The Top 10 Political Scandals of 2009

Characters like Rod Blagojevich and the state dinner crashers jazzed up 2009's list.

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By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers

It might not have reached the heights of the Watergate and Lewinsky years, but the political scandals of 2009 had something juicy for everybody. Republicans went for sex, Democrats for money, and former Gov. Sarah Palin simply bailed out on Alaska. But for sheer bizarreness, the award has to be split between the state dinner gate-crashers and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was impeached for trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat—before quitting and winning his own seat on The Donald's 2010 Celebrity Apprentice.

[See a slide show of the top 10 political scandals.]

"Sex. Greed. Greed. Sex. Wherefore does this year differ from all other years?" asks Brookings Institution political scholar Stephen Hess. Hess does have a favorite: "Scandal of the Year should be gate-crash-gate, which combines scam, security, reality TV, and two characters who are delightfully hateable."

Former Bush disaster chief Michael Brown knows a thing or two about scandals, though his resulted from a federal failure to react to Hurricane Katrina. He says "arrogance, power, insularity" are commonalities, as is the perps' belief that they won't get caught. "Should we feel sorry for these people?" he asks. "No." And in the blogosphere, small scandals sometimes grow larger. Take the Obama "beer summit" with black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and the white Cambridge, Mass., cop who arrested him. That story fizzled in the mainstream press but was the buzziest topic online in terms of volume, says Al DiGuido, head of digital marketer Zeta Interactive.

The Washington Whispers Top 10 Political Scandals of 2009:

1. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's extramarital tryst in Buenos Aires with an Argentine mistress. He's been reprimanded by the legislature and dumped by his wife.

2. Nevada Sen. John Ensign's extramarital affair with an aide who is the wife of a former aide. The Senate Ethics Committee is investigating.

3. State dinner gate crashers Michaele and Tareq Salahi. A House committee is probing how they got in without an invitation and past the White House Social Office.

4. Undercover video of ACORN workers advising conservative activists posing as a prostitute and her pimp on criminal activities, including tax evasion and human trafficking. An internal ACORN probe found no wrongdoing.

5. Sarah Palin's unexpectedly quitting as Alaska governor months after a trying vice presidential campaign. She's gone on to write her autobiography, Going Rogue, and is toying with a presidential bid in 2012.

6. The arrest of Obama pal and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates by a white Cambridge, Mass., cop, prompting the president to hold a race-laced beer summit outside the Oval Office. Since the summit, tensions in the case have eased.

7. Sen. Chris Dodd's sweetheart Countrywide loan for a Capitol Hill townhouse and handling of AIG bonuses. Dodd said he didn't seek the VIP treatment and he was cleared by the Senate Ethics Committee.

8. South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson's shout of "You lie!" during President Obama's joint session address on healthcare. Wilson said his shout was spontaneous, and he apologized.

9. Impeachment of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich amid charges he tried to sell President Obama's seat in the Senate. He did win his own seat, though, on the 2010 Celebrity Apprentice.

10. Climate-gate, the scandal over E-mails that suggest global-warming scientists used "tricks" to boost their warming theory. The scandal has dogged the climate summit in Copenhagen.

Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR.

  • Read more coverage of the political stories of the year.
  • See a gallery of political cartoons.
  • See a gallery of political caricatures.

  • Updated on 12/15/09