The list of Time's annual Person of the Year (originally Man of the Year) is fascinating. Every few years the editors punt as they just did this year by selecting "The Protester," but usually they practice the hard discipline of having to choose a single individual. So we have Charles Lindbergh (not "The Flyers") in the award's first year, 1927; Gandhi in 1930; Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, 1934, and 1941; Winston Churchill in 1940 and 1949; Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963; Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1982; and George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.
Time in past years didn't shy away from putting mass murderers on the cover: Hitler in 1938, Stalin in 1939 and 1942 (although he was an "ally" in the latter year), and the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. Every president since FDR, except for Gerald Ford, made the cover, and lots of Russian or Chinese strongmen as well, sometimes twice: Nikita Khrushchev (1957), Yuri Andropov (1983), Deng Xiaoping (1978 and 1985), Mikhail Gorbachev (1987 and 1989), and Vladimir Putin (2007).
The list certainly shows how man proposes but God disposes. Time's third honoree, Owen Young, made the front cover for chairing in 1929 a plan to reduce the amount of reparations Germany was paying for its World War I sins, and spread them over 59 years. That plan collapsed with the coming of the Great Depression and then World War II. Others now little-known in the United States include Pierre Laval (1931), a French politician who collaborated with Hitler and suffered execution by firing squad in 1945, and Mohammad Mosaddegh (1951), prime minister of Iran until overthrown by a CIA-inspired coup in 1954.
A domestic choice that could send you scurrying to encyclopedias was Harlow Curtice, who headed General Motors in 1955. But he represented "The Car," and Time's editors that time did not cop out, as they did in years including 1966 ("Baby boomers"), 1969 ("The Middle Americans"), 2006 ("You")-and this year. Titling the story "The Protester" rather than "Protesters" suggests that Cairo and Zuccotti Park are part of one narrative. It glorifies New York City's campers alongside those risking their lives in Muslim lands.
Sadly, the democratic hopes of many protesters in Egypt, Libya, and other lands seem even less likely to be fulfilled than the dreams of Owen Young. Demonstrations today, new dictators tomorrow?