A single question has been prominent in my mind since President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. Since when do we commence to snipe and backbite when one of our own has been honored by the world?
Every morning when I come downstairs, I pour myself a cup of coffee and then look at my computer. I check my e-mail to look for NY Times updates from the overnight and then I turn on NPR's Morning Edition. I've been especially attentive to headlines this past week, as the Nobel Prizes are annouced. I like paying attention to that sort of thing. On Friday, when I saw that President Obama had won the Nobel Prize for Peace, my first thought was "he doesn't need this."
By that I meant that Obama's opponents on the right would surely reflexively reject the selection of the president for the prize. They'd complain that the honor was undeserved, unwarranted, and unearned. And of course I was correct. Within the hour, the right began to bitterly regret that our president had been made the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace.
I'm a little embarrassed to admit then my first response was to place the prize in the context of contemporary politics. I think highly of the prize, not only for the blessing it bestows on people who are working hard to make their world a better place, but also because the prize has the effect of advancing political causes that are meaningful and deserve advancement. There are many instances of this, so I'll cite just one: in 1984, the Nobel Committee awarded the prize to Bishop Desmond Tutu, a black South African opponent of apartheid. At the time, apartheid had no shortage of supporters (including our own government). The Prize gave Tutu and his cause another measure of world legitimacy and it significantly helped to move forward the anti-apartheid movement, especially in terms of world opinion. In 1993, the apartheid system officially came to an end, and two more South Africans, Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk, were awarded the Nobel that year. I'm glad that the Nobel Committee honored Tutu along the way; his receipt of the Prize in 1984 served as a significant contribution to the end of apartheid.
While I can certainly understand a respectful disagreement with the president and his political goals, I've had about enough of the bitter sniping that seems to govern the rhetoric of some of our nation's political leaders. This crowd (Hannity, Limbaugh, Beck, and their disciples) approve of absolutely nothing the president does. If President Obama said the sky was blue, I've no doubt that they'd disagree. This is not a debate of ideas or even ideologies. This is shouting tantrums by ideologues. And it does not make us better.
Does President Obama deserve the Nobel Prize? The Nobel committee certainly thinks as much. A reading of the Prize committee's statement on the award makes very clear that the committee is awarding the prize to President Obama because of the manner in which he has re-positioned the United States as a member in good standing of the world community. We must make amends for the behavior of our nation during the Bush years. That Obama brought his so-called "star power" to bear in his speech to Cairo and his trip to Africa is fine by me. He has begun the process of mending our frayed diplomatic ties with the world. It's a noble mission; one we must undertake. If President Obama prevails, our nation and our world will be better for his efforts. And if he fails, we'll all pay the price. President Obama won election to the presidency by persuading a majority of Americans that, "Yes we can." I would add that we must.