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The 10 most fascinating people of 2013

Associate Commentary Editor

Published: Thursday, December 5, 2013

Updated: Thursday, December 5, 2013 22:12

Who were the most fascinating people of this year? Here are my selections, in alphabetical order.

Glenn Greenwald. As a writer for The Guardian newspaper who broke the news of National Security Agency surveillance methods, Greenwald forever changed the rules of journalism. Reporters are supposed to remain objective and unbiased, but by openly criticizing government spying for years beforehand, Greenwald proved himself to Edward Snowden a trustworthy conduit for leaking the information, thus landing the biggest news story of the year. This will fundamentally alter how journalism and news gathering operate forever. As Greenwald himself wrote, “This (objectivity) model rests on a false conceit. Human beings are not objectivity-driven machines. We all intrinsically perceive and process the world through subjective prisms. What is the value in pretending otherwise?”

Anthony Kennedy. The Supreme Court’s “swing justice,” Kennedy has a track record for casting the tiebreaking vote on 5-4 decisions, but this year in particular was one for the history books. Who else writes a Thursday majority decision striking down the Voting Rights Act and likely preventing millions of blacks, poor people, and Spanish speakers from voting – a very conservative opinion – then the very next Friday writes a majority decision legalizing same-sex marriage for millions?
Wayne LaPierre. Chief executive officer of the National Rifle Association (NRA), LaPierre was the public face of the gun rights movement. In the wake of last December’s Sandy Hook shootings and President Obama’s resounding re-election, public opinion was incredibly united behind instituting new gun control measures, at levels rarely exhibited on any political issue. Whether this would have made for good or bad public policy is subject for another column, but the fact that literally every single congressional proposal failed is testament largely to LaPierre and his organization’s persistence.

Jennifer Lawrence. For the biggest movie star to emerge so far this decade, this was her banner year. She started by winning the Best Actress Academy Award for “Silver Linings Playbook,” which was technically released near the end of 2012 but earned 78 percent of its box office revenue this year. Then she starred in “Catching Fire,” which if it maintains its current pace will likely be the year’s highest-grossing film. (As of this writing, it already ranks No. 3 despite being out less than three weeks!) Then this month she appears in “American Hustle,” which will probably be nominated for several Oscars.

Macklemore. The rapper, real name Ben Haggerty, transformed music far more than any other act this year. His No. 1 song “Thrift Shop” turned rap on its head by glamorizing bargain hunting rather than riches, while “Same Love” celebrated gay rights, unheard of for a genre famous for its bigotry. Plus his No. 1 hit “Can’t Hold Us” will be played at sporting events and dance parties for a long time to come.

Nancy Pelosi. Some might say Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, but in my opinion Pelosi was the most fascinating politician of this year. The fact that right now she’s more of the Speaker of the House than the “actual” Speaker John Boehner is unprecedented. The October vote to end the government shutdown, the January fiscal cliff deal, the Violence Against Women Act in February, the federal Hurricane Sandy aid in January: all passed the House with around 30-40 percent of Republicans but 90 percent or more of Democrats. We’ve never seen anything like it. Any time the House passes anything that ultimately gets signed into law, it’s because Pelosi plays the role of shepherd.

“The Shooter.” A member of Seal Team Six, he was the Navy commando who actually pulled the trigger to shoot and kill Osama bin Laden. Although the raid took place in 2011, he didn’t reveal himself (kind of) until a March profile article in Esquire magazine by Phil Bronstein. Although this man’s name and identity remain unknown to the public, he sparked a much-needed discussion about how America treats its veterans. In the process he became America’s most famous anonymous figure since Deep Throat in the 1970s.

Edward Snowden. As mentioned above, former N.S.A. contractor Snowden prompted the most notorious leak of classified government information in decades. He was living the life: at 29, pulling in six figures a year while residing in Hawaii with his pole-dancing girlfriend. Then he gave all that up, now granted asylum in Russia as a political fugitive, likely never to return to his home country again.

Dzokar Tsarnaev. I hate to include him, but how can you not? Just when it seemed like we had finally regained our sense of national safety and security, with over a decade since the last successful terrorist attack on American soil and bin Laden dead, suddenly Tsarnaev and his brother bomb the Boston Marathon.

Malala Yousafzai. Ending on a positive note! A young teenage Pakistani girl who wrote a blog promoting women’s rights and education, she was shot by the Taliban while riding the school bus last year. Upon her release from hospital this year and with speaking engagements everywhere from the United Nations to Harvard to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, she almost instantly became the world’s single most visible non-religious-leader standard bearer for peace. Nelson Mandela’s about to die any day now, the Dalai Lama is a religious leader, and Obama proved himself to be not nearly as peaceful as previously thought. She is a hero the world over, and a year ago almost nobody knew her name. She almost died at 14. May she live to 100.


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