The Year of Bernard, Barack and the Asians

Lists are from all times and all seasons, but they thrive most in December, the month in which the balance of the year is drawn. I must admit that I appreciate them in all sorts and sizes.

The classification is not always equally surprising – who has been surprised that Time elected Barack Obama man of the year – but there are always striking finds.

One of the most original lists of this year I think is the ‘ten worst predictions of 2008’, gathered together by the magazine Foreign Policy. Because it is an American magazine, the choice is a bit one-sided from a European perspective, but that should not ruin the fun.

Hillary Clinton

As first prognosis that has been tripped up by reality, a quote of the conservative commentator William Kristol is used, who oracled at the end of 2006 in front of the camera of Fox: ‘If Hillary Clinton has to compete with John Edwards and Barack Obama, she will for sure win the Democratic nomination. Only Gore is a serious threat for her. Obama will not beat her in one single primary. I dare to predict that here.’

A capital mistake – which did not do Kristol’s career much harm by the way, because he was given a permanent column in The New York Times in the meantime. And the honest truth must be told that he was not quite the only one who painted Clinton as the undisputed favorite in that phase. Those who still put their stakes on Clinton at the beginning of this year and qualified her as the most favorite – and also the best by the way – candidate for the White House, have more to explain.

On February 8 2008, so after Super Tuesday, the Dutch opinion poller Andre Krouwel thus unconcernedly proclaimed: ‘Hillary simply has the best papers for the presidency!’. And he was convinced that she was already concentrating on the final, ‘which is why she acts so annoyed when Obama does well in polls or a primary now and then’.


Even more painful is the determinedness with which the often in the American media appearing trend watcher and investment consultant Donald Luskin relegated a recession to the kingdom of fables (number 4 on the Foreign Policy list). ‘ Anyone who claims that we are headed for a recession, and possibly the worst since the Great Depression, has fabricated the definition of recession’, he write in The Washington Post under the header ‘Stop the glooming on the economy’. A day later, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy.

A remarkable list is also the one from Newsweek, that portrays the global elite or the 50 most powerful people in the world. The remarkable part is not so much in the ranking (also here Obama is number one, followed by the Chinese president Hu Jintao), but in the geographical spread.

Also here the American background of the magazine needs to be taken into account: there are (too) many Americans in the list. But even then the small number of Europeans strikes, namely 6, of whom two are the leaders of international institutions (Dominique Strauss-Kahn of the IMF and pope Benedictus XVI). Asia is represented with 9 exponants and the Middle East with 7. The European Union likes to portray itself as a beacon of democracy and progress. I’d say: a bit more power development is no redundant luxury in this regard.

Deepest fall

In this last week overview of the year, an own list is only fitting. What follows are the five giants who have made the deepest fall in the past year, and the five who have most won in prestige. First the tumblers:

5. Thabo Mbeki. The South African president was put aside by rival Jacob Zuma and missed the strength c.q. the courage to tell off the dictator of neighboring country Zimbabwe.

4. John Edwards. Mr. Nice Guy, who liked to make good cheer with his from a severe disease recovered wife, turned out to be not such a good spouse. No cabinet post for him.

3. Rudolph Guliani. The favorite of the Republican nomination gambled completely wrong and was eliminated before his campaign had counted from Ground Zero to 9/11.

2. Yves Leterme. ‘He has lost every morality to lead a constitutional state’ (De Morgen).

1. Bernard Madoff. The most expensive bubble of all times: from 5,000 dollars (starting capital) to 50 billion and back again.


And now the top 5 of risers (in this year full of adversity clearly smaller in number than the tumblers):

5. Gordon Brown. Forcefulness in the credit crisis gave the British prime minister a new lease on life.

4. Ingrid Betancourt. Former Colombian presidential candidate displayed heartwarming resilience after release from her grim imprisonment. Could possibly step into the limelight after her sabbatical.

3. Nouri al-Maliki. He came to power in 2006 because he was so weak, and often his days seemed numbered. But by skillful maneuvering, the Iraqi president considerably strengthened his position.

2. Nicolas Sarkozy. Everywhere he performed, he stole the show, even if the performance wasn’t really all that much.

1. Barack Obama. A choice that cannot be avoided. The man, the mandate, the mission. And now let’s hope that he does not end on the other list in December 2009.

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