There has rarely been such a perfect revision of the cliché that "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it", Time magazine declared yesterday as it named Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US Federal Reserve, as its person of the year.
"Bernanke didn't just learn from history; he wrote it himself and was damned if he was going to repeat it," said Richard Stengel, managing editor of the magazine. "The recession was the story of the year. Without Ben Bernanke it would have been a lot worse."
The much-discussed accolade could be the moment that Mr Bernanke, the bald and bearded professor who has run the central bank since 2006, achieves the household name status of his predecessor, Alan Greenspan.
What is certain, though, is that the choice was quickly proving controversial, as politicians, pundits and the public debated his culpability in the financial crisis that engulfed the world on his watch. Many questioned the wisdom of his efforts to bail out the financial system as it teetered last year, and his decision to flood markets with newly printed money this year.
Rising criticism of the Fed has led to efforts on Capitol Hill to subject its actions to an "audit", allowing for much greater political scrutiny. One poll by Rasmussen Reports this month showed public support for Mr Bernanke's nomination at just 21 per cent, with 41 per cent opposing it, but he continues to enjoy support on Wall Street and among many lawmakers.
In an interview with Time, Mr Bernanke admits to mistakes, including underestimating the severity of the fallout likely from the sub-prime mortgage market failure, but he says his academic studies of the Great Depression assured him that bailing out the financial system was essential to preventing a recession from turning into a second depression.
The publication of Time's choice is particularly opportune, since Mr Bernanke's nomination for a second term as Fed chairman will be voted on today by the powerful Senate banking committee. He appears to have the support of a majority of members, but could still face hurdles, including a motion introduced yesterday that would have his reappointment put on hold to allow for longer debate.
One Senator who has vowed to vote against the nomination is Jim Bunning, a fierce Republican critic of the Wall Street bailout, who scoffed at Time's pick yesterday. "I find it ironic that a man who has spent the last year rewarding others for failure is now being named person of the year," he said. "But if Time magazine is in the business of rewarding failure, Ben Bernanke is their man."Reuse content