform. We've declared that Michael Steele had the absolute worst year in Washington. But, looking back on the glory and wreckage that was 2010, we'd also like to award prizes for:
Who had a bad year in Washington? Dan Snyder
2010 was supposed to be the year that the meddlesome owner of the Washington Redskins got it right. Yeah, he's been trying to get it right every year since buying the team in 1999, but this year, this year, he would let the football guys run the football team; he'd keep spending big and win big.
Snyder brought in Mike Shanahan, a two-time Super Bowl winner, to coach the burgundy and gold. He acquired Donovan McNabb, a veteran quarterback, to lead the offense. He continued to pay - and pay - for talent, with defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth set to star on defense.
Result: Pretty much the same as every other year of the Snyder Era -- dismal, disappointing and dispiriting.
Shanahan and Haynesworth spent most of the season in a way-too-public fight over defensive schemes and playing time. McNabb has proven steady but unspectacular, and Shanahan did the QB no favors when he inexplicably pulled him late in an October game against the Detroit Lions - and then benched him for the rest of the season on Friday.
The rest of the team hasn't performed much better, typified by a 17-16 home loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last weekend, when the tying extra point skipped off the fingers of holder/punter Hunter Smith with second left in the game. (The Redskins released Smith, proving that they are not above a good sacrificial lambing.)
The result before this week's trip to Dallas: A 5-8 record - better than the 4-12 disaster of 2009 but not by much - and no playoff appearance for the eighth time in 11 years.
Snyder has laid (relatively) low amid all of this. But given his track record -- and that of his team -- it's hard to imagine that silence holding into 2011.
Who had a so-so year in Washington? President Obama
Things started going downhill for President Obama early on in 2010.
Most date the decline to Jan. 19, the day Scott Brown, a little-known Republican state senator, won a special election to replace the late Ted Kennedy. That deprived Senate Democrats of the key 60th vote they needed to pass the health care bill, and the major initiative of the president's first two years stalled. A series of legislative maneuvers (eventually) led to the bill's passage, but not before lasting damage to Obama's agenda and his party's popularity had been done.
Meanwhile, the economy still sputtered, conservatives railed against a runaway federal government, and liberals screamed when the president added more troops in Afghanistan and griped further when he refused to close the Guantanamo Bay prison.
The outcome of the November election felt preordained after such a tough year. But the House Democrats' 63-seat loss - and, with it, their majority status - amounted to a historic defeat. Many of those ousted blamed the president; he acknowledged a "shellacking" and said, "It feels bad."
In a fitting end to a tough year, Obama was on the wrong end of an elbow in a pickup basketball last month - receiving a smack to the mouth and requiring a dozen stitches to close the wound.
But he didn't have the Worst Year in Washington. Because, like it or not, he managed to pass legislation reforming health care and financial regulations, and forged a bipartisan tax compromise to close out the year. Not too shabby.
Who had a better-than-expected year in Washington? Timothy Geithner
When 2010 began, the Treasury secretary was a front-runner to be the first man out of the White House's economic team.
Geithner had already withstood calls for his resignation from congressional Democrats and Republicans alike, and he was taking heavy fire for his attempts to dole out the $350 million (or so) left over in the massively unpopular Troubled Asset Relief Program.
But Geithner trudged on and on, even as his colleagues on the White House economic team fell by the wayside this year. Council of Economic Advisers chair Christina Romer? Gone. White House budget chief Peter Orszag? Gone. National Economic Council director - and professional lightning rod - Larry Summers? Almost gone.
With the passage of financial regulatory reform in July, Geithner scored a major victory that strengthened his hand over Wall Street. And with the TARP concluding in November, Geithner offered a retrospective defense that acknowledged the program's critics yet affirmed its importance. "It wasn't fair," he said of the bailouts. "But it was necessary."
While the Treasury secretary ended the year on an upswing, not everything was rosy. He was hospitalized to remove a kidney stone earlier this month (although he did get out sooner than expected), and the lack of significant economic recovery lies squarely at his feet.
Still, for a man who began the year bruised and battered, Geithner has shown he can take a punch and keep fighting.
Who had a good year in Washington? Hillary Clinton
The Clintons are nothing if not survivors. And the secretary of state proved that again in 2010 - leveraging her global celebrity and substantial political skills to great effect as the nation's diplomat-in-chief.
Clinton was everywhere in the past year, traveling to 55 countries and receiving a rock-star reception in nearly every one. Her popularity extended beyond the diplomatic crowd and into the citizenry, the sort of U.S. outreach needed after eight years of the Bush administration.
Clinton's gaze - and travel schedule - turned more often than not to Asia, echoing President Obama's focus on the region's potential as collaborator and competitor. She also worked extensively in the Middle East, even though those efforts stalled when direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians broke off this fall.
Through it all, Clinton seemed to revel in the adulation - a welcome change from the grinding negativity of the 2008 presidential primary. Her tough image was also softened with her turn as mother of the bride when her daughter Chelsea was married in August.
The year ended on a down note as Clinton coped with the controversy created by WikiLeaks and weathered the loss of Richard Holbrooke, an envoy she brought into the administration one of the country's leading international trouble-shooters.
However, it's hard to see Clinton as anything other than a winner in 2010 - a victory that proves, yet again, there are second (and third and fourth) acts in politics.
And, remember, Clinton will only be 69 years old in 2016. Just sayin'.
And who had the best year in Washington? John Boehner
John Boehner began 2010 with a vision - that Republicans could claim 40 Democratic seats and with it the House majority.
Outside of his immediate political circle, Boehner found few people who shared that vision, especially after Republicans lost a May special election for a swing seat in southwestern Pennsylvania.
But the Ohioan kept at it, traveling the country in support of candidates, donating millions of dollars from his campaign account to the National Republican Congressional Committee, and keeping his members in line and in opposition to the Obama agenda.
As summer turned to fall, Boehner's dream started to look more and more like reality.
The White House began to attack Boehner, hoping to use him - and his extensive ties to lobbyists - as a symbol of what voters would be getting if they put Republicans back in charge of the Capitol. They called him the consummate Washington insider, bankrolled by big business.
Boehner didn't take the bait, staying safely behind the scenes and keeping the party's focus squarely on Obama. "The American people have sent an unmistakable message to [Obama] tonight," he said on midterm election night, "and that message is: 'change course.'?"
That course correction means Boehner will be the 52nd speaker of the House when Congress convenes in January. It also means Boehner had the best year in Washington in 2010 - but will face the weighty responsibility of governing when the calendar turns.