Top Political Fails of 2011

From nude "sexts" to ethics probes, the year had its share of juicy scandals. Remember these?

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    Jemal Countess/WireImage

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn

    The former head of the International Monetary Fund saw his dreams of becoming the next president of France dashed after his May arrest at New York’s JFK airport on accusations of raping a maid at the Sofitel New York Hotel. The case ultimately collapsed after the alleged victim, Nafissatou Diallo, was said to have lied to the police after her initial statement. Strauss-Kahn admitted to “a moral fault” and described his behavior as “inappropriate” but said it “did not involve violence, constraint or aggression.”

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    Kwame Kilpatrick

    The first “hip-hop mayor” was already in jail for a probation violation when he was slapped with new charges that include racketeering, extortion, bribery and filing false tax returns. And only a few months after his August release came new allegations that Kilpatrick had pocketed a $10,000 bribe in a restaurant bathroom and used police bodyguards to intimidate a cop who had ticketed one of Kilpatrick’s pals. In his memoir, the disgraced politician wrote, “When I perjured myself, I gave my enemies a lane. And they turned that lane into a highway.” One with a wide HOV lane, at that.


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    Juan Williams and NPR

    The political commentator was axed from NPR in October 2010 for comments he made on the Fox News Channel about Muslims. The scandal bled into 2011 with the release of his book Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate, in which Williams argued that his firing was a part of a greater effort to silence unwanted opinions — namely, conservative ones. Following his firing from NPR, he got a $2 million contract from Fox. If that’s a muzzling, where can others sign up?

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    Arnold Schwarzenegger

    During his 2003 gubernatorial campaign, the actor-turned-governor responded to accusations that he had a history of groping women by saying that he “behaved badly sometimes.” He already had a mixed record as a governor, but Schwarzenegger’s stock fell even more after he acknowledged in May that he’d fathered a child with a member of his household staff. Wife Maria Shriver, who had stood by him when his reputation was a campaign issue in the previous decade, left their home and filed for separation shortly after the revelation.

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    Jemal Countess/WireImage

    Anthony Weiner

    The once-rising star in the Democratic Party resigned from his New York congressional seat in June after a sexting scandal dubbed “Weinergate.” The married politician uploaded a picture of his erect penis and sent it to a 21-year-old Seattle woman who was following him on Twitter. Initially, Weiner could not say “with certitude” that the photo was not of him. By the time he was able to say with certitude that it was, he was ready to take a break from politics.

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    Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.)

    Only a day after Weiner left office in June, a new congressional sex scandal arrived when this Florida Democrat was investigated for allegedly sexually harassing a staff member. The Office of Congressional Ethics is still looking into claims that Hastings had sexually harassed Winsome Parker, a staffer who worked on the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which he headed.

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    Christopher Lee

    A married Republican congressman from New York, Lee was only looking for a good time when he responded to an ad from a 34-year-old black woman on Craigslist who was seeking “financially & emotionally secure” men who don’t “look like toads.” Lee sent a shot of himself shirtless, but before he knew it he found himself abruptly resigning in February after the photo and the flirtatious emails he’d sent came to light.

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    Donald Trump

    A reality star and known attention whore who can’t even admit to his shifty financial past spent a good chunk of the year fueling a long-debunked rumor about the birth of our nation’s first black president as part of his most recent stunt to gain news coverage. Need we say more?

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    President Barack Obama

    Barack Obama won a historic presidential race by building a huge coalition that transcended race and class, but the black community had much to do with his wins in both the primary and the general election. Needless to say, supporters who had pressed the president to do more for black communities were not happy to hear Obama declare in September before the Congressional Black Caucus, “Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes. Shake it off. Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying.” Rep. Maxine Waters argued that he’d never say that to the Hispanic Caucus or gay-rights groups.

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    Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.)

    Her ethics trial stalled after two lawyers were placed on leave because of “missteps” in gathering evidence against her within the House Ethics Committee, but Waters still found her way to controversy in the headlines. Some praised her for her blunt criticism of the Tea Party movement, though others were less than thrilled with her criticism of President Obama’s Congressional Black Caucus speech. She also took a swipe at him when he went on vacation in August to Martha’s Vineyard while members of the CBC were working to “document the misery and joblessness.”

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    Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas)

    The governor of Texas has proved himself to be quite the gaffe machine, but there was no bigger mistake for the potential general-election candidate than the fact that he used to hang out at a Texas ranch called “Niggerhead.” Perry said that the word is an “offensive name that has no place in the modern world,” though many of the longtime hunters who frequent what is now called “North Camp Pasture” still refer to it publicly by its original name. You are who you hunt with.

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    Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

    In a transparent attempt to appeal to black voters, in June presidential candidate Bachmann accused President Obama of failing black America. This from the person who criticized a multibillion-dollar settlement paid to black farmers as wasteful spending (though she personally benefited from federal funds and federal farm subsidies). She also signed a pledge claiming that black children were more likely to grow up in stable families during the era of slavery than under Obama.

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    Newt Gingrich

    The former speaker of the House is considered a thinker despite all obvious signs to the contrary. The most recent is Gingrich’s “big idea” of getting poor kids to work janitorial jobs at their schools in order to learn a work ethic. Why? Apparently, kids who live in housing projects don’t see people working and therefore “literally have no habit of showing up on Monday.” The working poor and the stats behind them would disagree.

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    Herman Cain

    No one can say for sure whether or not Cain expected his political campaign — initially pegged as a glorified book tour — to soar the way it did, but if the ex-Godfather’s Pizza CEO wanted attention, he certainly got it. Unfortunately, much of it had to do with his not knowing much about the way the job he was seeking worked or about the silly little facts that go along with it. Sadly, incompetence didn’t sink him, but the onslaught of sexual harassment charges and accusations of a decadelong extramarital affair did. Cain dropped out of the presidential race at the beginning of December, but chances are we’re stuck with him for the long haul.


Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.