People often mistake being named Time‘s “Person of the Year” as an honor, but that men as sinister as Adolph Hitler, Josef Stalin and Rudy Giuliani have all been given the title suggests otherwise. According to Time, the award is primarily a recognition of influence and by that measure the 2009 selection of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke makes sense. Explains Time, the Fed is “an independent government agency that conducts monetary policy, which means it sets short-term interest rates – which means it has immense influence over inflation, unemployment, the strength of the dollar and the strength of your wallet.” Powerful and influential indeed.

But using Time‘s reasoning, the same award could have been given to Alan Greenspan, Paul Volcker or any other chairman in the history of the Fed. It is amusing that if simply being in charge of the powerful institution warrants such recognition, a Fed Chairman has now received it during a time of serious economic downturn and Bernanke likely won the award because his celebrity had been elevated due to the economy going south. It’s sort of like giving special recognition to Tiger Woods for making so many headlines recently, while ignoring that it is his personal recklessness and infidelity that has contributed most to his career and marriage going south.

So instead of giving props to Fed chairman who’ve screwed up the economy, why not praise someone who’s spent his entire career opposing the central bank, not to mention being ahead of the curve-often alone–on some of the most pressing political issues of our day? In terms of elevated profile and increased influence, it’s hard to imagine a better candidate worth recognizing as “Person of the Year” than Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

For starters, Paul agrees with Time that Bernanke should be “Person of the Year,” because he truly is “the most powerful man in the world.” Paul notes that Bernanke can “create a trillion dollars in secret without any monitoring of the Congress, so there’s no transparency, and I think he’s more powerful than the president.” And yet for years, decades even, Paul was virtually alone on Capitol Hill in calling to rein in the Fed. Today, the once “extreme” notion of auditing the Federal Reserve has become mainstream amongst Republicans and more than a few Democrats, due in no-small-part to Paul’s lead. Reports the Houston Chronicle:

“As odd as it may seem, (Paul) has become one of the most influential Republicans in a capital city dominated by liberal Democrats… The subject that has brought him to prominence is the same issue that subjected him to ridicule from establishment Republicans for years: his long-standing opposition to the nation’s monetary system and the Federal Reserve Board that prints money and controls its supply. ‘On economic matters, he was seen as a way outside the mainstream,’ University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said. ‘His views were somewhat 19th century in the view of a lot of economists.’ Well, they say history repeats itself, and suddenly Paul’s “19th-century” thinking seems appealing to those suffering through the first economic meltdown of the 21st century.”

While many now embrace Paul’s “fringe” thinking on the Fed, many Americans have also migrated closer to the Congressman’s thinking on foreign policy. When during the George W. Bush years, the Republican Party exchanged its traditional limited government rhetoric to advocate for war, Paul vocally opposed nation building in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq, ventures he believed were unjustified, unwinnable and too costly. When running for president in 2008, many saw Paul as simply the antiwar Republican, a seemingly oddball position at the time, particularly amongst a field of GOP candidates whose platforms consisted mainly of trying to outdo each other in their enthusiasm for war.

And yet as Obama continues with an almost identical foreign policy agenda as Bush, polls show that many Americans-including many Republicans-are now war weary and skeptical as to what the US endgame might be in the Middle East. Many are realizing there probably is no real “end” or no true “victory” in Afghanistan or Iraq. And many now realize that Paul had been right all along.

Given the anxiety over economic downturn and costly military overstretch, it is not farfetched to say that popular American opinion is likely now closer to Paul’s thinking on those two major issues than that of either major party nominee for president in 2008 and particularly President Obama, whose poll numbers continue to plummet. Says the Houston Chronicle “it’s not that Paul has gone mainstream. Rather, the mainstream has gone Paul-ite.”

Not bad for a guy who just two years ago was considered persona non grata by his own party. And not bad for a man who continues to change hearts and minds, not because of any grand strategy or particular political savvy, but mostly because against overwhelming odds–he’s refused to change one bit.