Giuliani's a hero, but not 'person of the year'

Posted: Dec 27, 2001 12:00 AM
Don't get me wrong; I'm a huge fan of Rudy Giuliani. He has been arguably the most successful and important mayor of the 20th century. What he did to make my hometown livable again cannot be praised enough. And the poise, courage and humanity he displayed in the wake of Sept. 11 established Rudy as one of the great politicians of his generation. But come on, he was not the person of the year. Henry Luce, the founder of Time magazine, intended the "Man of the Year" (now "Person of the Year") designation to go to "the person or persons who most affected the news of our lives, for good or ill, this year." According to this obviously unscientific standard, Giuliani doesn't even come close. I can understand Time magazine's dilemma, though they deny, as they must, that this was a cop-out. The economy may be in recession, but for the news media it's more like a depression. Ad revenues are through the floor, competition for scarce dollars is intense. Putting Osama bin Laden on the cover of Time as the "Person of the Year" would have had the magazine's ad reps tearing out their hair. I'm not suggesting Time Managing Editor Jim Kelly merely looked at the balance sheet and picked a feel-good winner. But in a climate of renewed patriotism, especially for a magazine based in New York City so close to Ground Zero, it's understandable that his news judgment would be a bit off-kilter. But as a matter of hard news judgment, it seems to me bin Laden was the obvious winner -- with George W. Bush coming in a close second. Giuliani, in a sense, merely lived up to expectations while Bush far exceeded them. Bush's leadership, and the need to focus on the tasks at hand, all but buried the lingering disputes from the Florida recount for all save the most embittered partisans. Regardless, it was bin Laden who set all of this -- and so much more -- in motion. Giuliani argues bin Laden doesn't deserve the title since the villain failed to achieve his goal. Bin Laden had intended for the Sept. 11 attacks to sow fear and chaos in the West and a desire for a holy war. Instead, they fostered patriotic resolve among the American people and invited a swift retribution from the U.S. government, which may have resulted in bin Laden's own death. The editors of Time agree, Osama bin Laden is "too small a man to get the credit for all that has happened in America in the autumn of 2001." To me, that sounds like anger talking. Bin Laden is hardly an insignificant figure, here or abroad, and we should not diminish his villainy by denying the magnitude of what he has done. Even though bin Laden failed to make the changes he desired, he still managed to change the world. In a matter of months, tectonic plates of world history have lurched into an entirely new configuration. Just look around. Whether you trust Russian President Vladimir Putin or not, it's clear the relationship between our two countries has changed drastically. The Bush administration, to its credit, understood before Sept. 11 that the Russians were no longer our chief foe or rival. But it was unclear whether the Russians actually understood it. They understand it now. No better evidence can be found than their near total silence in response to our withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. For Putin, the "war on terrorism" is merely a useful euphemism for a war between the West and Islamic extremists to the East, with Russia on the frontlines of that war. Additionally, the war on terrorism has awakened American citizens and policymakers alike that the Muslim world is a very real challenge to democracy and globalization. This has brought America closer to Israel -- another frontline state in the war on terror -- and it has pushed us much further away from once-close friends like Saudi Arabia, which deserves a great deal of blame for the spread of radical Islamic ideology. Perhaps more important, bin Laden's surprise attack on America has convinced a whole generation of Americans that the best defense in foreign policy is a good offense. What constitutes a good offense is open to considerable debate -- whether, for instance, we should next set our sights on toppling Saddam Hussein. Most Americans do, though, now understand that passivity only breeds contempt and invites more such attacks. In fact, it's hard to find a significant sphere of public life that hasn't been substantively changed because of the events orchestrated by Osama bin Laden. He may be a loser, a fiend, a fraud and a coward (much like Hitler, who was a winner of the Man of the Year award). But it's hard to say that he hasn't affected the news of our lives, for both good and ill, more than anybody else.