Newsweek: Butterfly Ballot in 2000, Obama as 2004 Dem Keynoter 'History-altering Decisions'

As part of an ongoing retrospective of the the first decade of the 21st century, Newsweek has ginned up a boatload of top 10 lists and assigned some Hollywood celebrities and Washington politicians to pen brief blurbs to accompany some of the entries. One such list, the top 10 "History-Altering Decisions" of 2000-2009 has at least two such entries that are worthy of addressing here: Actor/comedian Dennis Leary's "Florida Uses Butterfly Ballots" [ranked #6] and Sen. John Kerry's self-congratulatory "Kerry Picks Obama to Give Keynote 2004 DNC Address" [ranked #1].

Befitting Newsweek's biases, Leary and Kerry's entries point to Obama as an almost messianic figure, as though he were the literal object of history, or at least the last 10 years of American history.

First, Leary opined about how one dramatic moment can set in motion a chain of events can profoundly affect history, in effect comparing the assassin's bullet that ended John Kennedy's life with the butterfly ballots used in 2000 in some Democrat-friendly Florida counties:

I believe in the power of one thing leading to another. The assassination of JFK leads to national mourning, which leads to public sympathy for his programs, which leads to LBJ getting the Civil Rights Act passed into law....The “butterfly ballot”—a confusing two-option punch system inflicted on a crucial slice of Florida’s voters in 2000—was part of the same type of progress. As a country we should thank it for the eventual presidency of Barack Obama. As an individual I should thank it for the movie Recount and my subsequent Emmy nomination for playing the role of Democratic operative Michael Whouley. Of course, the butterfly (ballot, not insect) first gave us eight years of George Bush Jr., a privileged son with a frat-house brain and a truly astonishing lack of talent for speaking in public. But at the end of the chain we ended up with our first African-American president, a man whose penchant for reaching out to the rest of the world landed him the additional title of Nobel laureate. The headlines should have read: “World to America: We’re Ready to Forgive You.” Not a bad trade-off. Obama wins the peace prize, I lose an Emmy. Guess I took one for the team. Thank you, butterfly ballot.

Of course, the world was at peace and the economy was generally doing well in late 2000, so if Al Gore were anywhere need a competent campaigner, he should have easily cruised to victory, but that's a far less sexy a narrative than blaming Gore's loss on a ballot design chosen by Democratic elections official Theresa LePore.

What's more, Al Gore's pro-gun control record arguably did great damage to his chances in the South, particularly West Virginia and Tennessee, two states Bill Clinton won in 1996 and the latter of which was Gore's home state. But again, those considerations don't aid the favored narrative, the hero of which is Barack Obama.

For his part, John Kerry was given a chance to take a victory lap for choosing Barack Obama, then an Illinois state senator, to be the 2004 Democratic convention's keynote speaker. Kerry used his write-up to impress upon his readers his view that, for our country's sake, Obama's presidency "must" be successful:

When I met Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, I had no idea that he was just a few years from the White House. Indeed, I had my own plans to start a second term in 2009. My view of him began to change over dinner in Chicago, as Barack and I traded stories — about our experiences abroad, and the lessons handed down by our parents. When we campaigned together at a steel plant the next morning, I wondered for the first time whether Barack’s “someday” could come sooner than his supporters ever thought. A few weeks later, my campaign manager, Mary Beth, and I decided that he was perfect for our upcoming convention in Boston. He was still a relatively unknown state legislator, of course, and still just a candidate for the U.S. Senate, but we felt his classic American story—with its themes of unity, inclusiveness, and change, and its vision of how to make politics more relevant to everyday people—represented the future of the party. We still didn’t realize how soon that future would get here. I didn’t know that less than four years later I’d be endorsing him for president. What I do know now is that all Americans need to tap into the unity of purpose he described in Boston that magical evening in 2004. We need his presidency to be a successful one.

To be fair, there is a little something to be said for Obama's 2004 keynote and how it set the stage for the worshipful media coverage -- think Chris Matthews's immediate "a star is born" reaction to Obama's '04 keynote -- that paved the way for his Democratic nomination in 2008.

But again, exploring how the media were in the tank to promote Obama is not something that fits the Newsweek narrative.

Campaigns & Elections Newsweek Government & Press History Celebrities Theresa LePore John Kerry Denis Leary