Person of the Year 2010: George W. Bush


Time Magazine has announced its annual Person of the Year selection is Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook.  Since it was created earlier this year, Facebook has accumulated half a billion users, who… wait a second, Facebook wasn’t created this year.  Zuckerberg is getting the honor because of something he did six years ago, which Time editor Rick Stengel acknowledged in his announcement, while maintaining “2010 is the year Facebook reached critical mass.”

Admittedly, it’s nice to see a member of the Evil Rich receiving the honor, in a year when open war has been declared on them.  Of course, there have always been exceptions granted to class-war rhetoric for media figures, and Zuckerberg famously announced his intention to donate most of his money to charity.  His POTY award will get lots of people on Facebook buzzing about Time magazine, and it ties into the synergy of a big-budget Hollywood biopic that was recently in theaters.  Well played, Time editors!

The Time reader favorite for Person of the Year was Julian Assange, who is an odious, but defensible, choice.  (Remember, Person of the Year doesn’t have to be someone Time or the reader approves of.  It’s supposed to be the person who “for better or worse, had the most impact on the events of the year.”)  The Tea Party was one of the runners-up, and would have been my choice of those nominated, although I don’t like the cop-out of naming a group as “person” of the year.  In 2006, Person of the Year was “You,” a gutless dodge that turned Time into an existentialist farce.

I think the true Person of the Year is a man who actually sat down for a highly entertaining interview with Mark Zuckerberg a couple of weeks ago: George W. Bush.

No single person has so dominated our national discourse this year, without actually saying a word.  Our current President certainly thinks so, missing no opportunity to insist Bush is the architect of every passing moment.  Barack Obama was supposed to be a historic, transformational figure, but by his own account he can’t escape the long shadow of his predecessor.  Obama is hailed as a superhuman, nearly divine being by his most ardent worshippers, and his Party had control of both houses of Congress ever since his election, but they all insist they’re completely helpless against the power of Bush… who resolutely refuses to say a single word against them.

Even the final days of 2010 have been shaped by Bush, as a burned-out Obama effectively resigned the presidency because of the battle to preserve Bush’s tax rates.  Obama’s successor, Acting President Bill Clinton, took the stage to firmly insist on maintaining tax policy he savagely demagogued during the 2004 Democratic Convention, as columnist Doug Powers reminds us:

“But as soon as I got out and made money, I became part of the most important group in the world to them. It was amazing. I never thought I’d be so well cared for by the president and the Republicans in Congress. I almost sent them a thank you note for my tax cuts until I realized that the rest of you were paying the bill for it. And then I thought better of it.”

Even “The Man From Hope” was forced to bend before the power of George Bush in 2010.  And Bush’s dominance extends beyond economic policy.  From Guantanamo Bay to Afghanistan, the president who campaigned on overturning every Bush directive has largely continued them, with only minor changes.

We can also thank Bush for the things he hasn’t done.  He has followed the Republican tradition of graceful retirement, refusing to criticize Obama or interfere with his decisions.  Imagine how much uglier our already turgid political environment would be, if he had followed the Democrat tradition of partisan sniping from the sidelines (see Bill Clinton’s remarks above, or consider Jimmy Carter.)

Bush’s negative qualities continued to shape 2010 as well.  The Tea Party movement owes much of its energy to his spending habits, which lit the fuse for Obama’s deficit explosion.  Bush’s odd silence during his lame-duck years, and his inability to deal with Republican misbehavior that led to their 2006 electoral pounding, set the stage for Obama’s presidential victory.

George W. Bush should have been Person of the Year for 2010.  He wouldn’t campaign for it, or accept the award if it was given… and for all their rhetoric about how POTY doesn’t necessarily convey approval, Time’s editors would never dream of giving it to him.