Everyone left, right, and center is baffled today by Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize received out of the blue and before he has actually accomplished much of anything of what he had promised from his presidency (as Saturday Night Live compellingly argued). He certainly has failed to be a fierce advocate of gay and lesbian rights, failed to offer any promise that our conflicts in the Middle East will end any time soon (let alone actually end them), or to dismantle Bush’s unconstitutional regime of indefinite detentions and absolution for torturers. And I completely agree with everyone I have read on every side of the aisle and even from Obama’s own stunned reaction in which he himself acknowledged he has not yet earned the vaunted honor.
And the awarders of the honor have offered the bizarre rationale that they are offering this prize as an encouragement for future behavior rather than a reward for actual achievements of living up to his campaign promises. In reply to this dubious idea, Clergy Guy articulates what I was thinking extremely well with an illustration based on his experience leading churches:
The Nobel Committee has done him a disservice and made themselves look foolish. They’ve made this prize a political statement rather than a reward for outstanding deeds. I’ve not thought much about them before, but now I’ve considered them enough to not trust them.
If I were Obama, I would find this embarrassing and perhaps a little alarming.
In my own miniscule role as a clergy guy within my culture, I have learned that when I go to a new church, the people who praise me too quickly are the ones I cannot trust. When I do not do what they want (and that always occurs), they become my biggest detractors. Dishonest, manipulative detractors.
Obama needs to look over the Nobel Committee carefully. He doesn’t need that kind of “support.” I predict they will be his most vocal critics before he is out of office. They’ll also prove to be his pettiest and most dishonest critics.
I agree with all of that.
So, having agreed with the complete common sense of saying this award comes obviously too early as an award for Obama’s international accomplishments towards the cause of peace, I nonetheless think there is a respect in which he is already a world class champion for peace, already worthy of this honor. The only thing I think he deserves the prize for is what he did by being a model of reconciliation as such a dignified, non-retaliatory, hope-inspiring first African American candidate for president. His strength of peacefulness and reasonableness towards his relentlessly and bellicosely baiting racist critics is extraordinarily admirable and the achievement which he managed will affect our culture for decades. As far as I am concerned, Jackie Robinson deserves a Nobel Peace Prize and Barack Obama is already the Jackie Robinson of the 2000s. Has any other nation in the world ever elevated a member of a 12% minority group from within its population to be their leader? What he symbolizes in terms of full integration, full access to positions of power for those with qualifications is of an astounding and literally world historical level of importance.
His presidency represents a necessary gestalt shift that furthers a centuries long process by which humanity is working its way towards overcoming its divisive tribalism. His presidency represents America embodying a lofty ideal in a bold and tangible way rather than simply paying lip service to it. And his presidency would not exist without him. Because America was not going to randomly elect an African American simply to advance the cause of tolerance. A truly great and qualified leader with a profound sense of perspective and patience had to emerge who could resist and defuse the hatred and fears of a majority’s lizard brains and break through incredible barriers. Barack Obama’s achievement was one of the singular events of our lifetimes. We take it for granted now because it is so natural to have him as president now. And that’s only further testament to what he accomplished. He turned what would have been to most an extraordinarily implausible notion—an African American President of the United States of America—into something that feels ordinary and inevitable and necessary even.
So, seriously, how many people can say they have in their very person represented so much healing and so much hope to so many millions around the world? Barack Obama is already a historic figure and symbol of peace, fit for a world class award.
But whether his presidency will be too is yet to be seen.