Well, it’s that time of year again. TIME magazine is once again deciding on it’s person of the year, the person, group, or idea that “for better or worse, has most influenced events in the preceding year.” The feature has been a yearly tradition for TIME since 1927 when Charles Lindbergh became the first “Man of the Year.” Already, there is quite a bit of buzz concerning who should be chosen as there is every year. So I thought it would be only appropriate to offer up my own suggestions for the person who has most influenced the events of 2004. So here it is. My top 10 picks for Anthropik’s Person of the Year.
10. Senator John Kerry
In another election year, a major presidential candidate might rank higher on the list. But Senator Kerry was hardly an outstanding nominee. He didn’t shape the debate. He was, rather, shaped by the debate, using whatever line of attack seemed to work at the moment. In this sense, Kerry’s campaign was more a compilation of other people’s complaints than anything really original. In spite of his ineffectiveness as a candidate, however, Kerry could not help but influence the events of the past year simply by virtue of his position as the Democratic nominee. So even though he was not the strongest voice for any of the arguments against Mr. Bush, he came to represent those arguments because of the fact that we saw him making them day in and day out on our television sets. And that battle between the left and the right that Kerry became a central figure in was in many ways the defining characteristic of 2004.
9. Michael Moore
Kerry may have been who the left turned to as their leader, but it was film maker Michael Moore who really turned up the heat on the debate with his summer documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 in which he looked at actions taken by the Bush administration that the news media had been reluctant to touch. And the film itself stirred up quite a bit of controversy, not about Mr. Bush, but about the truthfulness of Moore’s film. For months even before the film was released, Republicans were taking to the airwaves denouncing it as a lie. During the course of the debate, Moore became an icon for the left–a hero among Democrats and a demon among Republicans. And while Fahrenheit 9/11 may have persuaded many to vote for Kerry, it also gave conservatives new ammunition. They created an image of Moore as the quintessential crazy liberal conspiracy theorist. And in this way they were able to dismiss many of the Democrats’ attacks as a “Coalition of the Wild-eyed.” Regardless of how you feel about his work, there is no denying that Michael Moore definitely helped shape the debate during the 2004 campaign.
8. The 9/11 Commission
One group that may have had an even bigger impact on the shape of the debate than Michael Moore is the 9/11 Commission which published its findings in July after several televised hearings with members of the Clinton and Bush administrations. The commission’s report was probably the most highly anticipated and widely circulated such government report ever. It’s been nominated for book awards, and NBC is looking to bring the report to television in the form of an eight hour miniseries. The most important thing that the 9/11 Commission did, though, was to establish certain basic facts about the terrorist attacks of September 11, thus allowing the debate to continue from there. Among their important findings are the fact that there was no “collaborative relationship” between Iraq and al Qaida and that Mr. Bush had been warned of al Qaeda’s intentions to attack America. The 9/11 Commission established a baseline for the debate that would dominate much of 2004.
7. Mel Gibson
The left may have Michael Moore, but this year Christian conservatives got a film maker icon of their own–Mel Gibson. In a rather significant divergence from his previous roles, Gibson this year released his controversial film The Passion of the Christ. Many criticized it for being antisemitic. Others said it was too violent. But all of the criticism didn’t stop it from becoming the 9th all time highest grossing film domestically and the 24th all time highest grossing film worldwide. Nestled neatly between the Janet Jackson “Nipplegate” controversy and court decisions to allow gay marriage, the film served as a rallying point that helped mobilize the Christian right, a force that few people saw the true power of until after Election Day when those people voting on moral issues delivered the election for Bush.
6. “Activist” Judges
One of the key buzzwords this year has been the phrase “activist judges,” specifically in regard to the issue of gay marriage. In May of this year Massachusetts became the first state to allow gay marriage after the Massachusetts Supreme Court struck down the law that restricted marriage to heterosexuals. The Passion of the Christ may have been the Christian right’s rallying point, but this was their biggest battle. Bush courted these Christian voters by calling for a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. At the time, though, it seemed to be a loss for Christian conservatives and a win for civil rights. Gay marriage was becoming a possibility in more and more places, and suddenly the image of homosexuals in the media was that of two regular people in love with each rather than the old image of crazed, deviant transvestites. But Christians struck back on November 2, voting in 11 states to ban same-sex marriage. And while they were at the polls they also voted for their favorite Republican candidates. This turn-out effort was based largely on an absolutely brilliant “us-versus-them” strategy by the Bush campaign where “them” is “judges ruling from the bench” to take law making power away from the congressmen who represent the people. Of course, they left out the fact that in a common law system most of the law is supposed to be decided by judges. But it sounded like a good argument. And voters swallowed it whole. Some have said this is all because the courts were moving to give rights to homosexuals too quickly. In that way, the decisions of these judges backfired. Because now that the Republicans have widened their control over Congress, there is increased talk of reviving the debate about a gay marriage amendment. And now that Bush has been reelected, he will be appointing more of his own judges, some of which will almost certainly be Supreme Court justices.
5. Christian Conservatives
Yes, the Christian right certainly turned out to be a much bigger player in the events of 2004 than most people expected. We all knew that this election year would be a divisive one, but the “moral values” that guided voters in the red states made it clear where the boundaries of that divide were. New York Times columnist Garry Willis called this Election Day “The Day the Enlightenment Went Out.” In one day it seemed the context of the debate was changed from left versus right to intellectualism versus religion. And in this year, religion came out as the clear winner. As Democrats think of ways to get their wounded party back on its feet, many in the left are now taking religion a little more seriously.
4. Mister George W. Bush
Let’s face it. Any time you have a person who wins the presidency of the United States, that person makes a pretty compelling case for “Person of the Year.” Especially when he’s already the most powerful person in the world to begin with. Bush’s controversial four years in office has been the constant center of attention throughout 2004. Whether you love him or hate him, there are few people in the world who do not have passionate feelings about Bush. The entire 2004 election was bascially a referendum on whether or not Bush should remain in office. One of Kerry’s biggest problems during the campaign seems to have been that he was not seen as a positive alternative as much as he was seen as not-George-Bush. Throughout the campaign it was always Bush, not Kerry, who set the agenda and shaped the debate.
3. Karl Rove
Bush did not get to where he is today on his own, however. He had a lot of help putting together a winning campaign. One of his most important advisors was his chief political strategist Karl Rove. Rove has been working with Bush since 1993 when he advised Bush on his gubernatorial campaign in Texas. But it wasn’t until the 2000 presidential campaign that Rove really broke onto the scene, and the general public started to recognize him for his political genius. Sometimes referred to as “Bush’s brain,” Rove is known in political circles for his dirty campaign strategies. This was first seen by most people during the 2000 South Carolina primary when the Bush campaign destroyed rival Senator John McCain’s presidential bid with a swarm of false rumors. He used a similar tactic again this year to take out the Democratic competition. His first target was former Vermont Governor Howard Dean. Rove was able to take Dean out of the game by creating the impression that Dean is a hothead. And when the media decided to overplay the “Dean scream” Rove had succeeded at effectively scaring Democratic voters away from Dean and into the arms of a much easier opponent, John Kerry. Rove afterward even admitted, “The good news for us is that Dean is not the nominee.” In the campaign for the general election, Rove used the same technique again against Kerry with more false attacks spread by groups such as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. But perhaps most important of all was Rove’s ability to mobilize, almost in secret, the religious right. And it was Rove’s strategy more than anything else that determined the outcome of the presidential election.
2. Governor Howard Dean
A candidate whose presidential campaign died in the early days of the primaries normally wouldn’t make the list for most influential person of the year. Unless that candidate is Governor Howard Dean. Until Dean came onto the scene in summer of 2003 most of the Democrats, Kerry included, were all falling in line behind the Republicans. Dean was the first to gain national appeal by openly criticizing the Bush administration. And once Dean started rising in the polls, other Democrats started to speak out against Bush as well. Dean almost single-handedly energized the Democratic Party and gave it back its spine. The Dean effect was seen most clearly this year, after he had dropped out of the race. Anger against Bush reached its height in 2004, and by Election Day criticizing the administration had once again become acceptable, even “cool.” So while the left looks to people like Kerry, Edwards, Clinton, and Moore to lead the charge, it was Dean that made it possible for all of those people to speak their mind without fear of the consequences. Now, though it seems unlikely that he will ever be president, Dean is still playing an active role in politics. He is the founder of Democracy for America and is among those being named as a possible replacement for Terry McAuliffe as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Okay. I’ll admit it. I actually got the idea for my number one choice for Person of the Year from Steve Rubel. But really, why shouldn’t bloggers get the honor? Is there really anybody else who has influenced the course of events in 2004 more than bloggers? Blogs have completely changed the way people get their information. It was bloggers who blew open the “Rathergate” story. It has been bloggers who have driven much of the campaign against Bush. Howard Dean’s entire campaign was based largely on his use of the internet and his online blog. CNN’s Carlos Watson has called blogs “Democrat’s answer to talk radio.” Even my idea for who should be the number one person of the year came from a blog. Just as the 24-hour television news channel once changed the playing field by providing a constant stream of immediate, continuous news, internet weblogs have changed the field again by giving people access to any news they want to read whenever they want without having to wait to see it on CNN or FOX. And perhaps even more importantly, it has changed the way that information flows. People now have access to information that may never be reported in the mainstream media. And rather than having one speaker communicating to several people as is the case with traditional news organizations, blogs allow many speakers to communicate with many readers, thus providing a much freer flow of information. Forget film makers and politicians. The most influential Person of the Year is without contest the Blogger.
You can find out TIME’s actual choice for Person of the Year December 20.