He should have turned it down. Obama gains little by accepting the Nobel Peace Prize so unexpectedly thrust upon him this morning. In the current climate, it’s the last thing he needed.
As White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in one-word email: “Wow.” Has anyone ever wanted a Nobel Prize less? Bono and Bill Clinton would kill for this. After saving a few thousands more lives with antiretroviral drugs, of course.
Chip Reid asked Gibbs in the daily briefing if the president considered turning it down: “Not that I know of.” Really? Was Gibbs on a bathroom break?
It’s true that this validates Obama’s worldview and that how we speak to each other is important. Yet, in “seeking to encourage Obama’s ideals rather than recognize concrete results, ” the committee sidestepped its founder’s vision: “Alfred Nobel stipulated that the peace prize should go ‘to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses.’ ‘Shall have done,’ seems a tricky piece of language to write around.”
I don’t hold it against Obama, because I’m pretty sure he didn’t want it. Not now, anyway. However, I did think he would have the dexterity to decline gracefully and not offend the Nobel Foundation.
He came mighty close, saying, “I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many transformative figures that have been honored by this prize.”
This spring, when Arizona State University passed on awarding him an honorary degree, he turned the issue on its head in his commencement address to students. This was an opportunity all the more ripe.
In so doing, he could have gotten off with no bull. It would have sent a great message and garnered the prestige of earning the award, but with a much-needed modesty to tame his critics. The opposition attacks that had already begun before his speech would have looked stilted.
As it was, the GOP (and the Taliban) should have let the media do the work for them, since the consensus was reached pretty immediately. Now they look inelegant. Then again, I can’t recall when Rush Limbaugh has looked elegant.
Indeed, immediate reviews seemed spot-on. Mark Halperin said, “The stunning decision to award him the Nobel Peace prize for, basically, his rhetoric, will almost certainly infuriate his detractors in America more than it will delight his supporters.” The Associated Press analysis put it more tersely, ”The prize seems to be more for Obama’s promise than for his performance.”
I guess this award shows that Norwegians really, really do not like George W. Bush. And that the Nobel Committee is not big on Republicans. Which prominent living ones even deserve a shot? George H. W. Bush seems like the only possibility. And even then, it’s related to linking up with Clinton.
At this point, Obama seems to be doing the “next” right thing: treating the honor as a rededicating smack in the butt to keep working, a nudge that’s he’s on the right track. In an email to supporters, he wrote, “I also know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it’s also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes… That is why I’ve said that I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations and all peoples to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.” That’s a boon to him since the spirit of the award is that our work is never done.