Time likes to be provocative with their annual Person of the Year. Like they’re just dying for you to take issue with their choice and vigorously debate it as though it matters. But this year, in what is either a testament to the battered state of the media or the battered state of the country or both, the magazine finally gave up on counterintuitiveness and just went ahead and picked the obvious person. Because love him or hate him, it can’t be denied that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke really is the person of the year.
All of 2009 was dominated by the economy: the crappiness of it, whose fault it was that it was crappy (the government, the banks, us?), and how it might be fixed, and Bernanke, a member of the administration whose policies helped cause the mess, now in charge of cleaning it up, was, with his perpetually guilty, Eeyore-like expression, the face of our collective complicity. All year, the soft-spoken former Princeton professor has been a constant presence. His reports on our economic progress — in which he quietly affirms that things are bad, but assures us they will soon be okay (probably) — feel like a near-daily occurrence. When we look back at photos of this year, we almost feel like we’ll see him, Zelig-like, at all major events, like the MTV Video Music Awards and in the background of Mark Sanford’s press conference. Of course, Bernanke would never actually go to those things. He’s a serious guy, a scholar. He’s probably pretty embarrassed to be Person of the Year, in fact, and we imagine he’s taking some ribbing for it in the two-day FOMC meeting. He’s probably more than a bit nervous about the attention. But a part of him is also probably pleased, and for now, so are we. Someday, we all may find out that Bernanke’s policies were disastrous and were responsible for driving the country into the ground. Then maybe he’ll seem like a controversial choice. But for now, we’re just going to let him enjoy the moment.