From a field of contenders that included "The Chinese Worker," Time magazine hoisted Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to the throne of Person of the Year. In the magazine's explanation, the editors begin by depicting the Federal Reserve chairman as balding, shy and nerdy, before giving him a rousing endorsement: "The story of the year was a weak economy that could have been much, much weaker. Thank the man who runs the Federal Reserve, our mild-mannered economic overlord." Given Bernanke's persistent unpopularity in some quarters, the selection has unsurprisingly prompted a range of pundits to sneer at Time for a milquetoast pick--beating out sweatier also-rans Usain Bolt and General McChrystal--with some singling out the story's author Michael Grunwald for jibes. Here's what the critics have against Time:
- A Boring Pick, writes Glynnis MacNicol at Mediaite: "Had Time taken the whole thing slightly less seriously they probably would have considered picking someone who might actually sell magazines, like say, Hillary Clinton, or Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin (all of who should have been on the short list), or even Michael Jackson, or the Tea Partiers. But cold hard....logic(?) prevailed and we get Bernanke. Of course, this year (and if things keep going the way they are, likely many to come) was more or less an exercise in not choosing Barack Obama again."
- An Unsubstantiated Pick, writes Felix Salmon at Reuters: "Grunwald talks about how he has been assailed by 'criticism from all directions', but doesn't really name names, relying instead on generalities...Grunwald himself has clearly decided that Bernanke is a hero, dismissing serious criticism of say the decision to let Lehman fail by simply saying that 'it's not clear how the Fed could have saved Lehman without a buyer'. (Of course there was a buyer -- Barclays -- and it's precisely by stepping in with some short-term Bear-style financing that the Fed and Treasury could have allowed a smooth acquisition to proceed.)"
- An Elitist Pick, writes Matthew Yglesias at Think Progress. While Bernanke doesn't have the worst track record of all time, "it's really not all that great," writes Yglesias: "It demonstrates a very specific class skew--extraordinary intervention into the market place just long enough to fix the situation from the point of view of asset-owners while leaving wage-earners holding the bag. But the owners and managers and editors of Time Magazine and the companies that advertise in it probably don't care so much about that."
- An "Iffy" Pick, concludes the always concise Ernie Smith at Short Form Blog: "How worthy is this choice? We realize why some might consider the choice of the Federal Reserve Chair just, but we argue even if you're gonna go that route, Timothy Geithner and numerous CEOs have claim on this mantle. It's an iffy choice at best."
- A Horrific Pick, writes David Sirota at Open Left: "Ben Bernanke fell down on the regulatory job in the lead up to the Wall Street meltdown. He acknowledged this in front of Congress. He then tried to clean up his mess by handing his banker friends trillions of our taxpayer dollars. The result of his regulatory failures and then massive bailouts has been a destructive recession, 10 percent unemployment and debt as far as the eye can see. And for this, the media and political Establishment would have us 'thank' him for saving us."