ESR's Fifth Annual Person of the Year

By Steven Martinovich
web posted December 25, 2000

Given that the entire process of choosing Enter Stage Right's Person of the Year is in your hands, I had little idea who would be nominated let alone claim victory. Nominees included stalwarts like Alan Keyes, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, John Stossel, Joe Farah, Libertarian Party chief Harry Browne, Newsmax.com's Chris Ruddy, Laura Ingraham, Fred Thompson, last year's winner Larry Klayman, and Dr. Laura Schlesinger.

The election debacle in Florida even made its mark, with numerous nominations for Florida's Secretary of State Katherine Harris and Leon County Circuit Court Judge N. Sauls Sanders. Even the outgoing Vice President was nominated because, in the words of one person, "since Ronald Reagan, no single figure has roused ordinary people and brought conservatives together than Al Gore in his heavy-handed attempt to steal the presidency."

A common variable among many of those nominated is that they are what I call "professional conservatives," people who earn a living advocating on behalf of conservative issues. There is nothing dishonorable about earning money for doing something you love, it's everyone's goal, but I have to admit a certain satisfaction when the winner turned out to be someone who agitates by providing a forum for other people to agitate. Enter Stage Right's Fifth Annual Person of the Year is Jim Robinson, web master of FreeRepublic.com.

It's fitting that Robinson is our Person of the Year this year as he earned honorable mentions in both 1999 and 1998, two years he could have easily won. The presidential election and the resulting confusion showed why Free Republic and Jim Robinson solidified their reputations as the online equivalents of Paul Revere and the town square. By providing a place for people to share information and plan strategy, Robinson and Free Republic raised an army of patroits to make sure the election was decided the way that the Founding Fathers set out.

Robinson (left) at a May 1999 rally
Robinson (left) at a May 1999 rally

Free Republic came into being in 1996 by the Fresno-based Robinson to, in the words of the web site, "to roll back decades of government largess, to root out political fraud and corruption, and to champion causes which further conservatism in America. And we always have fun doing it. Hoo-yah!" Funded almost entirely by the web site's readership - numbering in the tens of thousands every day - Free Republic is a true grassroots endeavor. Thousands of surfers troll the web every day and post news articles, alerts and essays that are then debated over by thousands of others. When it's called for, FReepers (as regulars to the web site are known as) rise into action and hold rallies. If you don't think they are effective, ask Bill Clinton if he knows what being "FReeped" is.

Free Republic always reminds me of a December 1997 essay published in Wired Magazine entitled "The Digital Citizen" and written by Jon Katz. Although a little optimistic about the changes the Internet would bring to the political process, the landmark study did contain nuggets like "Digital citizens love their political system more than the system loves them" and "the online world encompasses many of the most informed and participatory citizens we have ever had or are likely to have." If you've spent any time on Free Republic, you know those two sentences could be applied to most FReepers.

And it wouldn't exist without Robinson. Along the way, he's had to deal with lawsuits from the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, enjoining Free Republic's users from posting their articles, has helped organize numerous rallies and protests, and works under constant pressure to expand the technical and financial resources that supply the web site. All that work, however, has created a nationwide - and even arguably worldwide - conservative grassroots movement that is able to share information and plan action at a moment's notice. With one stroke, Robinson has managed to fulfill the promise of the Internet and America's republican form of government. You may disagree with Robinson and his FReepers but you have to admire their sense of purpose and dedication.

Honorable mentions

U.S. President-elect George W. Bush

George W. BushIt's almost by default that Dubya receives an honorable mention. After eight sordid years of the Clinton-Gore administration, predictions are already being made that George and Laura Bush will bring a simpler style to the White House. Questions of style aside, a Bush victory guarantees that at the very least, Al Gore won't be sitting in the big chair for four years. Until this month, it could have gone either way. ESR isn't talking about the election chaos but rather the massive advantages that Bush managed to squander in 2000. Remember the days when Bush enjoyed a surplus of money and popularity? Running what could be charitably described as a muddled campaign, Bush allowed Gore to make it a real race right until the Supreme Court decided otherwise.

That said, ESR is cautiously optimistic that Bush isn't the centrist that he portrayed himself to be during the election. As Free Congress Foundation chief Paul M. Weyrich recently stated, his friends "were pleasantly surprised at how instinctively conservative he is on most issues and how loath he is to consult the polls before taking action." Hardly a conclusive statement on how Bush will govern over the next four years, but it is a departure from the past eight years. This magazine wishes nothing but the best for George W. Bush, though our pens are at the ready.

Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day

Stockwell DaySometimes a measure of your success isn't how big a victory is, but how hard you work in defeat. By that measure, Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day should top most lists. It's been a long strange year for Canadian conservatives. The year started out with Day serving as a cabinet minister in the Ralph Klein government in Alberta - virtually an unknown outside of the province - while the Canadian Alliance didn't even exist one year ago. By July 8, Day had been elected leader of the new party - created to unite conservatives under one umbrella - and the CA was a household name.

Change, of course, takes time. Leading his new party into the November 27 federal election, Day managed to increase his party's share of seats in the House of Commons and popular vote in every region of Canada. Despite that, the party failed to gain any real traction with voters and once again is "relegated" to serving as Her Majesty's Official Opposition. Many commentators, no friends of Day or his party, have worked hard to paint the election results as a clear rebuke to the right in Canada. While it is true that the Liberal Party managed to increase its take of the popular vote and seats, that is a long way from saying that Day failed in his mission to unite conservatives.

The fact of the matter is that anyone who is a conservative is now a member of the Canadian Alliance. Anyone left in the Progressive Conservatives is a liberal who hasn't admitted it to themselves and the Liberal Party seemed to win more out of default then any real excitement about its agenda. The Canadian Alliance is a good base to build a future conservative government and at the end of the day, Stockwell Day should be pleased by what he has wrought. He's young and personable and that means he'll be around for a while.

Previous winners:

1999

Larry Klayman, chairman and general counsel of Judicial Watch

Honourable mentions: Free Republic web master Jim Robinson, Former Reform Party (Canada) Leader Preston Manning

1998

Matt Drudge

Honourable mentions: Canadian media magnate Conrad Black, Free Republic web master Jim Robinson

1997 Ron Paul (R-Texas)
Preston Manning (Reform Party Leader - Canada)
1996 Mike Harris, Premier of Ontario (Canada)

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