Time magazine makes headlines every year by selecting a Person of the Year. It’s great PR for the magazine and it prompts us to think about our times and the people who shape them.
Of course, the process is subjective and somewhat artificial. Still, if the magazine is going to go through the exercise, it ought to do so with something of a long-term perspective in mind — and consider whether the choice will resonate 10, 25, 50 years from now.
On that basis, some recent choices have been debatable. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was an OK candidate for 2001, symbolizing as he did the nation’s resolve in the face of terrorism. But last year’s selection of “The Whistleblower,” those folks who drew attention to corporate corruption in America, may not stand the test of, well, time.
This year’s naming of the American soldier, personifying a seemingly unbeatable military and the nation it serves, probably is popular and it is not without merit. But frankly, it misses the mark.
Although he was Time’s choice for the honor just three years ago, George W. Bush strikes us as, inescapably, the person who most shaped and represents the events of 2003.
As the year began he was breathing threats against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the most visible and vulnerable of the “axis of evil” nations he identified in his 2002 State of the Union address. Debate over war, the war itself and its uncertain aftermath were the key story of 2003, and Bush himself stands at its center.
Beyond that, Bush has amassed a power some say is unrivaled by any president since Lyndon B. Johnson. When Bush speaks, Congress acts. Tax cuts, Medicare reform, a push in the direction of immigration reform — these, too, are part of the Bush record for 2003.
To say that is not to support all of his policies or decisions. It is simply to say this president is driving events to a degree not seen in generations. And while it may seem facile to point in the direction of the White House every year when selecting that year’s most important player, in this case it's hardly avoidable.
Bush now stands poised to swat away whichever Democrat is unfortunate enough to win that party’s nomination. When push comes to shove, voters likely will award a second term to a man whose resolve in the face of terror has been unflinching, rather than choose an unknown commodity of untested backbone.
Time did not err in making the choice it did. But George W. Bush does more than tower over a particular year.