Time magazine recently awarded its vaunted Person of the Year title to “The Protestor .”
The increasingly irrelevant weekly has been moving away from traditional designations of actual, individual human beings as Person of the Year for a while now. Apparently the left-leaning journal has been ever more swayed by the collectivist notion that there are no individual heroes or titans that drive the world—just influences, movements, and groundswells. Recent winners of Time’s award have consisted of The Peacemakers (including founder of modern terrorism Yasser Arafat), The Whistleblowers (including an Enron staffer who warned about bad accounting practices), and The Good Samaritans (including certified bobblehead Bono).
At least those titles went to groups of several persons each. Time’s latest choice encompasses literally millions of human beings. It’s as vague and vacuous as the phrase “War on Poverty.”
(I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised at Time’s latest addle-headed selection; this is the same magazine that chose Vladimir Putin as Person of the Year in 2007 and, um, “You” in 2006.)
Throughout its lengthy cover story, Time boosts “protesting” as if it were just another Internet craze, like planking, owling, or Batmanning .
In saluting The Protestor, Time recklessly combines the following disparate groups: pro-democracy protestors in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, and Bahrain; anti-corruption protestors in Russia and India; Tea Party protestors; Occupy Wall Street protestors; “Real Democracy” protestors in Spain; public sector union benefit cut protestors in Wisconsin; and austerity cut protestors in Athens and London. Practically kissing cousins!
In a related photo essay , the editors casually juxtapose portraits of figures from different groups: an Egyptian democracy demonstrator next to an Occupy Wall Streeter; a Tunisian women’s rights advocate beside a Greek austerity protestor.
The spurious comparison of democracy advocates to anti-capitalist ne’er-do-wells is no doubt a means for liberal Time editors to pat themselves on the backs. By placing leftist rallies in the same league as pro-freedom demonstrations, they grant the former a degree of legitimacy unobtainable through these mob movements’ flimsy philosophical grounding or scant public support.
Predictably, Time focuses on the superficial similarities between Arab Spring and Occupy/austerity protestors, such as their relative youth, use of social media to mobilize, display of slogans, clashes with police, and impatience with “the system.”
In a video explaining the reasoning behind his choice, the author of the Time piece—whose nephew was a figure in the Occupy movement—claims  that the Arab protests are a more “extreme” version of what happened in New York.
This is utterly wrongheaded.
Pro-democracy protestors and Occupy/austerity protestors not only have nothing in common, they’re polar opposites. Arab Spring demonstrators protested for more freedom; Occupy parasites protested for less.
Occupy Wall Street protestors want more government regulation of the financial sector, tougher restrictions on bank lending practices, greater taxation of high-income earners, more wealth confiscation and redistribution, and more government control of health care, college tuition, and private sector wages. Public sector union members crave more taxpayer dollars for lavish benefits and pension packages few in the private sector receive and more power to bully employees into joining unions. Austerity protestors demand more government-mandated support for slothful Southern European lifestyles.
Pro-democracy protestors, meanwhile, desire freedom of speech and freedom to run a business without the government throwing them in jail or confiscating their property.
Lumping pro-democracy protestors in Arab dictatorships with Occupy Wall Street malcontents is like massing Martin Luther King followers with Ku Klux Klan marchers and naming Person of the Year “The Racial Justice Advocate.”
Yes, Occupy and union protestors were “inspired” by the Arab Spring and conferred with several of their members. But these groups clearly were stimulated by Arab protestors’ techniques, not their pro-liberty message.
Even the Time piece’s author seems to recognize on some level that he’s comparing apples and oranges. As he notes, “The protesters in the Middle East and North Africa are literally dying to get political systems that roughly resemble the ones that seem intolerably undemocratic to protesters in Madrid, Athens, London and New York City.” Then why dishonor the former by tossing them in with the latter?
If protest was on Time editors’ minds—and there certainly was a lot of noisy protesting this year—then their Person of the Year should have gone to Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire after bureaucratic authorities repeatedly quashed his efforts to sell his wares and make an honest living. Bouazizi was the single person most responsible for setting off the chain of pro-democracy protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, et al., and the subsequent elections and tumultuous regime changes that will alter the course of Middle Eastern history for better or for worse.