UPDATE: He was the obvious choice all along.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy has inspired the world, and now he’s been enshrined by Time as Person of the Year.
The magazine did a nice head-fake in playing up some other names, and in the column below, written yesterday, I said the Ukrainian president was unlikely to get the nod because he wouldn’t be controversial. I’m happy to have been wrong.
I hate getting sucked into Time’s Person of the Year debate, which is basically a giant publicity stunt. But here I am.
The annual Time honor has such a long history that it’s assumed a certain gravitas, and I hardly begrudge the magazine for trying to milk it.
The first phase of the buzz building began when Time’s executive editor Ben Goldberger made the TV rounds to disclose the names of the finalists.
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Liz Cheney is on the list – a way for the Trump-bashing magazine to say, see, we picked a Republican, but one who has crusaded against Donald Trump.
Elon Musk is on the list, but he was the winner last year – making his selection far less likely, even with his disruptive takeover of Twitter.
Janet Yellin is on the list – maybe the most low-key Treasury secretary in modern history. That’s not real. They needed one Democrat.
Xi Jinping? Also not happening.
And then there’s Ron DeSantis. That triggered a barrage of criticism on “Morning Joe,” with Mika Brzezinski declaring, “Ron DeSantis makes no sense to me!”
Well, said Goldberger, “he won a major re-election victory in Florida and is a front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.”
Let’s pause for a moment, because is DeSantis really a front-runner in 2024? Yes, he won a near-landslide in Florida and has shrewdly made himself into a national figure, but it’s also possible he won’t run. Not likely, but possible.
If the governor does jump in, it would be toward the summer of 2023. Trump might beat him, or DeSantis may split the anti-Trump vote with several other candidates (now John Bolton is talking about running), handing the former president the nomination.
In any event, DeSantis might be a legitimate Person of the Year contender next year, maybe even a lock, but how do you give him the nod in 2022?
Unless, that is, Time is just trying to stir up a little controversy.
But if you look at the sweep of history, the nod would have to go to the last name on the list, who was mentioned almost as an afterthought: Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
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This is a leader who has inspired and rallied his country, against seemingly overwhelming odds, to repel a brutal and unprovoked Russian invasion, replete with war crimes and deliberate targeting of civilians. Not only that, but his brave troops have driven the Russians out of Kherson and recaptured substantial land along its eastern border. Just yesterday, Ukrainian drones hit targets inside Russia for the second straight day.
This is a former sitcom star who has been hailed by parliaments around the world, who has granted endless interviews despite the risks, who has successfully pressured the Biden administration and other western governments into providing tens of billions of dollars in aid and badly needed weapons.
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And make no mistake: This is the biggest land war in Europe since World War II. If Vladmir Putin were to succeed, it would a grievous blow to the NATO alliance and a victory for this dictator’s effort to reassemble the Soviet empire under his sole control.
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Yet I think it’s highly unlikely that Zelenskyy will win this contest. The reason? It’s not a controversial pick. Most people will say yeah, he deserves it, depriving Time of the buzzy debate it needs to make it more than a 12-hour story.
But he’s the obvious choice.