The major news magazines of the United States chose distinctly different men to feature on the covers of their year-end issues.
In keeping with tradition, the editors of Time magazine selected a Person of the Year. President Bush took the honors and his smirking grin graces the cover of that publication. The editors argue that Bush was the dominant figure of the year. They even go so far as to suggest that he has redefined politics.
Don't believe it.
Bush was a dominant figure in 2004, as any sitting president is in any particular year. But his re-election by the narrowest margin of any incumbent president since Woodrow Wilson was hardly impressive. And it is difficult to see how Bush redefined politics - unless, of course, points are awarded for simultaneously spinning big lies about your record, your opponent and the state of the nation.
Indeed, within weeks after the election, Bush's web of deceit was already beginning to unravel as it became clear that his misadventure in Iraq was turning deadlier and more chaotic by the day.
Newsweek chose more wisely. That magazine's cover featured Barack Obama, the newly elected Democratic senator from Illinois. In his own way, Obama was a dominant figure. The first African-American elected to the Senate in 12 years, one of the few Democrats to win a previously Republican-held Senate seat in a year that was not generous to his party, and the acclaimed keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention, Obama seemed to be everywhere in 2004. And, to a far greater extent than Bush, he was redefining politics.
Obama beat more prominent Democrats for his party's Senate nomination because he was more courageous politically - opposing the war in Iraq, criticizing the Patriot Act and promising to battle corporate special interests. And he wowed the convention, and the nation, by eschewing standard rhetoric in favor of an uplifting and unifying message that was in stark contrast to the dispiriting politics of 2004. If he carries that courage and vision into the Senate, he may well succeed in setting a different, and better, tone.
By any measure, Bush represents the worst of the past.
Obama represents the best of the future that his political rise suggests is possible.
Obama, not Bush, is our person of the year.
Copyright 2004 The Capital Times