Most of us— those who support President Obama and those who oppose him— were caught by surprise when we awoke on Friday morning to the news that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize. One question was repeated over and over again in conversations, on the airwaves and over the internet: What has he done in less than a year in office to deserve this award?
In a culture that wants clear, tangible results there is disbelief that a person who inspires us toward new visions of peace, and restores our hope for the future, is worthy of honor. And the most vocal and disparaging criticism comes from those who are doing everything in their power to keep his vision from becoming tangible reality.
Remember the world that President Obama stepped into as a leader. The United States was not respected, and in many places was despised… and not, as President Bush declared, because of our wealth and our freedom. We were despised because of our bellicose arrogance, our insistence that we (and only we) had all the right answers to everyone else’s problems. Discussions about global issues and relationships began and ended with “do it our way, or get out of our way”.
A pervasive, xenophobic fear seemed to be gripping the USA. We saw and heard the people of other cultures solely through the filters of our own experiences, and we made policy decisions from the belief that what is good for us is good for the world. President Obama has challenged America to wake up and grow up, to understand that our leadership role in this ever-shrinking world must be focused more on collaboration than coercion.
Discussions about global relationships usually focus on political ideology, sovereignty, competition, trade, environmental concerns and technology. These discussions, however, often become fierce debates that exacerbate the red flags of parochial politics, terrorism and xenophobia. The President has challenged us to restart at a radically different point: with the attitudes, hopes and desires of people in our nation and across the globe.
It is the attitude of the people that determines political outcomes, and hopefulness is an antidote to terrorism. Understanding and appreciating the value of diverse cultures, and how much we can improve our own lot through relationships with those cultures, will dissolve xenophobia.
Policies created to govern competition, trade, the environment and technology need to be formed around serving the hopes and desires of people, rather than forcing people into corporate-serving economic boxes that create wealth for the few while leaving too many behind. But first, the attitudes, hopes, and desires of people from different cultures must be heard, understood and responded to… and President Obama has done and is doing this.
This transformation in the attitude and the practice of the world’s most powerful nation in its relationship with the international community… and the replacing of fear with hope within the USA… is, in my opinion, the reason that President Obama was voted the Nobel Peace Prize. It is, as he proclaimed, a “call to action.” But a transforming vision always calls us away from the status quo, and those who hold positions of power within that old order will fight to the death to hold their privileges and perks. And the reaction from the political right to the President’s award makes this case:
Bill Kristol thinks that the wrong American won the prize: It should have gone “to Senator John McCain for having the guts to push through the surge in Iraq…”
Rush Limbaugh said that awarding the Peace Prize to President Obama was a greater embarrassment for the USA than losing the Olympics. “This fully exposes the illusion that is Barack Obama” Limbaugh told Politico (www.politico.com) , and with this award the elites of the world are urging Obama, the man of peace, to not do the surge in Afghanistan, not take action against Iran and its nuclear program and to basically continue his intentions to emasculate the United States… They love a weakened, neutered US, and this is their way of promoting that concept…”
Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee Chairman asked “What has President Obama actually accomplished? It is unfortunate that the president’s star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working towards peace and human rights. One thing is certain— President Obama won’t be receiving any awards from Americans for job creation, fiscal responsibility, or backing up rhetoric with concrete action.”
Craig Shirley wrote on Politico “Utterly ridiculous. The credibility of the Nobel Peace Prize… has hit rock bottom.”
And from www.talkingpointsmemo.com, South Carolina Republican Congressman Gresham Barrett said “Congratulations to President Obama on his prize. I am not sure what the international community loved best: his waffling on Afghanistan, pulling defense missiles out of Eastern Europe, turning his back on freedom fighters in Honduras, coddling Castro, siding with Palestinians against Israel, or almost getting tough on Iran.”
The editor of RedState suggested that the Nobel Committee must have adopted an affirmative action quota. And Republican Senator James Inhofe from Oklahoma said that Obama received the prize as a reward for making the USA weaker. Former Bush war monger and unconfirmed UN ambassador John Bolton suggested that he, not President Obama, should have won the Peace Prize.
The Democratic National Committee’s Communications Director responded to the deluge of rightwing hysteria on Huffingtonpost.com with the following words: “The Republican Party has thrown in its lot with the terrorists— the Taliban and Hamas (the only foreign leaders to criticize Obama’s honor)— Republicans cheered when America failed to land the Olympics and now they are criticizing the President of the United States for receiving the Nobel Peace Prize— an award he did not seek but that is nonetheless an honor in which every American can take great pride— unless of course you are the Republican Party. The 2009 version of the Republican Party has no boundaries, has no shame and has proved that they will put politics above patriotism at every turn. It is no wonder only 20 percent of Americans admit to being Republicans— it’s an embarrassing label to claim.”
I suspect that the reaction of foreign leaders stoked even more fury in the hearts and minds of America’s conservative leaders (gleaned from Politico, Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo):
French President Nicholas Sarkozy stated that the President was recognized because of his “determined commitment to human rights, justice and the promotion of peace in the world… the prize does justice to (Obama’s) vision of tolerance and dialogue between states, cultures and civilizations.
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said that “What Obama did during his presidency is a big signal, he gave hope. In these hard times people who are capable of taking responsibility, who have a vision, commitment and political will should be supported.”
Mohamed ElBaradei, the outgoing head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said that he “cannot think of anyone today more deserving of this honor. In less than a year in office he has transformed the way we look at ourselves and the world we live in, and rekindled hope for a world at peace with itself. President Obama has provided outstanding leadership on moving towards a world free of nuclear weapons. He has shown an unshakeable commitment to diplomacy, mutual respect and dialogue as the best means of resolving conflicts. He has reached out across divides and made clear that he sees the world as one human family, regardless of religion, race or ethnicity.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel told the President “You have already inspired so many people around the world, and I know that this award also expresses hope that your Presidency will usher in a new era of peace and reconciliation…”
Massimo Teodori, an Italian scholar of US history, suggested that the Peace Prize award to Obama was a clear rejection of George Bush’s “unilateral, antagonistic politics… The prize is well deserved after the Bush years, which had antagonized the rest of the world. President Obama’s policy of extending his hand has reconciled the United States with the international community.”
David Ignatius of the Washington Post wrote that President Obama won the award for “reconnecting America to the world and making us popular again… Obama’s achievements are in the ‘good intentions’ category, but that doesn’t mean they are insignificant.
I agree, and I am delighted that my President has been recognized by the world as a man of peace, and that by extension my country is becoming an agent of peace. Congratulations, Mr. President.
Please add your thoughts and comments below, or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.