Daily Maverick's International Person of the Year 2012: Barack Obama
Among the frontrunners, though in no particular order, were a Martian lander, Putin, Merkel, Morsi and Assad. But the man whose resounding re-election victory proved conclusively that American voters will pick a black man twice for the nation’s highest office, had the beating of every one of them. By J BROOKS SPECTOR.
The idea of a “Man of the Year”, later, “Person of the Year”, originated with Time magazine back in 1927. Since that year, Time has routinely insisted that its selections are meant to recognise the person who, for good or ill, has had the greatest effect on the world in the course of a particular year. Nonetheless, in the popular imagination the annual pick has usually been seen as a great honour, although Hitler, Stalin and the Ayatollah Khomeini have all graced covers of Time as “Man of the Year” since this process began. The computer and the planet Earth have both been named “person” of the year as well – and Albert Einstein was tapped as “Person of the Century”, based on his revolutionary ideas in physics that had a fundamental impact on, well, almost everything.
Some years it is clearly easier than others to make the decision. Winston Churchill won in 1940 for his dogged resistance of Nazi Germany; Ike Eisenhower was picked in 1944 for leading the D-Day invasion of Europe; Pope John XXIII was tapped in 1962 for his fundamental changes to the Roman Catholic Church; Anwar Sadat was the winner in 1977 for his rapprochement with Israel; and Mark Zuckerberg was the man in 2010 for his innovation with the Facebook social media revolution. Other years are tougher, but every choice is a subjective one.
The Daily Maverick, too, believes such a selection should take cognisance of both the best and worst in human endeavour and behaviour.
If 2012’s person of the year were based solely on his or her baleful impact, the selection would be an easy one: Bashar al-Assad stands head and shoulders above all other claimants this year. Having led a repressive regime in Syria in recent years that took right up where his father had left off, Assad’s response to the Syrian stirrings that were a delayed response to the Arab Spring has now resulted in the death of more than 40,000 of his fellow Syrians, and the near-destruction of a World Heritage Site, the Aleppo Bazaar. Most recently, in fact, Assad seems to be threatening use of VX nerve gas on his own country's population in an increasingly desperate effort to cling to political power – although that apocalyptic step has not happened. Yet. Still, there remains a chance that Assad can wreak tremendous damage on the international political system if he is left to continue clinging to power. Put him in the pile of names for 2013.
In the world’s political universe, are there other reasonable claimants for this year’s selection? Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, had she led the European Union more forcibly to solve the euro’s ailments and the economic union’s larger crisis, would have been an excellent choice. But so far at least, she has effectively avoided taking that decisive plunge. Similarly, France’s new president, Francois Hollande, could have been a possible choice as the best exemplar of a leftwing rebellion against the economic orthodoxy of austerity and financial restraint, but the jury is, so far at least, still out as to whether his policy choices will be the way out of Europe’s crisis.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the human symbol of the Burmese people’s desire to embrace the democratic revolution might also be a reasonable pick as well, except her real influence will unfold in the coming years. Then, too, the recently reelected Russian president, Vladimir Putin, might well be a candidate, based on his persistence in reviving the ancient Russian autocratic style, but his global impact remains uncertain. And besides, he would have to share the award with the members of Pussy Riot for their own persistent pushback against Putin’s intentions.
Finally, what about China’s leaders? Hu Jintao has stepped down after a decade of leadership, but Xi Jinping has yet to demonstrate his impact on China, let alone the world.
Then, of course, the new Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, might well be an interesting candidate, although his current troubles may well have him out of office sooner than later. Nevertheless, his difficult threading between the impulses of some of his supporters to push him further into an avowedly Islamic government; the Arab street, or at least part of it, to move to a more secular form of government; and the remnant of Mubarak supporters looking for a way to move away from the revolution all make his longevity and the stability of his tenure open to question. Regardless, because of his position and the importance of Egypt in the entire ethos of the Middle East made him a strong candidate, even if he ultimately becomes a transitional figure in that country’s political evolution.
What about the alternative of picking an inanimate object or a larger collective? To us, a logical claimant for the title is the astonishing Martian lander Curiosity – plus the hundreds, perhaps, thousands, of scientists, engineers and other specialists who worked as a team to design, create, launch, land and operate this mobile science lab in an efforts to unlock the secrets of the Martian landscape, atmosphere, geology, history – and the possibility of life on this distant planet. So far at least, everything is working perfectly. As an artifact of human ingenuity, Curiosity – and all the people who have been and continue to be involved – clearly deserve serious consideration for the collective of persons the year. But, ultimately, perhaps, Curiosity also should be held over until its most important, as yet unrevealed, discoveries come out of its sojourns across the Martian landscape in 2013.
After some spirited discussion on the question, The Daily Maverick names Barack Hussein Obama as its “International Person of the Year” for 2012.
We do this in recognition of three crucial points:
The first of these is that the American president, virtually any president after Herbert Hoover sat in the Oval Office during the start of the Great Depression, has a virtually unparalleled opportunity to have a powerful, even overwhelming, impact on America and the rest of the world. This almost automatically puts the president in the running for person-of-the-year-hood.
The second is the historically important nature of Obama’s repeat win in an American national election as a black man, in spite of the ferocious onslaught of rightwing Republican supporters or worse, and their funders and media partners like Fox News, hate-mongering talk radio networks, and an entire network of salacious social media output. With some luck, by virtue of his decisive win, the issue of “can American voters ever pick a black man for its highest office” has now been conclusively put to bed. It has now done this very thing – twice. This now will have a solid carryover to other similar questions about female leaders, Hispanic-American candidates, Jewish-American politicians – indeed the entire litany of hyphenated Americans’ suitability for national office that is increasingly in accord with the demographically diverse nature of the contemporary American polity, and that will simply become more so in the future.
The third of the reasons for our selection of Obama in 2012 is in the nature of the policies he is advocating – for the US and the world at large. These include the reorientation of America’s tax regimen and its spending plans away from a generation-long slide towards favouring the rich and towards a more equitable system.
Moreover, he has been continuing the push for a national investment in rebuilding and modernising infrastructure for the insistent demands of the 21st century on the national polity, economy and society. This, in turn, can be the basis for a revitalisation of the American economy to put it on the right pathway in its competition with the rising economies of Asia and Latin America.
The third aspect, of course, is Obama’s ongoing, increasingly fundamental reorientation of the exercise of American national power from the wasteful extravagances of Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead of the follies of the Bush II years, the Obama presidency has now moved a considerable distance towards recognition that American power is necessarily limited and dependent on the strength and vitality of the country’s economy. From this, there has been an understanding that American power must increasingly be used in tandem and in partnership with other nations.
Even within the confines of the Israel-Palestine imbroglio, after several years of essentially avoiding the question as not amenable to American influence, in the latter half of this year, President Obama has re-engaged with this crucial international affairs issue. This has come in recognition of the essentialness of American involvement in achieving any tangible progress towards solutions. Obama’s record this year may not have been perfect, true, but consider how things might have been in Obama’s absence – or had he been replaced by any of his ostensible challengers.
For these reasons, even more than those that were given for that tantalising early – even too early – promise of that Nobel Peace Prize back in 2009, The Daily Maverick selects Barack Obama as its “International Person of the Year” for 2012. DM
Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Rodon Group, a manufacturer of toys in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, November 30, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed