Most Influential Person of the Decade

The Washington Post has been having one of those silly polls the last several days, asking “Which of these nominees had the greatest influence in shaping the past decade, either by changing how we live or by making the greatest impact on our culture?”


Kevin Drum can’t believe they didn’t include Alan Greenspan, which is a fair criticism, indeed.  But the brackets are beyond stupid even leaving that aside.

The top left bracket is a joke.  You’ve got the #1 seed, former President Bush, up against a guy who’s been Treasury Secretary for about five minutes, a bicycle racer, and a wealthy heiress best known for an Internet sex video.   Yeah, maybe they could have found a place for Greenspan.

The bottom left bracket, by contrast, is overstacked.  Dick Cheney deserved to be a #1 seed but so did Page & Brin.  Instead, they’re set up to have to face each other in the second round.

In the top right bracket, Barack Obama is a bracket buster, sure to garner a ton of votes because he’s President of the United States.  And, yes, simply getting elected to that office is a Big Deal, especially when you’re the First Black President.  But he’s been in that office less than a year and his only impact on the culture before that was a couple of speeches. Further, he’s paired against Hu Jintao, a man of whom most Americans have never heard.  And I’m not sure offhand that I could detail the impact he’s had on “our” culture.

So, Obama was guaranteed to get past the first round and then he’d face the winner of the face-off between a comedian and the CEO of a tech company.  Hello! At very least he should have had to face Page&Brin in the 1st round.

The bottom right bracket is actually well set up.   Osama Bin Laden is a definite #1 seed and J.K. Rowling is a reasonable enough #2.  So, OBL facing Mark Zuckerberg (who?) and Rowling facing the tougher Al Gore is fair.

Ultimately, though, despite the poor seedings, the strongest challengers have made it to the finals:  Bush vs. Bin Laden.     It’s a tough call, since Bin Laden himself had so much impact on Bush’s presidency.   My money’s on Bush, though, since he started the decade out by winning in the most contested presidential campaign in modern American history, launched two wars, got re-elected, had the Katrina nightmare, and so forth.  Bin Laden was basically a one-hit wonder.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. NYkrinDC says:

    Indeed. Bin Laden was a one hit wonder, but that one hit changed the Bush presidency and American foreign policy for the whole decade, in such a way that we’re still dealing with many of the problems that sprung therefrom. As such, I think it’s valid to see bin Laden as the most influential person of this decade.

  2. Drew says:

    What’s the point spread?

  3. I’d make it Bush for the decade only because I think Larry and Serge might need a bigger time frame. In the long run Google will be the more important reality.

    Stepping back from the two Bush wars, neither will rate as major turning points in history, I suspect. They are skirmishes. And while terrorism is certainly a major force, Bin Laden didn’t invent it, he just pulled off a spectacular strike. But Serbian terrorists in 1914 with just two rounds from a handgun wrought far more destruction.

    I’ll give Bush the Aughties. Obama may take the Teens. Larry and Serge get the first quarter century.

  4. Tano says:

    There is another whole year to go in the decade.

  5. Dodd says:

    Bin Laden was basically a one-hit wonder.

    Actually, three hits and a miss.

    There is another whole year to go in the decade.

    No, the oughts run from 0-9. The tens start in two weeks.

  6. 11B40 says:


    Where’s Tiger woods?

  7. James Joyner says:

    I’ll give Bush the Aughties. Obama may take the Teens. Larry and Serge get the first quarter century.

    I think that’s about right, especially if “Google” is used as a cipher for the broader trends in technology that way presidents are for broader political and economic trends.