Saturday, October 10, 2009

Let's Talk About the Nobel Peace Prize Shall We?

Obviously, while I was taking my normal two days off from both my work and the internet, there was some very big news.

Equally obviously, the shocking (I'm not ashamed to use that word, left-wing or not) announcement that the President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize has engendered a bit of discussion. Republican writers have already started to lay into the president on this little 'issue.'

Now, obviously, the President knows that he has not yet accomplished anything worthy of the award and said so himself while expressing himself to be somewhat nonplussed. The simple fact is that the biggest reason he was given the award is that he is not George W. Bush. Europeans feel comfortable with the president again, as they had not when George W. Bush was trying to treat them all like client-states. This makes a huge difference in the deliberations of the Nobel Prize Committee and let's face it, the Nobel Prize has always been awarded on subtle political judgments as much as by plain (and quite subjective) merit. While it is surprising that President Obama received the prize it is not hard to recognize the context in which it happened.

As Ron Chusid quotes quote former Carter administration speechwriter Jerome Doolittle:

1. What do you expect from a bunch of socialists?

2. Not that I’m a racist, but I know affirmative action when I see it.

3. Carter, Gore, Obama? Do we see a pattern here?

4. A clumsy attempt by Europe to save a failing presidency.

5. The Norwegians are just using Obama to slap George W. Bush in the face.

6. Besides, who cares what a bunch of geeks in Oslo think? The International Olympic Committee speaks for the whole world.

7. No thinking person has taken the Nobel Peace Prize seriously since Reagan didn’t win one for ending the Cold War.

8. We elect a president to keep America safe, not to win prizes.

9. True leadership is not an international popularity contest.

10. Peace is no big deal anyway. No, wait a minute. Strike that last one.

Can we take a moment to all admit to each other, in our secret hearts (regardless of whether we are left or right wing and consider the decision legitimate or bogus) that there is probably a significant amount of truth to reason #5 up there? Hrrrrrm?

Let's face it. President George W. Bush is not the most popular American president in European history. There is still a lot of bad blood circulating about him in European circles. There is a joke that posits a punchline in which Sarkoczy tells Putin 'not to pull a Bush.' Is it really that easy to dismiss all suspicion that prevailing European attitudes did not suggest the desirability of a firm rebuke of George W. Bush at the Nobel prizes? I can't do it.

Of course, having accepted the strawman premise offered by reason #5 above, I have to counter with this: does the fact that they would really feel so strongly about President Bush to feel the need to administer such a rebuke mean more about President Obama than it does President Bush? Could European attitudes toward President Bush influence their attitudes toward President Obama so very strongly if there were not some sort of substance to their issues with President Bush? If their issues with President Bush carried real weight, and if President Obama has addressed those issues and their disapproval of Bush thus translated into approval of Obama... would that not speak far more to the negative credit of President Bush than President Obama? Would it not work to his positive credit that he had actually begun to reverse this problem?

If one is to infer that this Nobel prize in some degree constitutes 'a slap in Bush's face' then one must also infer that President Obama has done something to show improvement in the eyes of European consensus. Which would, regardless of its worthiness for a Nobel Prize, be an accomplishment. So one cannot accept that inference as a valid reason without undermining the theory that President Obama is totally unaccomplished or without substance as Republicans would have us believe.

So let's be serious. Of course, President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize is not the most deeply meaningful ever awarded in one sense. It is deeply meaningful, however, in showing just how deeply the strain of American neoconservatism advocated by the Bush-Cheney school of Republican thought has offended Europe and in demonstrating that someone has started to do something about it before it is too late for such an attempt to matter. There is clearly a context that explains everything quite rationally.

I actually think it was a poor choice. If one wishes to discuss a genuinely worthy recipient then how about Virgin's Richard Branson, who has done more than any other Western businessman to attempt to really generate prosperity in the Third World and help those nations to develop their own identities rather than simply slavishly copying the West in every way? That may be a little out of the box (and you thought I hated corporations) but it's certainly based in a clear and legitimate context.

Of course, so was President Obama to the actual Prize Committee.

Who would the Republicans choose in President Obama's place?

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