Folks, I don’t usually get political on this blog, except in the sense that everything from education to sex to race to religion to food is now considered political. My politics do not fall into categories defined by FOX and CBS, and I believe we show our religion in what we do, not what team we claim to be on. Before forming opinions, I like to read the source material first – the legislation itself, the actual Hirsch Report, the real scientific papers from climatologists – rather than simply repeating an anagram of whatever commentary I’ve sought out.
I will comment on Obama’s receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, though, because I feel strongly about this -- and if you disagree, tell me respectfully and you can return to enjoying my future posts about how to cook snails.
This is the most respected award in the world, one that transcends nationality and religion to focus solely on heroic accomplishment. It bequeaths global attention to men and women most people had never heard of – Aung San Yuu Ki, Carlos Filipe Ximenez Belo, Mairead Corrigan, Wangaari Maathai – who spent years facing the constant threat of violent death, despised by the powerful and embarrassing the comfortable.
But too often the Prize has been given to their opposite – someone who is both powerful and popular, riding a wave of sentiment on the issue of the moment. In some cases it has been political gangsters who finally gave in to their people’s demands for peace, say, in Israel or Northern Ireland. In other cases it has been inner-circle Machiavellis, at the stopped-clock moments when they found peace advantageous.
I don’t mean to be harsh to politicians who get the prize – they probably did do more for peace than any activist, in the same way that the rich man in Jesus’ parable gave much more to the church than the old widow. I am willing to express some admiration for Al Gore or Mikhail Gorbachev, as they risked their political careers. But let’s not confuse them with people who blocked tanks with their bodies, or were beaten with clubs and went back for more, or who sat in prison for thirty years without giving in.
But this is stranger than the usual undeserved awards. This Nobel Peace Prize goes not only to the most powerful man in the world, but a man who has had few accomplishments in his life other than rising quickly to power and winning the White House, and who has only been there nine months. And since nominations must be submitted by January 31, according to the Nobel Academy’s web site, Mr. Obama had been president for a week and four days when his name was submitted.
Understand that I am not trying to personally insult Mr. Obama. I don’t think he walks on water, but I was relieved to be rid of the previous administration, and I liked many things about him -- for example, his talk of expanding clean energy and restoring passenger rail.
I like his more realistic discussion of climate change, but I also know that just yesterday the Senate Judiciary Committee decided to keep most of the Patriot Act intact. I had a fantasy that the White House lawn could be turned into a Victory Garden, and was pleasantly surprised when it came true – but his administration has not ended the so-called “rendition” flights, in which citizens of other countries are kidnapped and flown to dictatorships to have their toenails pulled off slowly.
He has taken steps toward closing my country’s concentration camp, moved slowly toward ending the federal government’s occupation of Iraq, meeting about nuclear disarmament, taking steps toward reforming health care. But those are all intentions and preliminaries, not actual accomplishments – nor did anyone expect him and his staff to turn the world upside-down in a few months.
The Academy’s intentions were probably noble, and the recipient is a widely beloved man. But an undeserved award reduces the Nobel Prize's power to aid the next Third-World peasant who organise medical care for impoverished millions, or who chains herself to the last remaining rainforest trees. They hear the parable and honour the wrong party.