Well, everyone, it’s official: President Barack Obama was the most important person in the world in 2012, as determined by the person researchers at Time magazine. (For context, Time has previously named Hitler, Stalin, and “you” the person of the year. Two of those were deeply undeserved.)
Why did the most powerful man in the world deserve to be named the most important man in the world, again? (“Again” as in “for the second time,” since he was also the most important man of 2008.) Because he won reelection, basically, prompting speculation about who would have been named the Person of the Year had Mitt Romney won. Would it have been Mitt Romney? Our world will never know.
Time did mention other reasons for the honor besides the president’s successful campaign. In its long article (about 5,000 words), even climate change is mentioned! Once. But that’s appropriate; during his first term, Obama mentioned climate change .04 percent of the time.
After the election, Obama began writing goals for his second term on a legal pad.
They soon discovered that the yellow pad included some things spoken of only rarely during the campaign: dealing with the problem of climate change, for instance, emerged as a major thread, despite all the money the campaign had spent in southeastern Ohio praising Obama’s commitment to coal.
Obama grabs a pen. Chews on the end of it, thoughtfully. Slowly but with assurance writes “CLIMATE CHANGE” on a yellow sheet titled, “My Legacy.” Looks at it. Nods approvingly. Sets the pen down.
The magazine also secured an interview with the president, given that it had bestowed this big award on him again and everything. And there, too, Obama couldn’t resist talking about climate change (despite all the money his campaign had spent touting a commitment to coal). In response to a question about alternative crime sentencing:
I think this is one of those things where I don’t think you should anticipate that I’m leading with an issue like this. My primary focus is going to continue to be on the economy, on immigration, on climate change and energy.
The article-writers at The Hill touted this as suggesting that climate would be one of Obama’s top three priorities — neglecting the key phrase “and energy.” By which he means that action on climate will be reliant on it not affecting economic growth. We’ve heard this before.
Obama was a bit less modified — and even less specific — later in the interview. He was asked about how consideration of his daughters’ future affects his priorities.
[O]n an issue like climate change, for example, I think for this country and the world to ask some very tough questions about what are we leaving behind, that weighs on you. And not to mention the fact I think that generation is much more environmentally aware than previous generations. …
And so when we think about getting our fiscal house in order, when we think about climate change, when we think about the kind of economy that they’ll be inheriting and what opportunities they have, again, taking the long view is something that I’m constantly pushing for.
Maybe not “constantly,” but, you get the point.
The interview was 27,000 words. Climate change came up four times: .002 percent. Because Obama didn’t get to be Person of the Year (again) by taking bold action on the climate. He got to be Person of the Year (again) by winning a campaign.
And he didn’t win that campaign by taking bold action on the climate, either.