- By David RothkopfDavid Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017.
For the first time since records have been kept, Washington’s heat index today rose above its bullshit index. Which is saying something given the levels of swirling crap that have that have been emitted during the debt-ceiling debate. It’s piling up like snow banks on the street corners. And none of it is made any easier to bear by a heat index that is supposed to hit 116 degrees today. In a city full of gas bags and hot heads, that’s just plain dangerous.
Both the heat and the headlines have the same effect on average citizens. They make us cranky. Personally, I feel the strong urge to punch someone right in the snout right now. I’d prefer it were one of the goons who has seen fit to criticize President Obama and Speaker Boehner for actually trying to break the irrational debt debate impasse and get something done. But frankly, it could be anyone. I’d pop the slender loris featured on the Washington Post‘s iPad app yesterday if it crawled over to me right now … and frankly, I have a kind of soft spot in my heart for lorises, slender and otherwise.
So, instead, I will vent my blogger’s spleen. I will do this by answering for each of you the following question: Who were the world’s biggest assholes this week? Surely this will prove a healthy distraction from the muffled sounds of passersby being swallowed up by the bubbling pavement beneath my window.
Such a big world, so many choices, where to begin? Well, let’s start with a definition. Asshole may be an intemperate term but it is not an imprecise one (and if it is one that offends you I strongly suggest that you stop reading three sentences ago … and please don’t bother to write that FP should not use such language. I agree. The editors agree. But it’s hot. So go jump in a lake. And I’m perfectly happy to spend my whole evening deleting your prissy criticisms from the comments below.) Anyway, the point is that the word refers not to purely evil people but to jerks, irritating people who combine their bad behavior with a certain offensive ridiculousness.
So who are the world’s top ten this week? (And please note we are not including lifetime achievers who already have had their jerseys retired such as Hamid Karzai, Eric Cantor, or those wonderful folks at Focus on the Family.)
10. Prince Andrew
Blue bloods always have an edge in competitions like this, pampered, in-bred fossils of obsolescent and offensive social systems that they are. And few royal families have produced so many memorable jerks as the House of Windsor, including first-ballot member of the first class of the Asshole Hall of Fame, Prince Philip. But the upper-class twit never falls far from the royal family tree and Andrew wins mention this week for having to resign his post as ambassador for British trade because of his long string of bad judgments, questionable actions and bone-headed misdeeds including, notably and unsurprisingly, his befriending of convicted sex offender.
9. Chris Brown
Beating up women was not enough for this narcissistic so-called musician. This week, reliable sources like TMZ reported that Brown was that special kind of over-achiever who is able to irritate and infuriate on many levels at once. He did so by revealing himself to his neighbors in LA as That Guy in the apartment building who reportedly has blaringly loud parties at all hours, carves his initials in the elevator, runs his racing dogs up and down the hallways and leaves his ridiculous male-enhancement-mobiles in handicapped parking spaces. And then, after the stories broke, he complained he was being picked on. Poor Chris. Guy may pack a punch (on a date) but can’t stand being the punch line he has become. Being bitch-slapped by karma’s no fun, is it?
8. Tim Pawlenty
Bland, nice guy Tim would seem like the last fellow to end up on a list like this but when he was the first to take the bait and question whether Michele Bachmann’s migraines would make her unfit for the presidency, he jumped way up toward the front of the line. Sexist much? Seriously, whoever leaked the story to the right-wing rag that first ran it deserves the spot even more than Pawlenty, but frankly, the former Minnesota governor needs the break. This is the highest he has placed on any list or poll in months.
7. Employees of the Korean Central News Agency
After threatening that North Korea would launch a "merciless retaliatory sacred war" against the United States, the spin doctors of the hermit kingdom continued their tradition of hyperbolic overstatement that has made depictions of the country like that in Team America: World Police seem like a Frontline documentary. In its priceless article "Reading Between North Korea’s Lines," the New York Times details how the robot-trolls of this small apparatus of Kim Jong-Il’s state machine regularly pump out the greatest howlers of the world’s almost always howling diplomatic communiqués. From attacks on their neighbors to the south as "half-baked, extra-large Philistines" to referring to Hillary Clinton as "the little schoolgirl" these folks at least deserve credit for making propaganda laughable again.
6. Allen West
Speaking of half-baked name-callers, Florida Republican Congressman Allen West rocketed into the news this week the only way he could: By lashing out against fellow Congressperson and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz with a slimy viciousness that set a new low even for the United States Congress. Calling her "the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member" of the House, West not only won a few more seconds of fame than his otherwise completely undistinguished career warranted but no doubt shall also receive sanctions from the Congress for his behavior. Way to go after a colleague, Allen. Who’s your campaign manager, Chris Brown?
5. Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud
All right, before we begin here, let it be noted we can’t be sure that, as some assert, the Saudi interior minister who is second in line to that country’s throne is the man behind the law currently being considered for adoption in the kingdom that would make it a criminal offense to criticize the monarch. While this contemplated action would be such a violation of fundamental human rights that it would be a grave and genuine wrong and thus disqualified from a silly little list like this, the fact that it is being floated in the wake of the Arab Spring makes it so odious and the fear it evinces is so pathetic, that we will make an exception. Bad news guys, it’s the 21st century and thanks to the Internet and a little thing called human progress, such efforts at censorship are certain to ultimately prove as futile as are efforts to perpetuate illegitimate, corrupt forms of government.
4. Jamie Dingman
So let’s get this straight, Jamie. You’re dating Elin Nordegren, former wife of Tiger Woods, victim of one of the world’s most outrageous cases of philandering in which one of the most notorious hook-ups of Tiger’s was world famous slag Rachel Uchitel and you didn’t think to mention to Elin that you had also "dated" Rachel? In the immortal words of Seth Myers and Amy Poehler, "Really!?!"
3. Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai
It’s one thing to be an alleged spy. There’s a certain coolness to that that’s more than welcome in this weather. But when you are allegedly spying on the U.S. for a "friendly" government that is being propped up by the United States, the James Bond factor begins to fade. But then add to that that you are both a spy and a lobbyist? That’s pretty low, even for Washington.
2. James Murdoch
Rebekah Brooks is probably more odious. But she worked her way up to the top. James Murdoch on the other hand, is well on his way to becoming the world’s most famous advertisement against nepotism. This is in part due to his shaky performance the past couple weeks. It is in part due to his smarminess. And, finally, it is due to the fact that this particular prince apparently saw fit to offer testimony before a parliamentary committee that within a matter of hours was challenged by two former high-level employees of the Murdoch family empire. Surely you must have considered that was possible, James? Does your sense of entitlement extend so far as to lead you to believe that your DNA entitles you to your own truth or the loyalty of those to whom you have shown neither reciprocal loyalty nor appropriate guidance? The fact that you give off such a strong spoiled brat vibe would also have entitled you to the week’s top honors were it not for the re-emergence in the news of …
1. The Winkelvii
At a recent Fortune conference, former Harvard President Larry Summers was asked about the scene in The Social Network in which twin prepster douchebags and future Olympic non-medalists Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss sought his help in stopping Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg from becoming a billionaire without them. To his eternal credit, Summers responded:
One of the things you learn as a college president is that if an undergraduate is wearing a tie and jacket on Thursday afternoon at three o’clock, there are two possibilities. One is that they’re looking for a job and have an interview; the other is that they are an asshole. This was the latter case."
In the wake of this candid and undeniably accurate assessment, the Winklevii proved their international asshole-of-the-week mettle by lamely protesting to the current president of Harvard about their treatment at the hands of Summers. In a letter they accuse the former treasury secretary of being "tactfully challenged." While that almost certainly does not mean what they think it does, they continue their whine:
It was not his failure to shake hands with the three of us upon entering his office (doing so would have required him to take his feet off his desk and stand up from his chair), nor his tenor that was most alarming, but rather his scorn for a genuine discourse on deeper ethical questions."
Way to spit those silver spoons out of your sneering lips and go after him, boys! After a long, troubling week in which the world has been rocked by equal parts of tragedy and on-going political and economic trauma, we must thank these two for finally providing us with the comic relief at the expense of true a-holes that we needed — and for providing Harvard-haters with an example of self-loving, class conscious petulance that both transcends and affirms every stereotype that has evolved over the past three and a half centuries of the great Crimson euphemism’s existence.