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An American Revolutionary

4 minute read
James Kelly

George W. Bush first appeared on the cover of TIME in the summer of 1999, under the headline PRESIDENT BUSH? The question mark disappeared in December 2000 when, after weeks of wrangling in Florida and despite losing the popular vote to Al Gore, he emerged as the 43rd President of the United States. That victory, which left many Americans incensed, led us to make him Person of the Year for 2000.

Did that really happen just four years ago? The first months of the Bush Administration were contentious, with fights over how to deal with North Korea, global warming and stem-cell research dominating the headlines. Power shifted in the U.S. Senate when Jim Jeffords of Vermont left the G.O.P. and became an independent. Suddenly the Democrats, led by Tom Daschle of South Dakota, controlled the Senate, and Bush found himself on the defensive. Then came Sept. 11.

All told, Bush has appeared on the cover two dozen times. As the images on this page show, he’s had his highs and lows, with approval ratings at one point hitting 90% and then sinking to 46% as the war in Iraq kept claiming American lives. Even some of his strongest supporters never considered him the odds-on favorite to win a second term. But in the end, George W. Bush prevailed. For sticking to his guns (literally and figuratively), for reshaping the rules of politics to fit his ten-gallon-hat leadership style and for persuading a majority of voters this time around that he deserved to be in the White House for another four years, George W. Bush is TIME’s Person of the Year for 2004.

This is not the first time a President has earned the title twice. Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower (first as a general), Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton all share that distinction, albeit the last three with partners the second time around (Henry Kissinger, Yuri Andropov and Kenneth Starr, respectively). Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Deng Xiaoping and Mikhail Gorbachev also got the nod twice. Franklin Roosevelt holds the record, with three appearances.

Our main story is written by Nancy Gibbs and John F. Dickerson, who along with Matthew Cooper interviewed Bush in the Oval Office last week. Photographer Christopher Morris spent several days behind the scenes with the President, including an emotional visit to a naval hospital, where he pinned Purple Hearts on those wounded in Iraq. Karen Tumulty dissects the power and influence of Karl Rove, whom Bush credits as being the “architect” of his re-election campaign and whom Democrats both envy and loathe. Joe Klein examines the President’s relationship with women and minorities, who hold more key positions in his Administration than any other in U.S. history. Cooper takes a look at the Bush dynasty, a word family members hate but that is nonetheless valid when examining their role in American politics. And Hugh Sidey sat down for an illuminating–and amusing–session with the President’s parents, one of whom happens to have been our Person of the Year for 1990. These stories were edited by Lisa Beyer and Priscilla Painton, who along with Michael Duffy oversaw our political coverage this year.

Romesh Ratnesar profiles Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, the shadowy leader of the Iraqi insurgency, while Richard Lacayo delves into the similarities between Mel Gibson and Michael Moore, who created two of the most successful–and controversial–films of the year. Lev Grossman explores the blogosphere, the universe of weblogs that played such a major role this political season.

There is lots more in this double issue, including our annual portfolio of People Who Mattered, which includes exclusive pictures of Nancy Reagan and her son; John Kerry; the leaders of the 9/11 commission; Ukraine’s Viktor Yushchenko; and a certain horse that won the hearts of so many this year (but not, alas, every race he ran in). Giving it your best, lose or win, is sometimes its own reward.

James Kelly, Managing Editor

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