Good for Time.
Its Person of the Year was Vladimir Putin, who has presided over the economic rebirth of his nation and reasserted Russia’s role as a great power.
A first runner-up was Gen. David Petraeus, leader of the "surge" in Iraq that staved off what appeared a U.S. defeat and debacle, and helped revive the Bush presidency. Indeed, the antiwar Congress was arguably the greatest disappointment and biggest loser of 2007.
After its absurd choice last year of "You" as Person of the Year, Time seems to have returned to a tradition begun in 1927, when the first Man of the Year was Charles Lindbergh, the young American who was first to fly the Atlantic alone.
In those years, when Time was required reading for serious men and women, the magazine chronicled, with its annual Man of the Year selection, the seriousness of the times.
In 1932 the choice was FDR, who had just swept to power in the Great Depression. Two years later, as the New Deal was underway, FDR gained seats in both houses and was again Man of the Year.
In 1935, the Man of the Year was Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, whose nation had just been invaded by Benito Mussolini, who sought to erect a New Roman Empire in Africa.
Italy’s invasion brought League of Nations sanctions that enraged Mussolini, shattered the British-French-Italian Stresa Front against Nazi Germany, and pushed Il Duce into the arms of Hitler.
In 1936 the Person of the Year was the twice-divorced Mrs. Wallace Warfield Simpson, the future Duchess of Windsor whose affair with and marriage to King Edward VIII forced his abdication. George VI, father of Elizabeth, took the throne.
That was the year Hitler moved his army back into the demilitarized Rhineland, and hosted the Olympic Games.
In 1937, the Man of the Year was China’s Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, whose nation was the victim of Japanese aggression in a war that would last eight years and be remembered forever for the Rape of Nanking on Dec. 13, 1937, just before the Time issue came out.
In 1938, Time declined to give the honor to Neville Chamberlain, who had won the plaudits of the world for Munich, but saw clearly the Man of the Year was Hitler. On March 9, Hitler had sent his army into Austria to effect an Anschluss. On Sept. 30 he had bullied Britain and France into informing the Czechs they must give up the Sudetenland to ensure the peace of Europe. Hitler had added 10 million Germans to the Reich without firing a shot.
The 1939 Man of the Year was Stalin. His achievements? The Hitler-Stalin Pact and playing the jackal to Hitler in the rape of Poland, which communists everywhere applauded as they condemned Britain and France for declaring war.
In 1940, Churchill was Man of the Year for the victory in the Battle of Britain — after the debacle in Norway, for which Churchill had been responsible, the fall of France and the evacuation of Dunkirk.
Hitler might well have been chosen a second time that year, for from April through June, he occupied Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Holland, Belgium and France, an accomplishment the Kaiser could not achieve in four years of war from 1914-1918. Stalin matched Hitler, crushing Finland and seizing Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and a lost slice of Rumania. All had been ceded to him in his devil’s pact with Hitler.
In 1941, the Man of the Year was, again, FDR. Understandably Time may have been reluctant to name Admiral Yamamoto or Gen. Tojo or Emperor Hirohito, though Japan was on a triumphant rampage in Asia and across the south Pacific after Pearl Harbor.
Stalin, now our heroic ally, was the choice in 1942; Gen. George Marshall in 1943; Gen. Eisenhower in the year of Normandy, 1944; Harry Truman in 1945. That year Harry became president on FDR’s death in April, presided over the May surrender of Nazi Germany, met Stalin at Potsdam in July, and dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war in the Pacific in August.
For decades Time maintained the tradition, but, in recent years, appears to have lost its gravitas in a search for sales, an unwillingness to antagonize, and a casting about to catch the trend of the moment.
Will history really record that Peter Uebberoth, who ran the Los Angeles Olympic Games, where Russia was a no-show, was Man of the Year 1984; or Endangered Earth was Person of the Year in 1988; or Dr. David Ho in 1996; or Andy Grove in 1997; or Jeff Bezos in 1999? In 2001, Time went with Rudy, a safe choice, rather than Osama bin Laden or George Bush, who had rallied the nation and taken down the Taliban.
In 2002 it was "The Whistleblowers"; in 2005, Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono; and last year, "You." Time could not bring itself to name Iran’s Ahmadinejad as Man of the Year. Too much heat.
As America is headed into serious times, perhaps Time, too, is getting serious again.