The selection by Time magazine of Fed chairman Ben Bernanke as its person of the year has been met by a collective yawn. Perhaps this reflects a general disinterest in financial regulators. It also could simply be one more illustration of the diminishing influence of newspapers and weekly magazines.
Even for those of us who find regulators fascinating, the Bernanke pick seems misguided in two respects. First, if Time wished to single out the regulators who flooded the markets with money to avert a Depression, it didn’t make sense to select Bernanke alone. For better and worse, Bernanke was part of a team effort that included then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and current Treasury Tim Geithner. The did everything from the Bear Stearns bailout to TARP in tandem. It doesn’t make sense to include just one of the three musketeers. The second problem is much more revealing, however. Time seems to have had a problem with its calendar. Nearly all of the major financial interventions took place in 2008, not 2009. Perhaps Bernanke should have gotten some votes for person of the year last year, but his contributions were so 2008.
New York Times columnist Frank Rich had an interesting column yesterday suggesting that Tiger Woods would have been a better pick, since the complete mismatch between his carefully crafted public image and his actual private behavior fits a pattern that includes financial wrongdoers like Enron.
With the benefit of several extra weeks of political developments to consider, I would make still another pick. My pick for persons of the year would be Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, President Obama’s advisors. If the story of last year was Obama’s sensational election, this year’s story is the legislation at all costs strategy that the Administration’s advisors have persuaded the President to adopt. It doesn’t seem accidental to me that the most quoted political comment earlier in the year was Emanuel’s statement about a crisis being a terrible thing to waste; and the most quoted recent comment is his statement that everything is negotiable except success. Only time will tell whether this strategy of doing whatever it takes to line up votes will seem to have been well-founded in retrospect. But in my view, it is the story of 2009.