Obama TIME Person of the Year 2008

In its quadrennial no-brainer, TIME has named Barack Obama its Person of the Year. Oddly, it takes several paragraphs of throat clearing to get to anything like making a case for the choice:

As Obama has moved with unprecedented speed to build an Administration that would bolster the confidence of a shaken world, his flash and dazzle have faded into the background. In the waning days of his extraordinary year and on the cusp of his presidency, what now seems most salient about Obama is the opposite of flashy, the antithesis of rhetoric: he gets things done. He is a man about his business — a Mr. Fix It going to Washington. That’s why he’s here and why he doesn’t care about the furniture. We’ve heard fine speechmakers before and read compelling personal narratives. We’ve observed candidates who somehow latch on to just the right issue at just the right moment. Obama was all these when he started his campaign: a talented speaker who had opposed the Iraq war and lived a biography that was all things to all people. But while events undermined those pillars of his candidacy, making Iraq seem less urgent and biography less relevant, Obama has kept on rising. He possesses a rare ability to read the imperatives and possibilities of each new moment and organize himself and others to anticipate change and translate it into opportunity.

The real story of Obama’s year is the steady march of seemingly impossible accomplishments: beating the Clinton machine, organizing previously marginal voters, harnessing the new technologies of democratic engagement, shattering fundraising records, turning previously red states blue — and then waking up the day after his victory to reinvent the presidential-transition process in the face of a potentially dangerous vacuum of leadership.

Of course Obama is the Person of the Year.    For one thing, he got elected president, which almost always gets you the nod.  George W. Bush won in both 2000 and 2004.  Bill Clinton in 1992.   George H.W. Bush lost out to “The Endangered Earth” in 1988 but got a makeup in 1990,  Ronald Reagan won in 1980.   Jimmy Carter in 1976, Richard Nixon (along with Henry Kissinger) in 1972, and Lyndon Johnson in 1964.   John Kennedy was passed over in favor of “U.S. Scientists” in 1960 but got it in 1961.   Harry Truman won in 1948.  Franklin Roosevelt won in 1932, 1934, and 1941.

Since the award was established in 1928, the presidents who have been snubbed include:  Herbert Hoover and  Dwight Eisenhower.   That’s the list.  And Ike had won the honor as a general in 1944.  Richard Nixon didn’t win it upon winning the office, either, although he shared the award upon re-election (albeit for the China opening).

Even aside from tradition, Obama deserved the award.  He dominated media coverage for a whole year.  Other contenders — Michael Phelps, Sarah Palin, and Henry Paulson — were in the spotlight for a short time.

Beating Clinton and overcoming the barriers of inexperience and racial prejudice to win the presidency were remarkable achievements and his transition has thus far been superb.   Given the troubled times in which he’s taking office, he’s got every opportunity to repeat.

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, Media, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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. odograph says:

    I had my money on the iPhone (just kidding).

  2. Triumph says:

    The name of the prize should be “Liberal of the Year” since it is coming from a left-wing rag like Time.

  3. Given the troubled times in which he’s taking office, he’s got every opportunity to repeat.

    Not to diminish or belittle the very real problems for folks who find themselves on the wrong side of the various bubbles out there, but if these are troubled times, then we really do have it pretty good. Has everyone forgotten the late sixties and seventies? Does Iraq really look like Vietnam? Does George Bush remind you of Jimmy Carter? This doesn’t feel anything like those days at all. The difference now is that our Oprahfied populace’s first reflex is to claim victimhood and seek an ever larger government to insulate them from being responsible for themselves.

    If you are old enough to remember compare the evening newscasts of 1969 and 1979 to those of 2008. Which has chnaged more, the times or the reporting of the times?

  4. caj says:

    The name of the prize should be “Liberal of the Year” since it is coming from a left-wing rag like Time.

    Posted by Triumph | December 17, 2008

    Now now the little green thing called jealousy is showing in your remark!!!