The year 2013 was a roller coaster of contrasts with some surprises. Here's a best and worst list:
The Worst Non Scandal, Self-Inflicted Political Damage: President Barack Obama. A new ABC News-Washington Post poll finds record numbers of Americans now disapprove of his job performance. The Post notes that these numbers are "all the more striking when compared with his standing a year ago, as he was preparing for his second inauguration after a solid reelection victory. That high note proved fleeting as the president faced a series of setbacks, culminating in the botched rollout of his Affordable Care Act two months ago."
The Worse Use of Money by a Political Party: The money the Republican National Committee spent on a political "autopsy" after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and the GOP were soundly defeated in the 2012 elections. Advice that the party should tip-toe towards the center and reach out to women, gays, and Latinos and harp less on social issues than far-right ideological dogma was totally ignored and the party seemingly moved further right.
Best Political Comeback: Rep. Paul Ryan. When he ran as Mitt Romney's Veep, fact-checkers almost had to put in for workmen's compensation documenting Ryan inaccuracies, which he'd nonetheless repeat in speeches. His presence on the ticket did little to help Romney. His role in a bipartisan budget compromise led analysts to paint him as an adult in the room not focused exclusively on ideology. He now seems inching back to a harder stand.
Worst Self-Inflicted Damage to a Political Party: No, it wasn't the Republican government shutdown, a Ted Cruz Production. Democrats potentially suffered major long-term damage due to the disastrous Obamacare website rollout, coupled with Americans learning Obama wasn't correct in saying they could keep their insurance, which battered the party's argument that if Americans trusted government it could effectively improve their lives. Obama and the Democrats came out looking like they'd say anything to get health care reform and couldn't administer it when they got it.
Best TV Series and Best Series Ending: "Breaking Bad," Vince Gilligan's award-winning cable series about high school chemistry teacher Walter White's steady descent into evil was perfectly written and cast, with stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul putting in performances that will be studied by actors for years. It contained no "filler," and its ending was perhaps the best dramatic series ending in TV history.
Worst TV Series Ending: The Dexter finale. In its early seasons Dexter had been a great show based on a superb series of books by Jeff Lindsay about a Miami Police blood spatter pattern analyst who is secretly a serial killer. The series deviated from the books and plotting became more strained. By its finale, Dexter was a series whose cut-up body parts should have been buried a season or two earlier.
Best Talk Show Host for Independents, Centrists, and Moderates: Michael Smerconish on XM radio. Some talk the talk. Smerconish walks the walk.
Best Pizza: Still Pepe's in New Haven, Conn., with New Haven's URBN, which now has restaurants in San Diego and San Francisco, a close second.
Best Book on John F. Kennedy, Jr. and his assassination: "The Kennedy Half Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy" by Larry Sabato. Sabato examined every utterance by Presidents after JFK to gauge his influence and conducted new tests on assassination evidence.
Best Political Sound Bite: House Speaker John Boehner on conservatives who forced the government shutdown saying they didn't expect to win. "Are you kidding me?"
Worst Politician Sex Scandals: Serial sex harasser Bob Filner resigned as San Diego mayor and was sentenced to 90 days in home confinement, probation, and fines totaling about $1,500. Former Rep. Anthony Weiner seemed a masochist pleading for defeat, humiliation and ridicule when he ran for New York mayor and got all three.
Best Political Fallout for a Politician Facing Scandal: Chris Farley look alike Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was caught on video smoking crack and in a drunken rant, but his poll numbers went up. Faced with a lawsuit, Ford apologized to Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale for insinuating Dale was a pedophile. Ford=Survivor.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States . He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates.