Friday, October 09, 2009

They don't get it

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize win has been met with skepticism by many US media organizations, including those who endorsed him as a candidate during the 2008 election campaign.

The news of the day, sadly, is not celebration that our President, and, by implication, our entire nation was honored with the one of the world's most prestigious awards. No, the big news is the chatter over Obama's worthiness.

Oh, I'll admit it: even I was stunned to see the news this morning and learn that Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize. I wasn't even aware that he had been nominated. And my first reaction was, "Isn't it a little soon?" Not that he was unworthy, but that he had only begun his work, and the impact was uncertain. And I was thinking of that war in Afghanistan. So I interpreted this award as the Nobel committee's gesture of reconciliation with America. And I took some personal pleasure and pride in it.

I heard part of Obama's acknowledgement speech in the morning, and I was impressed with his grace and humility. Over the course of the day, I scanned the blogs and news headlines, and I was disturbed about the controversy.

It wasn't till the end of the day, as I was driving home, that I heard some actual news that turned my head around. After listening to David Brooks and E.J. Dionne dither about whether this would make things "harder" for the President, I heard a brief clip from a member of the Nobel committee. First, he said the committee's decision had been unanimous. Then he noted, as foremost among a number of reasons, that Obama had returned "multilateral diplomacy" to the forefront of international affairs.

He said a bunch of other stuff, but my mind was racing from that point. What he was saying, or what I heard, what the prize committee is trying to tell us, is that the world believes Obama is beating the swords into plowshares. True or not, that belief is a wellspring for new hope around the world. Back in the USA, however, we're sitting here playing our political "gotcha" games with the pundit class scoring for the best soundbites and ratings. And we think all of the noise of the birthers and the teabaggers matters to the rest of the world. Think they care whether we have decent health care? They've got their own thank you, and they probably think we're idiots. But they think Obama is doing the right thing with his approach to international affairs, and the world is hungry for strong, rational leadership.

By replacing fear with hope, Obama has given a massive spiritual gift to the world, and this, in the end, is what the Nobel committee is acknowledging. Without hope, there is no possibility for peace.

And yes, this award is political. It is a deserved honor, to be sure, but above and beyond that, it is a direct message to the American people: Wake up! You're judging this man by the wrong standards. This is not about your petty political squabbles and whether Republicans can be appeased. This is about helping chart a sustainable course for the future of our planet.

It is, in fact, a very sad day when people's first instinct is to criticize an award, not to honor it. It's as if someone else were grievously injured by this decision. But of the 200 some nominees, who was the more deserving? I've heard a lot of speculation about the "meaning" of this decision, with little or no reference to the committee's stated reasoning. Shouldn't we be listening to their message rather than second guessing and suggesting ulterior motives?

I don't know about you, but the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to our sitting president has made me proud to be an American. To the doubters, I feel sorry for you, but your cynicism is its own punishment. And don't any of you ever lecture me about love of country.