President Elect Barack Obama has been named Time Person of the Year for 2008, not surprisingly. Considering how Barack Obama has dominated the news this past year, his selection is so obvious that it was done without debate.
The criteria for being chosen for Time Person of the Year is to be a man, woman, couple, group, idea, place, or machine “for better or for worse, …has done the most to influence the events of the year.” Barack Obama certainly qualifies. He is a man and, for better or for worse, done the most to influence the events of the year.
Time Person of the Year, which used to be Man of the Year before the title was expanded, is not necessarily given to a good or great man. Adolf Hitler won the title in 1938. The following year, Josef Stalin won. Other rather dubious honorees for Time Person of the Year include Yuri Andropov and Vladimir Putin.
Barack Obama surely does not approach the levels of Hitler, Stalin, Andropov, or even Putin. But is he like some of the more honored recipients, such as Gandhi, Churchill, Martin Luther King, or Ronald Reagan? There are many people who might think so, even before he takes office.
The pre Presidency of Barack Obama does not seem promising. There are daunting problems facing the President Elect. There is a war on terror to be won and an economic crisis to be dealt with. And, with the mess in Illinois, Barack Obama is facing his first scandal.
There are certainly opportunities to be great lying ahead. If Barack Obama can overcome the challenges that he faces ahead, some of which are surely unknown and unpredictable, history might judge him to be a great President.
But Barack Obama can fail too. He can certainly make the current economic downturn worse through unwise policies. Following the government centered example of FDR and not the example of Reagan seems destined to at least waste a lot of money and at most turn something serious into something catastrophic. Barack Obama is also one terrorist outrage on American soil away from being unfavorably compared to his predecessor. “At least he kept us safe,” people will say about George W. Bush. Peggy Noonan recently suggested that the two words that chill the hearts of Democrats could be what might follow, “unlike Obama.”
The scandal in Illinois, which seems to be sweeping up more and more people, many in Obama’s orbit, seem to suggest a certain carelessness in Obama’s associations, a fact that many pointed out, futilely as it turned out, during the campaign. That can be overcome, as Harry Truman did with his association with the Pendergast Machine in Missouri. But the associations with scary people like Blagojevich are a drag and one more thing that has to be overcome.
Does Barack Obama deserve being Time Person of the Year? Of course, by the criteria Time itself sets out, and by the one singular fact about him that right now supersedes all others. Barack Obama is the first African American to be elected President, with all the historic symbolism that implies. He can turn out to be as corrupt at Harding, incompetent as Carter, or as depraved as Clinton, and that is still one thing that can never be taken away from him.
Source: Person of the Year 2008 Barack Obama, Time Magazine