Charlie Sheen was clearly the man of the year.
You'll recall that 2011 began with the oafish actor celebrating his own narcotic and sexual crapulence like a victorious gladiator working the crowds. He was egged on by a media with as much decency as the cons on the top tiers of the prison who chant "fresh fish" as the new inmates walk into general pop, their eyes stinging from delousing powder.
Mr. Sheen succeeded at turning his own debasement into a national pseudo-event by calling the very definition of losing "winning."
And that's what 2011 was all about: pretending to be winning while really losing. Mr. Sheen's Hollywood compatriots played the same game. Kim Kardashian, fresh from the "success" of her sex tape, parlayed her celebrity into a "classy" wedding that netted her millions and 72 days of marital bliss. Poor Lindsay Lohan, meanwhile, merely found victories in reduced jail time.
Speaking of jail time, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich started the year by trying to translate his crimes into a lucrative career as a reality-show star and ended it with a prison sentence.
In January, a deranged madman killed a bunch of people in Arizona and horribly wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. It was a true tragedy, disgustingly exploited by liberals who saw it as the perfect opportunity to demonize political opponents. Against the weight of logic, facts and decency, allegedly serious people claimed that a map on Sarah Palin's Facebook page inspired the shooter.
The Tucson tragedy also let Barack Obama deliver perhaps the best speech of his presidency — on the need to tone down the extreme rhetoric on both sides. Alas, when liberals lecture "both sides," they mean, "Everyone who disagrees with me should shut up."
By summer, Democratic operatives and liberal New York Times columnists alike (a subtle distinction, I know) were decrying Republicans as "hostage takers" (Mr. Obama) and "terrorists" (Joe Biden) and the tea party as "the Hezbollah faction" of the GOP (NYT columnist Tom Friedman) with nary a peep of protest from the champions of civility.
Speaking of protest, consider the Occupy Wall Street movement. Not since the Hebrews killed themselves at Masada has there been a group that more obviously won by losing. Of course, the Jews at Masada were freedom fighters battling Roman imperialism. The Occupy Wall Streeters think they're fighting imperialism when they throw a tantrum about having to pay their debts.
The Occupy movement's meager tangible accomplishments (We recycled our own urine!) are inversely correlated with their lavish press coverage. The protesters were named Time magazine's person of the year. Though in fairness, Time diluted its sycophancy by including the Arab Spring protesters who've (so far) ushered in a glorious new era of Islamism in places like Egypt. Winning!
(Though perhaps not as clear-cut a "win" as President Obama's decision to declare political victory and pull our troops out of Iraq prematurely, so we can lose a war we sacrificed so much to win.)
Back home, tea party politicians who truly won historic midterm election victories are cast as dangerous losers. The Occupiers lost their bongs and yurts to bulldozers in cities across America, but museums around the country are nonetheless desperate to acquire authentic Occupy movement artifacts to commemorate their glorious but unspecified successes. Unfortunately, the tea parties cannot work the refs of history this way, because they clean up their mess after they get together.
No word if the Smithsonian collected some genuine Occupier scat to be preserved next to the alleged specimens from the Yeti and Sasquatch. Lord knows they left enough behind for others to scoop.
And so it goes. The economy continued to languish while the president declared victory over a Depression that never was and touted himself as the most legislatively successful president ever — with the "possible exceptions" of FDR, LBJ and Lincoln.
Meanwhile, we are approaching the third year of the long winter Obama once celebrated as a "recovery summer." Its chief selling points are an unemployment rate statistically lowered by more Americans giving up hope of finding a job, and the claim that millions of jobs have been "created or saved." This bogus locution allows Mr. Obama to claim every job he doesn't destroy as a win.
And let us not forget the Republicans, whose feckless squad of A-Team candidates stayed on the bench for fear of joining the mosh pit of cannibalism the primary has become, setting the stage for a potential loss in 2012 that not even Charlie Sheen will be able to spin as a victory.
Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.