Sunday, October 11, 2009

More Thoughts on the Nobel Prize

Two days have passed since Barack Obama was named the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Pundits are continuing to voice their support — or opposition. And I continue to try to make sense of it.

An old friend of mine spent quite a bit of time Friday trying to persuade me of the "global perspective" that the Nobel Committee showed in naming Obama this year's winner. Obama is such a change from his predecessor, my friend said, that he has altered the way the world looks at America.

But he acknowledged that was the only conclusion he could reach. When it comes to recognizing Obama's achievements, he admits, as even the most diehard Obama supporters must, that the cupboard is bare of the sort of accomplishments that Nobel historically honors.

My friend may be right. I hope he is. But, absent a tangible achievement like a peace agreement or even a potential achievement, the Nobel Committee's decision clearly is open to interpretation.

And I think the Nobel Prize runs the risk of being diminished (to at least a certain extent) in the eyes of the world if Obama's potential as a peacemaker is not realized.

A friend and I were talking about this (among other things) at lunch after church today. And we agreed that Obama and his party are facing serious setbacks at the polls next year — due, in no small part, to the fact that Obama has spread himself thin in his first year in office.

I sympathize with the fact that he is in a hurry, but it would be embarrassing — at least, ironic — if domestic tranquility is damaged by the manner in which the Nobel Peace Prize winner's administration has ignored the worsening labor market. I don't think that is the kind of image the Nobel Committee wants its prize winners to project.

I know Obama didn't campaign for this. But it is his to live up to now:
  • In the Washington Post, Jim Hoagland gives the Nobel Prize a positively Dickensian spin. It is, he says, in recognition of events yet to come.

  • Similarly, Tim Rutten observes, in the Los Angeles Times, that, since the Nobel's deadlines would have required Obama to be nominated after less than two weeks in office, it was intended "to reward words and not deeds." That's a noble sentiment, but not especially in keeping with what I have always believed to be the Nobel's purpose.

  • Derrick Jackson writes, in the Boston Globe, that the Nobel Committee was actually recognizing the American voters for electing Obama. In the absence of any actual international achievement, I suppose that is as good a reason as any.

  • Left–leaning Eleanor Clift of Newsweek speculates that this has the potential to contribute to a Saturday Night Live parody promoting "Obama as a politician who makes grand promises but doesn't deliver."

  • Well, SNL may not have picked up on it yet — I didn't watch the show last night so I have no idea if there were any skits about it — but right–leaning Mark Steyn of the Orange County Register thinks the Nobel Committee has outdone SNL in the Obama joke category.

    "Obama took office on Jan. 20," Steyn writes. "Gosh, it's so long ago now. What 'extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy' did he make in those first 12 days?"
I seldom agree with Steyn, but I must admit that it is a good question.

Of course, that conclusion depends on the presumption that the Nobel nomination was for something that happened between Jan. 20 and Feb. 1. Technically, it is possible that the prize is in recognition of something that occurred before Obama took the presidential oath of office.

But the problem for Obama is that there was little in the preceding 50 weeks besides charismatic — and, sometimes, well staged — campaign speeches. In 2008, he was a senator — and, for a short time, president–elect.

There have been many senators who sought their party's presidential nomination. And some of them did win the nomination. And a few were elected. But I don't recall hearing that any of them were nominated for the Nobel Prize.

So I think it is reasonable to conclude this prize is linked to Obama's actual presidency.

And, for Obama, the problem with his actual presidency is there is little beyond potential to reward. Right now, anyway. That could change in the future. But doesn't that raise the bar to impossible heights for Obama? If he does something extraordinary on the world stage, he can't really be rewarded for it now, can he? Wasn't that what this prize was intended to recognize — his unfulfilled potential?

Seems to me that anything that fulfills that unfulfilled potential is, by definition, ineligible to be rewarded a second time.

if anyone can provide an equally reasonable answer, that person may well be next in line for next year's Nobel Peace Prize.

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