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It would be easy to watch the alliance in action and imagine the division of labor: head and heart, business and culture; one side brings the money, the other side the buzz. But like many great teams, this one is more than the sum of its symbols. Apart from his music stardom, Bono is a busy capitalist (he's a named partner in a $2 billion private equity firm), moves in political circles like a very charming shark, aptly named his organization DATA (debt, AIDS, trade, Africa) to capture both the breadth of his ambitions and the depth of his research. Meanwhile, you could watch Bill and Melinda coolly calculate how many lives will be saved by each billion they spend and miss how impassioned they are about the suffering they have seen. "He's changing the world twice," says Bono of Bill. "And the second act for Bill Gates may be the one that history regards more."
For being shrewd about doing good, for rewiring politics and re-engineering justice, for making mercy smarter and hope strategic and then daring the rest of us to follow, Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono are TIME's Persons of the Year.
As it happens, they have arrived at the right time, as America stirs itself awake from the dreamy indifference with which the world's poor have forever been treated. In ordinary times, we give when it's easy: a gesture, a reflex, a salve to conscience. The entreaties come on late-night TV from well-meaning but long-discarded celebrities who cuddle with big-eyed children and appeal to pity and guilt. Maybe we send off a check, hope it will help someone somewhere stay alive for another day. That is not the model for the current crusaders or the message for these extraordinary times.
This was already a year that redefined generosity. Americans gave more money to tsunami relief, more than $1.6 billion, than to any overseas mission ever before. The Hurricane Season from Hell brought another outpouring of money and time and water bottles and socks and coats and offers of refuge, some $2.7 billion so far. The public failure of government to manage disaster became the political story of the year. But the private response of individuals, from every last lemonade stand to every mitten drive, is the human story of 2005.