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Time Names “The Protester” Person of the Year

John on December 14, 2011 at 10:58 am

From the Arab Spring to the American Autumn, Time’s Kurt Andersen is lionizing protesters around the world with only the most superficial look at what it is the protesters want. Listen to this load of nonsense:

It’s remarkable how much the protest vanguards share. Everywhere they are disproportionately young, middle class and educated. Almost all the protests this year began as independent affairs, without much encouragement from or endorsement by existing political parties or opposition bigwigs. All over the world, the protesters of 2011 share a belief that their countries’ political systems and economies have grown dysfunctional and corrupt — sham democracies rigged to favor the rich and powerful and prevent significant change.

Here Andersen glibly refuses to draw any distinction between Egyptian, Russian or Iranian protesters who can indeed make a case that the system is rigged and America where it’s very difficult to make the case that elections are not free and fair. Notice that we went from George Bush to Barack Obama and from Barack Obama to the Tea Party. If that’s not a sign that the people are in power, nothing is.

They are fervent small-d democrats. Two decades after the final failure and abandonment of communism, they believe they’re experiencing the failure of hell-bent megascaled crony hypercapitalism and pine for some third way, a new social contract.

Are we still talking about Egypt, Iran and Syria or have we suddenly limited ourselves to the anti-capitalist Occupy protests? Seems to me the two things have little in common but, again, Andersen just glosses over that in an attempt to justify their person of the year.

During the bubble years, perhaps, there was enough money trickling down to keep them happyish, but now the unending financial crisis and economic stagnation make them feel like suckers.

But don’t worry. Socialism will fix that. Really, is Time describing or prescribing? I’m hearing both.

But this year, instead of plugging in the headphones, entering an Internet-induced fugue state and quietly giving in to hopelessness, they used the Internet to find one another and take to the streets to insist on fairness and (in the Arab world) freedom.

Wait, are we talking about the same Occupy camps? The ones where people wake up at 9am, smoke a joint and then hang out in a park all day doing nothing? How much time was spent marching and how much just sitting around on their asses? Andersen doesn’t want to venture a guess on that or even mention it.

Eventually Andersen does get around to mentioning the inconvenient fact that the protests have not really panned out, though even here he attempts to compare Egypt favorably to the US:

In both Egypt and Tunisia, the freely elected new parliaments will be dominated by Islamists — sweet-talking moderates who secularists worry won’t stay that way…To me, the mainstream Islamist parties in Egypt and Tunisia don’t appear much more fanatically religious than, say, Pat Robertson–esque Evangelicals in the U.S., and unlike the Republican hard-liners, they sound committed to a national consensus that includes secular liberals.

What an amazingly tone-deaf statement. As if Democratic hard-liners are committed to consensus with the Tea Party, i.e. the people they spent much of the year calling terrorists and hostage takers. But apparently Kurt Andersen only presents news from the perspective of his party. There’s not even a weak attempt at balance here. Did any of Time’s editors notice this?

This is an obnoxious and frankly stupid article conflating genuine revolutions in the middle-east with a tiny handful of anti-capitalist protesters (perhaps numbering 100k at their height and far less than that thereafter) in the US. Egyptians lived under one person rule for decades. Western occupiers want a free college education. Iranians wanted their votes to count. US occupiers think banks should pay more in taxes.

To bunch these together is to trivialize the revolutions in the middle-east with the tiresome ignorance of a few thousand 20-something socialists and anarchists. It’s comparing the man who stood before a tank in Tienanmen Square to protest living in a police state kids who got pepper sprayed at UC Davis because they feel tuition is a burden others should bear for them.

It would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. The protests for freedom in places like Iran and Syria are not the protests for free tuition led by the occupiers. The protests for less government control and greater democracy are not the same as the protests for an end to capitalism in Athens or New York. These protests are fundamentally different at their core, almost in direct contradiction to one another. But Kurt Andersen doesn’t seem to have noticed any of those differences. If he did, he didn’t really see fit to mention them.

Addendum: Ed Driscoll has the rough draft of Time’s Person-of-the-year cover. You can probably see why they didn’t use this one…

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