For the past 85 years, Time Magazine has published their annual “Person of the Year“. With the exceptions of Calvin Coolidge (who was president when they first started giving out the honor), Herbert Hoover, and Gerald Ford, all US presidents in that time period have been named person of the year at least once, either while they were president, and/or the year in which they were first elected.
They’ve made some good choices over the years, and some questionable ones. But it’s not an easy task — irrespective of whether you agree with any given choice — to summarize an entire calendar year by singling out one person (or a group of people) as being the most influential on the events of the year.
One thing they’re doing this year is asking the visitors to their site to vote for their choices of who should be person of the year. They haven’t said what weight — if any — the online vote will play in their final decision, which will be announced on December 14. The people for whom you can vote are an interesting mix, to be sure. Here is a summary of my thoughts on each of the candidates
1. Sheldon Adelson. The billionaire who essentially funded Mitt Romney’s failed election campaign. He definitely left his mark on politics and the future of campaigns, but he doesn’t deserve person of the year.
2. Ai Weiwei. Considering the way the Chinese government treats their dissidents, we need to shine a glaring light on the actions of the government in hopes of getting them to treat their people better. For the most part, it’s a worthwhile cause, so I would not object if he were to be the person of the year, although he’s one of those people who could be the person of any year, and not just 2012…
3. Bashar Assad. The selection of the leader of Syria would certainly get a lot of raised eyebrows, much like the way the magazine has “honored” other political villains, such as Hitler, Stalin, or the Ayatollah Khomeini. For that reason alone, I don’t have any inherent problem with choosing Assad, but I don’t think he rises to the level of importance that the honor is supposed to represent.
4. Felix Baumgartner. I’m torn about him, to be perfectly honest. When he rode up in a hot air balloon literally to the edge of the atmosphere, and jumped out, it was a stunt by every definition of the word. When he landed safely and the news of his successful landing came across my phone, I thought “That sonofabitch pulled it off”. It took him 20 minutes to make the jump, and he actually exceeded the speed of sound at one point. That’s impressive. And a marvel of the science behind the equipment that kept him alive. But it was a stunt all the same. A marketing gimmick. He’d be an all right choice, but I don’t necessarily think that he’s “it”.
5. Joe Biden. I admit it up front: I was impressed with him when he ran for president in 1988 and have liked him ever since. Some people consider him a liability to the Obama administration, but I don’t see it that way. He’s certainly an interesting — an polarizing — character in American politics. Not a bad choice, but not the greatest for person of the year. At least, not this year.
6. Michael Bloomberg. The New York City Mayor has certainly made his mark on the city that never sleeps, and it’s probably peeing a little less too since he’s banned drinks larger than 24 ounces. But agree or disagree with this rule, I don’t think this kind of a rule makes that significant a difference in the grand scheme of things. I just hope that rule doesn’t extend to where I live, since that’s what I’d consider a “small”…
7. Bo Xilai. It’s weird. I’m sure there’s no shortage of corrupt politicians at all levels of any government, including that of China. I just don’t think his trials — including the criminal charges he faces — rise to the level of “person of the year”.
8. Chris Christie. The New Jersey governor is one of the few republicans who don’t make my skin crawl in this day and age, although I still think he’s a bit too cozy with the “religious right”. Christie did two things this year: first, he gave a very ego-centric speech at the Republican National Convention, and second, he was everywhere on TV after Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern seaboard. His visibility probably does rise to the level of “person of the year,” even if I can’t shake the sense that he’ll probably get it in a future year.
9. Bill Clinton. Speaking of giving memorable speeches at a US political party’s national convention, Bill Clinton wins this contest hands down. He might have even been solely responsible for exciting the democratic base in the election. The energy was palpably higher at the democratic convention than it was at the republican, at least based upon what I saw on TV. If he gets it, he would be the first ex-president to receive this honor. But precedent doesn’t really matter much to me for this honor. I’m not sure he’s any more deserving than any of the other nominees.
10. Hillary Clinton. The soon-to-be former secretary of state has definitely led our diplomatic corps over a difficult time. And she’d be as worthwhile a nominee as anyone currently holding political office.
11. Stephen Colbert. There are really only three shows on the cable channel Comedy Central, which have had any real lasting impact: South Park, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and The Colbert Report. (And the Daily Show never truly found its own until Jon Stewart came on. It wasn’t as good when Craig Kilborn was the host.) Stephen Colbert definitely deserves props for the way he skewers people like Bill O’Reilly in a subtle yet subversive way. Person of the year? Not alone, but I’m all right with this choice.
12. Tim Cook. In 1982, the computer was the “machine of the year.” Since then, two tech CEO’s have been named person of the year: Jeff Bezos in 1999 and Mark Zuckerberg in 2010. Tim Cook has been CEO of Apple since Steve Jobs left the company to tend to his health, a few months before he died. He also stood in for Jobs while he took leaves of absence. Apple wouldn’t be what it is today without Tim Cook, that much is for sure. But it still feels wrong to give the honor to Tim Cook without the company having first honored Steve Jobs. They came close in ’82 but never did it. It’d be like honoring Steve Ballmer as head of Microsoft and ignoring Bill Gates.
13. Gabrielle Douglas. I can’t deny that she did kind of make the feel-good story from this year’s Olympics but I just have a hard time singling out any single athlete for this honor, especially someone whose name recognition comes from the Olympics.
14. Mario Draghi. Without downplaying other people on this list of similar notoriety, I think it’s safe to say that Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank, is probably the single most polarizing figure on this list, and that’s saying a lot when you look over some of the other names here. The more prosperous individual nations in the EU have large numbers of people resentful of his policies that often result in bailing out other countries in the EU. And the resentment isn’t misplaced. But he definitely is an influential person.
15. Mo Farah. Mo Farah certainly shined in the Olympics this year, and gave his countrymen in Somalia something to actually feel positive about. But like Gabrielle Douglas above, I have a hard time singling out any individual athlete.
16. Sandra Fluke. I’m of several minds on her. When she testified before congress, she bore the brunt of the right-wing hatemongering machine, led by Rush Limbaugh. And no one deserves that. As it turns out, even Limbaugh’s supporters thought he went overboard with his commentary on her. But another brave woman who had to endure similar slander — at an even younger age — isn’t even included in this list. I can’t really think of Sandra Fluke as person of the year without also thinking that Jessica Ahlquist should also deserve it.
17. Roger Goodell. I admit it. Ever since my kids were born, I’ve lost a lot of interest in football. I don’t know that there’s a cause/effect relationship in this timing, but around about the birth of my older son, I started thinking about the football-as-war metaphor and I’ve come to realize that it’s a really bad metaphor. In war, there are no time-outs, no penalties, and no rules that say you have to retreat because someone grabbed the opposite side’s face-masks. And it moves too slowly to be an effective metaphor for war. This year, from what I’ve observed, has been an exercise in mediocrity for all but a few select teams in the NFL. So Goodell might be a bit more visible because there is no hockey season and basketball’s barely over its own labor issues, but that doesn’t really make him worthy of “person of the year.”
18. The Higgs Boson. I”m not sure that physicists have truly come to grips with the implications behind the discovery of a subatomic particle that has all of the properties of the heretofore elusive Higgs, but this year was one of those rare years when there was major scientific news not involving outer space. Not a bad idea, but I would think that the credit really belongs to the crew of CERN.
19. E.L. James. I would laugh my ass off if E.L. James were to be named person of the year. Her Fifty Shades of Gray trilogy brought erotica into the mainstream, even if there is better erotic literature online that’s free. That said, if other exceptionally popular writers, such as J.K. Rowling didn’t win, I can’t imagine how she should.
20. Jay-Z. If President Obama should thank anyone for his successful re-election bid this year, there are two people who deserve his thanks: Bill Clinton and Jay-Z. And to be fair, Jay-Z had a good year by just about any stretch of the imagination. But I’m not sure he deserves person of the year.
21. Kim Jong Un. Shortly before the end of last year, he became the supreme leader of North Korea. The satirical newspaper The Onion named him the sexiest man alive, which got picked up on by a Chinese newspaper and taken seriously. But under Kim Jong-Il’s son, we’ve seen by and large a “stay the course” attitude from the isolated country. No added beligerence, and no improvements. Until one or the other happens, I can’t imagine him being person of the year.
22. The Mars Rover. The SUV-sized vehicle that landed on the surface of Mars did something amazing: it didn’t crash, despite the intense difficulty of what it was trying. We launched it last year and it took nine months to reach its destination. Just to get a sense of the how hard that would be, an airplane won’t take off at the time it’s supposed to if the weather conditions aren’t good for a landing at its destination. There was literally no way to predict what kind of weather would be happening on the martian surface when the rover reached it, when we launched it. And that’s the most painfully obvious thing that could’ve gone wrong. I’m sure that there will be a time in the not-too-distant future that the technology that landed the rover will prove useful for more earthbound technologies.
23. Marissa Mayer. Marissa Mayer is an interesting choice even to be nominated, and is one of the few “new” CEO’s who deserve the nomination. She was one of the people who helped to make Google what it is today, and she was brought in by Yahoo! to turn its fortunes around. And one thing that’s true: the company’s stock price definitely reflects more investor enthusiasm in the company than they had a year ago…
24. Mohamed Morsi. Speaking of stock, since Time first announced the list of nominees, here’s someone whose stock has plummeted. The person who’s been leading Egypt since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, but who also has run into some political opposition from the country’s courts. Who knows what his political futures actually hold…
25. Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli politics are an interesting pendulum swing. It seems as though they go back and forth between leaders who take a hard line against the Palestinians, and those who want to try some degree of diplomacy. Netanyahu represents the former group. If there’s one truth to the matter, is that neither the hard line, nor the diplomacy tacks works all that well. So I can sympathize with the ongoing plight of the Israelis. I’ve written before about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but apparently I didn’t bring it over with my flashbacks re-posted from my old blog, which is no longer online following the shutdown of Apple’s MobileMe service. The gist of it was, the Israelis and the Palestinians have been at each other’s throats for so long, it’s impossible, any more, to get a sense of “who started it”, and both sides are now pretty much constantly reacting to the other. I don’t know if anyone’s going to be able to solve the problem of this conflict, but I can’t see how Netanyahu will ever do anything other than maintain the status quo, or worse.
26. Barack Obama. I wonder how future historians will regard the election of 2012. Some facts are undeniably clear: no candidate faced such well-funded or well-organized opposition, being attacked extensively to the point of it being slanderous, and still emerged victorious. Obama has proven himself to be a very mediocre president, but whom I’m not certain could be defeated. If we look back at all of the presidential elections since 1896 — and I’ve chosen this year because that’s the year when the departing president was the one who defeated the man who had defeated him four years prior — there were only five incumbent presidents who lost their re-election bids. (Please note that I’m counting the men whose official title was not president due to the fact that they were the vice president who assumed the presidency due to the death of the prior president, before the passage of the 25th amendment.) And 2012 had nothing in common with any of those five years: in 1912 and 1992, a strong third party candidate siphoned off a lot of votes from the incumbent. In 1932, the incumbent president didn’t stand a chance because of a devastating economic collapse on his watch. The incumbent in 1976 couldn’t shake the appearance of not having deserved the title because he was never elected as either president or vice president. And in 1980, the incumbent couldn’t shake off some general appearances of incompetence. None of those applied to the election of 2012. 2012 probably most closely resembled the election of 1936. Could a different candidate have unseated Obama? Possibly, but the Republican party had its own appearance issues, amidst a changing demographic of the country.
27. Michael Phelps. One of the best athletes in the world, and definitely the best swimmer, Michael Phelps has stood out for quite some time lately. He performed amazingly in the olympics this year and deserves all of the accolades he has received. But like Gabrielle Douglas and Mo Farah, I’m not sure he deserves to be person of the year.
28. Psy. The only person whose name I didn’t recognize among the list of people nominated this year, he can boast the most hits of any video on YouTube, with the song “Gangnam Style.” Despite the immense popularity of this video, I have never seen it, and I wouldn’t recognize the song if I heard it on the radio. From what I understand about the song (never having actually heard it myself), it’s catchy, stupid bubble-gum pop. Between this song, “Call Me Maybe,” and “Friday,” the status of pop music is not a positive one. No. He doesn’t deserve to be person of the year.
29. Pussy Riot. Now this is a cause I can support. A Russian punk band that was arrested for speaking out against the leadership, it’s chilling to think that they were arrested in the first place. Not in the year 2012. And certainly not in Russia after the death of Leonid Brezhnev. Any reservations I might have about naming them as the people of the year, are entirely due to the question of how many other people might be imprisoned and about whom we’re not hearing. Yes, they deserve it.
30. John Roberts. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is the single most exclusive club in the United States. We’ve had 44 presidents (43 if you count unique individuals), 61 speakers of the house (55 if you count unique individuals), and 17 chief justices. And the chief justice does two things: first, he hears cases just like all of the other justices, and second, he is responsible for the entire federal judiciary. It is clear that John Roberts has an eye to his role in history, if some of the decisions he’s been involved in are any indication, most notably the affirmation that Obamacare is constitutional. He definitely made his mark on the country this year. And he might even deserve person of the year. It would be an unusual choice, but not undeserving.
31. Mitt Romney. What can I say about Mitt Romney? He ran an aggressive campaign against the president even if, as I have formerly pointed out, it was an uphill battle to say the least. In just about any presidential campaign, a vote for either the democratic candidate or the republican candidate is generally for one of three reasons: (1) the voter likes that candidate the best, (2) the voter dislikes the other candidate more, or (3) the voter votes for the candidate of his or her chosen party. One of the reasons why Romney lost, was because he got very few votes in category 1, if the primary season taught us anything. He almost always was second place behind someone else who would later implode. Even if he had somehow come out victorious in the election, I’d have a hard time justifying him as person of the year.
32. Karl Rove. One of the more bizarre aspects of this election, which was related to the opposition Obama faces, was the certainty of Romney’s victory among those who live and get their information from within the bubble of the news outlets that oppose Obama. Karl Rove exemplifies that bubble, judging by his tirade that his own employer — Fox News, which was the primary messenger of that organized opposition — had called the election for Obama too early. He doesn’t deserve person of the year; he deserves to have his head examined.
33. Paul Ryan. The vice presidential candidate in the losing ticket this year, Paul Ryan also gained some notoriety for writing a budget that proves he takes Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged a bit too seriously. While I have to admit that I loved watching him backpedal against his favoritism for Ms. Rand when someone called him on her atheism, he doesn’t deserve Person of the Year.
34. Jon Stewart. Even though they’re separate shows (now), few people deny the combined importance of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report for exposing the lies not only of public officials but also of the news media themselves. The Colbert Report spun off of the Daily Show a few years ago, but their respective hosts are inexorably linked. As I said above, if Colbert deserves to be person of the year, so, too, does Jon Stewart.
35. Aung Suu Kyi and Thein Sein. Aung Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and has been working to gain a greater degree of freedom in Burma (or Myanmar, depending on how you want to spell it). Those efforts have been long and hard, but thanks to Thein Sein, Burma is on the road to freedom and prosperity. There is no greater symbol of this, than the fact that President Obama himself visited the country in November. Any hesitation I might have about these two people being honored as people of the year, comes from taking the media to task for not better informing us of how Burma has improved.
36. Undocumented Immigrants. Perhaps no group of people played a more interesting role in American politics, than the undocumented immigrants. Personally, I prefer the term “undocumented” to “illegal”. Both are accurate descriptions, but the latter implies that their misdeeds rank alongside of crimes like larceny, embezzlement, or any of the violent crimes that we have out there. They are a group of people that can split the Republican Party: the pro-business side that wants to find a path to citizenship and the side that sees them as illegal and wishes to toss them all out. Obama secured the hispanic vote squarely when he found a way to give undocumented people the path to citizenship, especially if they came here as children.
37. Xi Jinping. The next big name in Chinese politics, I will be curious to see how he guides the country over the next ten years, and I’m honestly not sure what to expect of him. Time will tell, of course, but certainly the very fact of his power assumption is interesting, when you consider that his father was purged by Chairman Mao. He’s got potential, but I don’t think he’s person of the year. Yet.
38. Malala Yousafzai. Now here is a powerful symbol of actions of the year. Shot by the Taliban for daring to learn and be educated while being undeniably guilty for being … female, she got out of Afghanistan, and, while she was recuperating in England, had the audacity to … try to learn more. Like Pussy Riot, she is a symbol of defiance against an authoritarian regime, with the primary difference being that few people doubt the evils committed by the Taliban, whereas the Putin regime tries to put on a positive public face. She deserves recognition, no question.
I think, in the end, that Malala Yousafzai and Pussy Riot jointly deserve People of the Year in 2012. Let’s call it modern Grrl Power Internationale…