Sunday, December 23, 2007

Time Mag. Revives, Choosing Putin Man of the Year

Time magazine is back in the traditional groove with its selection of Russian President Vladimir Putin as its "Person of the Year."

In recent years, Time has strayed off course, away from the old standard of choosing some one who, for better or worse, has had the most influence on the world in the year just passing. Last year, it struck a new low with its selection of an amorphous "You" as its Person of the Year. This had an unclear meaning and represented a sorry trend manifest at the magazine since Sept. 11, 2001, an inability to come to grips with the politically incorrect rational choice of Osama bin Laden or some other Arab terrorist as its Person of the Year for 2001 or any of the following years.

There could have been other choices than Putin this year, including two of Time's runners up -- Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Vice President Al Gore, or Chinese leader Hu Jintao. But Time makes a rational case for choosing Putin, and it is fortunate that the choice is punctuated with a scintillating interview the Time editors had with the Russian president in his dacha outside Moscow. The event included a dinner that Putin, perhaps annoyed with some of the questions, cut off early. Still, the Time contingent had three and a half hours with him. Without that meeting, this issue would not nearly have been the success it is.

Putin comes across, as he usually does, as a blunt and sly, if occasionally honest, man. Perhaps, the best exchange, was this one:

Q--"Can you tell us more about Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev?"

A--"They moved toward destruction of the system that no longer could sustain the Soviet people. I'm not sure I could have had the guts to do that myself. This is a very important change. It gave Russia her freedom."

It is also illuminating that Putin has divorced himself so clearly from Godless communism, saying that he has read the Bible and keeps a copy on his plane.

The Russian-focused issue also includes a vehicular trip through the heart of Russia from Moscow to St. Petersburg, a fascinating graphic on the relationship between Russia and China and a less fascinating interview with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

I particularly liked the fact that Time, which had a ridiculous issue a year ago predicting, with boundless inaccuracy, that President Bush would reverse his Iraq war policy and bug out of Iraq, kept its head this time, and treated Putin and the whole Russian subject realistically. In short, it didn't reach any empty or facile judgments about him, or the character of the government he has brought to Russia. It clearly recognized that regardless of this government's undemocratic aspects, it has the support of a massive majority of the Russian people and has had numerous economic and other successes, restoring that country to its old sense of self, before the Leninist-Marxists ruined everything.

Managing editor Richard Stengel, writing a letter to readers about the choice of Putin, explained, "I believe individuals can and do change the course of history, but it's often hard to tease out one person's vision and influence from the hurly-burly of events.

"Vladimir Putin made that task easier. With an iron will--and at significant cost to the principles that free nations prize--Putin has brought Russia back as a world power. It was his year."

Stengel also wrote that he was impressed that unlike most politicians Putin, who granted the interview at the last moment, showed no indication that he cared whether Time's editors liked him or not.

The interview is quite revealing of the celebrated Putin's hard-headed attitude and his determination to steer Russia on its own path, independent of and critical of Western influences, while not breaking Russia off completely either from President Bush, the U.S. or other Western powers.

This is a long issue, requiring more than two hours just to read the Russian portions. One of the most intriguing parts is the bare bones recital of Putin's rise to power, without any pretensions that the Time editors quite understand it. That history in the still often closed Russian government will only be written after many years.

Another intriguing part is the graphic representation of where the population resides in both Russia and China. It not only is evident that China has many times (more than six times) the population of Russia, but it's striking that virtually the entire Russian population is far from China, west of the Ural mountains marking the boundary between Europe and Asia. The vast reaches of Siberia, adjacent to Mongolia and China, are virtually empty, perhaps foreshadowing a conflict between a rising China and Russia as to control of that space.

As a long time Time reader who has been somewhat disaffected with the magazine in recent months, as a loss of advertising dictated smaller issues, with less sweep of coverage and even smaller print, I was delighted to see that Time, as in the days of Henry Luce, can still bring off the kind of sweeping analysis and descriptions featured in this issue. It is truly a tour-de-force.

One can only say congratulations to Time's staff and best wishes for many happy returns of such an effort as we see this week.


We all must certainly wish Kevin Roderick a speedy recovery and a return of his invaluable Web production, LA Observed. We've become used to his spare but revealing accounting of what is going on, especially in Los Angeles journalism. The sooner he is back in the saddle, the better.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

gosh, now you're saying Putin, who many more knowledgeable people regard as a little thug responsible for the murder of a journalist, must be a good guy because he renounces "Godless communism" and keeps a bible handy. Why don't you do that--peel yourself out of the flag and bone up on scriptures that inveigh against needless wars?

12/24/2007 7:18 AM  

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