National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Time’s Irresistible ‘Person of the Year’

The word is that Narcissus has bought out the Time magazines on dozens of newsstands. In fact, that shiny front-page mirror depicting the “Person of the Year” has stirred a wide range of passions.

Many are viewing it as a grand cop-out, the inability of Time’s editors to make the tough, unpopular decision to put the real major influences of 2006 on the cover, namely the bad guys from Iran, North Korea or Venezuela. Gone are the days when Time was willing to declare Hitler the “Man of the Year,” they say. The image of evil leaders nowadays is a ticket to unpopularity and a further decline in readership. The advertisers would protest.

So, Time’s editors, they argue, went from an unsavory cover picture to one that folks adore the most: themselves.

To others, like the over-blown talking heads of Washington, D.C., the offense is of a slightly different nature. They don’t like the idea of “just anyone” being on the front page of Time. They’ve worked their entire careers toward something like that, and take great umbrage at the way they must now share the honor with so many unwashed, undeserving types. Harrumph!

Yes, Time went the most crowd-pleasing route, taking a giant swipe at the over-inflated egos of officialdom while at the same time cheering a perceived rising tide of electronic populism.

On the other hand, there’s the chance that Time scored a sophisticated and savvy finger-snap for truth.

It’s true, there has been a growth and a hardening of anti-U.S. sentiment among world leaders in 2006, but it can be argued that is as much due to the treachery of George W. Bush as to them. Bush has turned the whole world against the West, so maybe he should be “Person of the Year,” yet again.

On the other hand, this global “Public Enemy No. 1” was toppled in 2006, and not by any of those overseas tin horn despots. He was toppled in the historic U.S. mid-term elections of 2006 last month. And by whom?

Why, it was by you and me, those charming folks on the front of this week’s Time!

In the course of recent world history, last month’s election will go down as one of the great turning points. Never before has a U.S. president, in the heat of prosecuting a war, been so resolutely rejected by a veritable nationwide referendum.

It represents the first break in an otherwise irreversible, spiraling descent of the nation and the world toward complete chaos and endless strife. We are by no means out of the woods, so to speak, but the entire world has taken heart that the American people are no longer following their leader into this madness.

A key bit of evidence, to me, of the power of the Internet in all this – which has, after all, a lot to do with Time’s decision on “Person of the Year” – is the relative speed with which the American people turned against the Iraq war.

In the case of Vietnam, it took well over 10 times the current level of U.S. military casualties in Iraq before the popular tide of sentiment turned against it. It was six or seven years into the conflict before the very gradual rise of anti-war opinion reached anything like what’s emerged in less than half that time in the case of Iraq (given that anti-war ferment began peaking in this case a year ago).

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