Teresa Hui poses for a selfie in front of a 2022 sign displayed in Times Square, New York, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. Crowds will once again fill New York's Times Square this New Year's Eve, with proof of COVID-19 vaccination required for revelers who want to watch the ball drop in person, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last week. Credit: Seth Wenig/AP Photo

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Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.

As the end of 2020 approached and the promise of 2021 dawned, we had all lived through what we had collectively deemed “The Worst Year Ever,” and were ready for something better. Was 2021 better than 2020? It is, incredibly, a debatable question.

Yet amidst all the misery and disappointment, I am once again tasked with finding some way of handing out the Conifer Awards, my annual superlatives for 2021.

The Winning Bigly Award for Excellence

Presented to someone who set the mark for winning in 2021, this award could go to many people. But while incoming governor of Virginia Glenn Youngkin was an early favorite, this award has to go to the man who some have dubbed “the real president,” Sen. Joe Manchin. No one else has as consistently gotten what he wanted this year, nor is anyone currently as powerful as the West Virginia moderate.  

The Stale Bread Award

This award is presented to the person who has hung around far too long, and like the dry, crusty, rock-hard loaf sitting in your pantry, probably should’ve been tossed out long ago. There could be no better choice for this award than Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Even if you believe everything the man says, you have to admit that he has lost the faith of half the country at this point. That alone makes him long overdue for retirement.

The “Fire Everyone and Start Over” Award for Dysfunctional Leadership

I’m obviously not the biggest fan of Vice President Kamala Harris, but even I have to admit that she can’t possibly be as bad as her press has made her out to be. Can she?

The Bill Cosby “Fall from Grace” Award

Andrew Cuomo was once the darling of not only America’s left, but of the country at large. In the early days of the pandemic, he looked like a commanding force out in front of the cameras every day briefing the world, it seemed, on the progress of fighting COVID in New York. He scored a $5 million book deal. He even won an Emmy.

Flash forward to today, and his Emmy was revoked, he has to give back the $5 million, and he was forced to resign in disgrace. No one fell further than Cuomo this year.

The Most Overused Phrase of 2021 Award

“The science.”

Politicians claim that every controversial decision they make “follows the science,” which has now placed the word “science” fully into the lexicon of political terms. It has little meaning now, other than to attempt to end debate and justify any complex or controversial decision, no matter how arbitrary, or how little it has to do with science.

Most Perpetually Tiresome Political Story Award

The week-by-week, month-by-month soap opera that is President Joe Biden’s attempt to pass the so-called “Build Back Better” agenda is so stale that I almost want them to pass the bill at this point, just so I never have to read or hear anything about it, Sen. Joe Manchin or Sen. Kyrsten Sinema again. Almost.

Most Obnoxious Political Football Award

Anything and everything related to the supposed Jan. 6 “insurrection” at the capitol. As is typical with anything political these days, everyone is using the event for their own hyperbolic tribal purposes. The right pretends it was a nothing burger, while the left thinks it was Fort Sumter. In the end, I believe it was an aimless, uncontrolled mob of internet-fueled kooks who had no idea what they were doing, and were never an actual threat to overthrow anything.

Most Actually Compelling and Important Celebrity Story of 2021 Award

The battle of Britney Spears’ conservatorship was a harrowing story to follow and had some truly important implications for the legal right to self determination in this country.

Most Obnoxious Celebrity Story of 2021 Award

This is a tough one, yet nothing quite compares to the inanity of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry attempting to burn down the royal family on the way out the door. To the collective shrug and indifference of virtually everyone, they sat down with Oprah and torched Buckingham Palace, before “retiring” to join the rest of the plastics outside Santa Barbara.

Most Actually Amazing Accomplishment of 2021 Award

They were ridiculed as irresponsible billionaires chasing selfish, childish dreams, but when Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk launched themselves and some early passengers into space, they kicked off what will become a brand new industry that will, in time, generate trillions of dollars of economic activity. They also helped raise our eyes back to the horizon, and dream of exploration and discovery again.

Here’s to the coming of 2022!

Matthew Gagnon, Opinion columnist

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist...