Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Captain Obvious brings you TIME's Person of the Year

It's true that they shouldn't get into the habit of making every new president the Person of the Year, but really, this one is pretty clearly the right call. Barack has dominated the news the entire year, he's felled two of America's political titans, taken over the Democratic party, and been forced to become de facto president 2 months early. His election victory made millions of people proud to be Americans again and humbled formerly snickering European nations who have been forced to admit that, for all their liberal politics, they're not yet egalitarian enough to elect an ethnic minority head of the government. That victory also led the Iraqi government to finalize a power-sharing agreement with the United States, now confident that the next president will fulfill Bush's promise to leave Iraq.

These are really cool.

TIME also gives an uninspired list of runners up and "people who mattered," including people like John McCain and Sarah Palin who were proven notably inconsequential in front of the Obama steamroller. In fact, I would have added Katie Couric to the list of special people for single-handedly laying the death knell to Sarah Palin's fledgling career in national politics. Nevertheless, Palin landed a runner-up slot rather than Hillary Clinton, who was the first legitimate female presidential contender, a far tougher, more resilient opponent than McCain/Palin, and who exits 2008 with a much louder bull-horn than Palin as Secretary of State. More of that vaunted media "balance," I'm guessing. Both McCain and Palin place higher, incidentally, than Robert Mugabe, who has certainly influenced more lives worldwide more profoundly, not to mention international politics. One name is conspicuously missing from the list entirely, and it's the only name I can think of that could possibly have "mattered" this year anywhere near as much as Barack Obama: Vladimir Putin.

Yet TIME saw fit to add Robert Downey, Jr. to the list instead.

It looks like TIME's only real metric for deciding these lists is who gets the most mentions in the news, but that's a terrible way to decide who makes the most significant impact. In the case of Obama, that works because the United States has been obsessed with him all year long, but that system also preferences celebrity over substance. Hence you get Michael Phelps on your list because Phelps won 8 swimming medals, and not Hu Jintao, who is the president of the biggest nation on the planet and the one that hosted said Olympics. You get the CEO of Lehman Bros. because his firm made a big splash when it splattered against the pavement, but you don't get Alan Greenspan or Phil Gramm, who may be the two figures most intimately responsible for the economic collapse that's now affected the entire world. You get Mikheil Saakashvili because his name showed up in the news a lot for "poking the Russian bear," but the big winner in that conflict, the one who looked a lot bigger afterwards and affected the state of international politics, was the bear. And, of course, you get people like Downey and Phelps and Tina Fey, people we liked to watch but who weren't meaningful to our lives. Does making 2 successful movies that revive your moribund acting career mean you "mattered" this year in the same sense that Hillary Clinton or Henry Paulson "mattered?"

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