President of the World: Eyes on Obama’s Prize

Yes, I know. The Nobel Prize committee got it wrong.

A couple of days ago, the Nobel Prize committee once again snubbed Philip Roth, an American author whose body of work is prize-worthy. I was honored to be a student in a small class he taught on world literature more than 40 years ago at the University of Pennsylavania.  This morning, the backwards committee awarded the peace prize to a leader whose major, if not only, accomplishment was to get himself elected.

Full disclosure: I voted for him. Also full disclosure: I’m sorry the Nobel folks hung this albatross around Mr. Obama’s neck. Iran — whose ancestors invested chess –issued a statement of approval. Finally, after American invasions and torture and exceptionalism under the mean old President Bush, there’s a nice, peaceful fellow America picked as its leader.

The selection of Obama does him no or the U.S. no good. His selection, based apparently on nomination papers submitted just weeks into his presidency, appears to be for his having been elected. No kinetic energy — just potential.

In a way, it’s understandable. On one level, it’s really not about Obama the man, but Obama the symbol. The multicultural, African-American, history-making, narrative-changing, citizen of the world.

If Bill Clinton had been what Toni Morrison called ‘the first black president,’ then Obama is the first global president. (Let’s leave aside the fact that he’s commander-in-chief of the US military now waging two wars.)

Awarding the prize to Obama reminds me of that misguided self-esteem movement in education, which awarded all children A’s just for existing,rather than for accomplishment. That approach soon was recognized for the well-intended foolishness it is, and as a result we have had the 20-year pendulum swing to 24/7 testing the Bush/Clinton/Bush/Obama no-child-left-untested. As usual,after a policy failure comes an over-correction.

The rightwing has won the conservative Exacta: first, the embarrassment for the Obamas that their efforts to lobby the Olympic committee for Chicago failed. And now this Peace Prize awkward moment.

Obama’s domestic enemies are chuckling. But Obama may yet get the last laugh. The very “poison” so feared by the Ronald Reagan-led conservative movement, and now echoed by the radical right (Beck, Limbaugh, Malkin and O’Reilly, Inc.): socialized medicine. The all-but-certain passage of significant healthcare reform is exactly the sort of accomplishment that prize committees generally use as a criterion. And I suspect that over this first term there may well be other significant accomplishments that could well turn out to make the obviously premature award appear not idiotic and naive but prescient.

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Filed under Current Affairs, Political Communication, Politics, Public Relations

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