Time opts for the obvious

How much suspense awaited Time Magazine’s Person of the Year issue?  About as much as we had in the second half of the USC-Notre Dame game:

In one of the craziest elections in American history, he overcame a lack of experience, a funny name, two candidates who are political institutions and the racial divide to become the 44th President of the United States. …

It’s unlikely that you were surprised to see Obama’s face on the cover. He has come to dominate the public sphere so completely that it beggars belief to recall that half the people in America had never heard of him two years ago — that even his campaign manager, at the outset, wasn’t sure Obama had what it would take to win the election. He hit the American scene like a thunderclap, upended our politics, shattered decades of conventional wisdom and overcame centuries of the social pecking order. Understandably, you may be thinking Obama is on the cover for these big and flashy reasons: for ushering the country across a momentous symbolic line, for infusing our democracy with a new intensity of participation, for showing the world and ourselves that our most cherished myth — the one about boundless opportunity — has plenty of juice left in it.

Racial divide?  Didn’t this election prove that our racial divide had moved to the past?  Barack Obama didn’t win from the black vote — he won a majority of white voters as well.  While racism will never get completely stamped out, it has thankfully faded out of our public life.  That was a prerequisite to victory, not a result of it.  Had there actually been a racial divide in our public life, Barack Obama wouldn’t have won the nomination, let alone the election.  Maybe Time should think about that.

Otherwise, their POY issue only underscores the obvious.  No one dominated this year like Barack Obama, in the US and probably around the world.  That doesn’t connote a value judgment on Obama himself, although it might on the media that promoted him.  It acknowledges the reality of Obama’s impact on 2008, and it also follows a Time tradition of naming presidents-elect as POY.

Who else got considered?

  • Henry Paulson.  Yeah, right.  For what — begging Nancy Pelosi to rescue his bailout plan that he himself later abandoned completely?  Pass.
  • Nicolas Sarkozy – Had John McCain won, he may have been the best choice. Sarkozy represents a new kind of French leadership, a type we haven’t seen in … well, we haven’t seen at all.  He may change the direction of European diplomacy, economics, and strategic defense.
  • Sarah Palin – Again, if McCain won, perhaps — although she was really only a story for three months of the year.  I suspect she’ll get more opportunities down the road.
  • Zhang Yimou – Who? Oh, he designed China’s Olympic opening ceremonies.  Yeah, he had more impact on 2008 than people like David Petraeus, Nouri al-Maliki, Yousef Gilani, Ali Zardari, George Bush, and others who didn’t design state pomp in defense of oppression.  Only Steven Spielberg could be this relentlessly clueless.