Was Obama's Nobel for "awesomeness" and positive thinking? - Macleans.ca

Was Obama’s Nobel for “awesomeness” and positive thinking?

The President’s win is like ‘The Secret’ being unleashed on the worldwide political stage


Was Obama's Nobel for "awesomeness" and positive thinking?On the weekend, Australia’s former foreign minister Alexander Downer weighed into the reaction to Barack Obama’s surprise win of the Nobel Peace Prize, calling it a farce that has discredited the award. Like Kanye West storming the stage of the MTV Video awards to express his anger when Taylor Swift beat out Beyonce, Downer pronounced Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, ignored after years of struggling for human rights in his country, a more worthy selection.

He isn’t alone. Response to Obama’s win has become a watershed that signals the official end of Obamamania and suggests the world’s most esteemed award might also be overrated. Lech Walesa, ex-president of Poland who won in 1983 summed up the most common all splendid oratory-no action yet criticism of Obama: “Well, there’s hasn’t been any contribution to peace yet,” he said, apparently not impressed by his cancelling the U.S. missile-defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic. “He’s proposing things, he’s initiating things, but he is yet to deliver.”

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Iain Martin pronounced Obama’s win “post-modern,” noting  “a leader can now win the peace prize for saying that he hopes to bring about peace at some point in the future.” And post-modern it is—the notion that positive thinking can be conflated with positive results, like The Secret unleashed on the worldwide political stage.

Back in the old days, it took two former U.S. presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, a combined total of 12 years before they were given the award. Obama had been in office not 11 days before the Feb. 1 deadline for this year’s submissions. (The day he heard about his surprise win he met with his War Council to discuss sending more troops to Afghanistan.) But some would say that the quickness of the recognition has meaning. In a letter to Obama Friday, President Shimon Peres of Israel (who won the award jointly with Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin in 1994) congratulated Obama for bringing climate change, figuratively speaking, to the world stage so swiftly: “Very few leaders, if any at all, were able to change the mood of the entire world in such a short while with such a profound impact. You provided the entire humanity with fresh hope, with intellectual determination, and a feeling that there is a lord in heaven and believers on earth.”

That fresh hope derived in part from Obama also signaling the exit of the war-enabler George W. Bush, which many suggested was why Obama got the award. As Air America correspondent Ana Marie Cox Twittered: “Apparently Nobel Prizes are now being awarded to anyone who is not George Bush.” The committee echoed Obama’s signature “hope” theme in its citation: “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future.” It focused less on accomplishment than intent, referring to the president’s “vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.” Later, under fire, Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland tried to make it less airy-fairy: “We are not awarding the prize for what may happen in the future, but for what he has done in the previous year,” he said adding: “We would hope this will enhance what he is trying to do.”

In other words, the award is a carrot, dangled before the world’s most mighty politician at a nerve-wracking moment, like hypnotherapy: you are officially a Man of Peace: act like one. Last year’s winner, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, said as much: “We do not yet have peace in the Middle East… this time it was very clear that they wanted to encourage Obama to move on these issues…” he said. “This is a clear encouragement to do something on this issue, I wish him good luck.”

John Mathews, Senior Fellow of the New America foundation,  posited that Obama’s selection was tactical in another way: “the choice of Obama has the whole world talking about the Nobel Prize. If they’d pick some Cambodian rice farmer/anti-war activist, no one would have noticed.” He applauded such strategizing: “because it’s controversial it gets common people all the over world talking, debating and thinking about peace and diplomacy.”

While suggesting that bold-faced names get attention may be cynical, it reflects a decided trend in Nobel Prize winners over the past century. In his 1895 will, Alfred Nobel stipulated that the 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.” The first winners in 1901, Jean Henri Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross and initiator of the Geneva Convention, and Frédéric Passy, the founder of the first French peace society, were unimpeachable.

Over the years, the Committee has been increasingly flexible to the point of eccentricity in interpreting Nobel’s edict. Consider that Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat have both received the prize while Gandhi never made the cut. (Foreign Policy has a list of notable also rans.) And there have been fewer winners like Fridtjof Nansen, the Norwegian scientist and explorer who originated the Nansen passports for refugees, and more international personalities working to effect broader social change such as Mother Teresa and Al Gore. If Bono received it, no one would blink.

In a letter sent within hours of the Nobel announcement Friday, Republican National Chairman Michael Steele wrote mockingly that the only reason Obama won it was his “awesomeness,” noting:  “It is unfortunate that the president’s star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working toward peace and human rights.”  In other words, Obama has won the popularity contest this year and is having his Oscar moment. “This is the equivalent [sic] to the Academy Awards giving the lifetime achievement award to Hannah Montana,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, who probably meant to say Miley Cyrus, but the point’s the same.

But, this outrage towards Obama’s questionable win is actually playing out quite unexpectantly—putting the spotlight on those who better deserved it.  This year’s Nobel shortlist of 172 people and 33 organizations was the longest ever, and included Sima Samar, a brave female Afghan doctor who is an outspoken activist for women’s rights, Chinese dissidents Gao Zhisheng and Hu Jia, Eastern Congo Pastor Bulambo Lembelembe Josue, French-Colombian politician and former hostage Ingrid Betancourt, and Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Quang, and even Bill Clinton, Writing on Slate.com, John Dickerson used the win to take a jab at Obama:  “Human rights activists in China must be particularly miffed since the Obama administration has downplayed China’s bad human rights record.”

Small wonder a “surprised” and “deeply humbled” Obama is trying to distance himself from the vaunted prize.  “I will accept this award as a call to action,” he said, trying to deflect the glory (and scrutiny): “This award is not simply about the efforts of my administration—it’s about the courageous efforts of people around the world. And that’s why this award must be shared with everyone who strives for justice and dignity,” he said, sounding a lot like an actor picking up an Oscar.

His best act was stealthily dismissing the award’s importance via a cute out-of-the-mouths-of-babes parable involving his daughters: “After I received the news, Malia walked in and said, ‘Daddy, you won the Nobel Peace Prize and it is [family dog] Bo’s birthday. And then Sasha added: ‘Plus we have a three day weekend coming up’.” The lesson from the latest Nobel Laureate? It may be the Nobel Prize but it’s just an award. Get a grip.


Was Obama’s Nobel for “awesomeness” and positive thinking?

  1. "In other words, the award is a carrot…"

    The Nobel Peace Bribe. The committee has been dishonouring Nobel's memory for decades.

    • Funny how not administering a Peace Prize named after a man who created it to avoid being posthumously hated for his invention of dynamite is "dishonouring his memory". His memory doesn't deserve to be honoured. Perhaps his intellect; but his life's work has killed thousands of people.

      • And given how useful dynamite has been for Canadian miners, construction workers, and soldiers I'd point out that his life's work has also saved the lives of thousands of people. You can't blame the man for those who misuse his contribution, any more than you can blame the man for those who misuse his award.

        • Of course plenty of power has been used for good, Why is freeing millions from evil dicators not an act of peace in the end? Those who find the comforts they enjoy now need only look back not too long ago to see that someone had to fight for those freedoms. someone had to die so you could live free. Peace comes at a cost and the left somehow has forgotten just what it costs.

          • The Left hasn't forgotten the worth of freedom – they never understood it in the first place. Freedom is inseparable from personal responsibility.

          • The Left doesn't understand the difference between pacifism and peace, and neither does the peace prize committee. The "Pacifism prize" has long been a dubious award, given largely to those who are "representative of all that is best in liberalism, a liberalism with a strong social implication" as one Nobel peace prize presentation speech put it.

      • I hate to break it to you, but dynamite has saved far more lives than it has cost. Can you imagine building a road, bridge or a mine without dynamite? Dynamite is a scourge no more than knives are a scourge. Or drugs. Or cars.

  2. Maybe he was given the award for not starting a war in his first year in office.

    • Assuming he doesnt get his own 9/11!

    • Hey he still has 2 months left, and Ecuador has it coming.

    • He tried when he cut off all tied to Honduras and tried to intervene in their affairs.

  3. Next he'll get an Academy Award for watching a movie, and the Heisman trophy for watching a football game!

  4. Breaking News: Chris Matthews not only has a "shrill running up his leg" but admitted he now has a stain on his little satin undies as well.

  5. If they're honouring President Obama this way now, what's left for them to do when he actually achieves something?

    • You might want to substitute "if" for "when"

  6. Queen Elizabeth just called and said she was going to "Knight" President Obama just to P off the GOP. I like it.

    • Well, he IS a classless bastard of the highest order, and knighthood is about as relevant these days as the Nobel anyway. And neither knighthood nor the Nobel pissed off the GOP… it just confirmed their belief that Europe prizes Obama singularly because he IS anti-American.

  7. Why "correct" the observation about Hannah Montana? Hannah Montana isn't a real person, and neither is that big faker in the White House.

  8. Odd that in the WSJ today, a European based writer defended the Committee’s decision. Now when Keith Olberman, MSNBC, the WAPO and NYTimes editorial boards and others seem to defend this, even The Nation thought it was absurd. And yes, there were people who deserved it more. What the media should do is to list, all of his failed policies as of 9 months in office. List them and then put another list up: successes for peace or just for the American people. My guess is there is not contest.

  9. There are many beauty contestants out there that are also hoping for peace — where is there award?

  10. I am not George Bush either. Why shouldn't I have won it? Even Ahmajinijad isn/t Bush. He might have been a better candidate.

  11. Obama is an embarrassment to people with a brain. The great unwashed can dance and chant his name, like cavepeople worshipping an imagined God. The rest of us have to live with this arrogant, delusional pomposity.

  12. We all know this award was given by America haters to someone they considered a kindred spirit. He has promised to fundamentally remake America, and those Nobel committee members are definitely excited about that prospect. …Read: the Nobel Peace Prize? Who's the Joke Really On?…at….http://cooperscopy.blogspot.com/

  13. Under any other guise this would look like a bribe. As it is, the Nobel was awarded for any or all of the following reasons:
    1. Obama is not Bush.
    2. Obama is African American-a notable diversity from lilywhite Nordic committee members.
    3. Obama has signed onto the idea of Global Warming, although the implementation in a time of economic meltdown might be another story.
    4. Obama has signed onto programs that systematically make American more like Europe and therefore more palatable to the European angst.
    5. Soros and his rich friends bought if for him in a heavy handed attempt to distract Americans from the very real danger of an over the top Healthcare program that will bankrupt future generations.
    6. They let the media tell them how to vote.

    Take your pick. Any day now I expect to see the president riding a white unicorn addressing Congress with his magical crown and his superhero outfit. Too much sugar is bad for the digestion and too much adulation is bad for the soul.

  14. Nobel prizes have certainly lost their luster after this. Its a wonder they didn't also give Obama the prize for Economics. Its true that his stimulous bill was a corrupt failure leading to 9.8% UNEMPLOYMENT, and a ruinous amount of debt, but Obama certainly wishes that the U.S. Unemployment rate would go to 3% or less, and the U.S. would experience double digit growth rates and make everybody in the country rich. Its hard to wonder why wishful thinking about peace qualifies for the prize, but equally wishful thinking about the economy doesn't. For that matter Obama also wishes to come up with a cheap source of renewable energy that will end greenhouse gases and Global Warming…..so how about the Nobel for Science and Physics? None of this silliness is Obama's fault, but it does cause an unfortunate comparison between wishful thinking/speaking and reality that isn't very flattering to Obama. Next year Norway should find some sane people for the committee and try and get the selection process back to its feet. Right now a Nobel means about as much as the prize from a box of Cracker Jacks….except for the money, of course!

  15. Obama got the award because he's willing to bash America. Bush angers the Europeans because he fought for American interest and bashed the Europeans.
    Just ask yourself: do you llke a guy who kowtows to you, or a guy refuses to ? Obama kowtows to the Muslims and Europeans.

  16. It is obvious that the "peace at any cost" gang in Oslo were hoping to influence Obama's decision about Afghanistan. And there are millions of Afghan women risking their lives in support of democracy, who have much to be concerned about.

    For them, an Oslo style "peace" stands a real chance of bringing back a Taliban nightmare.

    Peace without human rights, and individual freedom is no peace at all.

    • "Peace without human rights, and individual freedom is no peace at all."

      Exactly. You have nailed the problem. The Nobel committee is entirely focused on the US, as if the US is the warmonger simply by having troops in other countries. Their definition of peace means simply pulling troops out and getting rid of military defenses, making it easy for militaristic aggressive regimes like Iran and terrorist groups to gain their objectives. It is "Peace in Our Time" all over again. They never learn from the past. They should award the prize posthumously to Neville Chamberlain. They would never have given it to Churchill.

  17. The Nobel Committee is addicted to Hopium. Very serious drug. Causes delusions, lapses in thinking. I'm told that many folks in the main stream media and at HuffPo are also addicted. When the addict finally comes down off the drug, they blame others for their depression and despair. Quite sad.

  18. This just in: Obama wins the Stanley Cup, states he is pleased to win roller skating's top prize.

  19. Is it me? Or did the author of this piece come off as a douche to correct "Hannah Montana" as "Miley Cyrus?" Any serious person wouldn't give a rat's ass who plays the character. Perhaps the authors spend too much time reading "People?"

  20. The inability to find specific fault and/or offer other than "personal insults" reduced nay-sayers to the status of "haters" and no one appreciate "haters".
    The views of others are beyond the hateful objections of "no bodies" who has made zero contributions to "the people and issues of the world."
    To those whose"hoods" have been removed from their pinheads- their lack of an operative brains is now apparent. Maybe they should try impeachment followed by installment of John McCain and his Naval career (or should one include his father who was a real sailor).

  21. Down here inside the Beltway, the usual reaction when this topic emerges in conversation is a rolling of the eyes and a sigh.

    As one wag put it, "the Nobel has now assumed all the importance of the MTV awards." I might add that the MTV awards are now not as funny as this Nobel announcement.

    All the rationalizing and spin from our Dear Leader's supporters aside, he simply doesn't deserve it. Thre are less visible people out there risking (and often losing) their lives for high ideals who should have gotten it.

  22. Who cares why he was given the award? The only thing that should be important to us is how he has responded to it, and we have responded to it. He has responded graciously, while admitting that the award may be premature. He has also pledged to give the prize money to charity. We (actually, many of you more accurately) have responded with bitterness, childishness, and outright boorishness as if it was our award to give. Where does this come from? Since when do we attack those who give awards to Americans? It's sick.

  23. Please apologize to Taylor Swift , who earned her award, for comparing her to Obama, who didn't.

  24. the impression one gets from most of the comments is that we should blame obama for the nobel committee's choice. this is pretty silly. sillier still is that most of the commenters are smuggling in biases they already held.

  25. The hate , sickness and stupid expressed by many above is very disturbing.
    The right wing propaganda machine is running full blast spewing out teabags and advice to disrupt public meetings as a form of advocating freedom of speech all the while convincing people to vote against their own self interest.

  26. It's sad to see the award being so cheapened (Gore and now Obama).

  27. The guidelines set by A. Nobel specified in his will that the prize should go to the person who has done the most for world peace in THE PRECEEDING YEAR. It is interesting to note that BObama was not even in office in the preceding year. The committee violated their only real rule.

  28. Next he'll get an Academy Award for watching a movie, and the Heisman trophy for watching a football game!