Person of the Year 2008, Mr. Barack H. Obama
The news shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone when the Time magazine announces its Person of the Year 2008 this morning, and the person is, Mr. Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th President of the United States.
It's unlikely that you were surprised to see Obama's face on the cover. He has come to dominate the public sphere so completely that it beggars belief to recall that half the people in America had never heard of him two years ago — that even his campaign manager, at the outset, wasn't sure Obama had what it would take to win the election. He hit the American scene like a thunderclap, upended our politics, shattered decades of conventional wisdom and overcame centuries of the social pecking order.
Understandably, you may be thinking Obama is on the cover for these big and flashy reasons: for ushering the country across a momentous symbolic line, for infusing our democracy with a new intensity of participation, for showing the world and ourselves that our most cherished myth — the one about boundless opportunity — has plenty of juice left in it.
Nevertheless, the Time magazine has provided the reasons for its selection.
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 Time's interview took place in the same room when the Chicago Tribune's reporters talked with Mr. Obama last week. NP has a story on last week's interview.
It is here that we find Barack Obama one soul-freezingly cold December day, mentally unpacking the crate of crushing problems — some old, some new, all ugly — that he is about to inherit as the 44th President of the United States. Most of his hours inside the presidential-transition office are spent in this bland and bare-bones room.
But he doesn't seem to notice. Obama is cheerfully showing his visitors around, gripping the souvenir basketball he received from Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens, explaining a snapshot taken the day he played pickup with the University of North Carolina hoops team. ("They are so big and so fast and so strong, you know.")
Then, since those two items basically exhaust the room's décor, Obama sits down on one of the mesh chairs and launches into a spoken tour of his world of woes.
Mr. Barack Obama has successfully avoided the chaotic post-inauguration days of Mr. Clinton by rapidly building his administration in an orderly manner to reassure the American public in these challenging times.
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.
Obama's competence fills him with a genuine self-confidence. "I've got a pretty healthy ego," he allows. That's clear when he offers a checklist for voters to use in judging his performance two years from now. It's quite an agenda.
The Obama's presidential agenda is long and complex as he expects to provide solutions to the economy, jobs, health care system, energy, Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and to reinvigorate the US international position and to improve its image globally, to name a few.
"Outside of specific policy measures, two years from now, I want the American people to be able to say, 'Government's not perfect; there are some things Obama does that get on my nerves. But you know what? I feel like the government's working for me. I feel like it's accountable. I feel like it's transparent. I feel that I am well informed about what government actions are being taken. I feel that this is a President and an Administration that admits when it makes mistakes and adapts itself to new information.'"