Friday, 9 October 2009

We now pause our usual blog to get political

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.

8 comments:

Jason Gagnon said...

"I believe we show our religion in what we do, not what team we claim to be on." I'd be curious to hear you expound on that- how does your religion impact how you live you life, and the decisions you've made?

Scott said...

I respect Barack Obama for what he has done in his life, who he is, and what he is capable of doing. However, him receiving this award in advance of any meaningful diplomatic accomplishments is ridiculous. It cheapens the award, it cheapens the accomplishments of those who have received the award, and it casts additional skepticism upon the ability of this man to deliver change. It is a disservice to everyone involved.

I would rather the Nobel committee have billed G.W. Bush $1.4 million for his misdeeds than to prematurely award this amount to President Obama.

Cecelia said...

I'd note that when the women in Northern Ireland got the Peace Prize they in fact had accomplished very little - there was fopr sure no peace in N. Ireland. When ML King got the Peace Prize the US was still a deeply racist and segregated country.

Sometimes the prize is given as a carrot - to encourage people to continue to go in a certain direction. The members of the committee have made it clear that the prize was awarded due to his call for total nuclear disarmament and his emphasis on diplomacy instead of war. It appears they wish to encourage this. I for one would like to see it encouraged too! Given he is the head of a rather powerful nation which until recently has shown a tendency to invade - I'd say we all appreciate encouraging diplomacy and disarmament from Obama!

I think it is premature but if one sees it in this light - as a way to encourage and support - it makes sense.

Mimosa S. J. Greer said...

you know how to cook snail? Really? :p

I am not sure how I feel about the Nobel Prize committee's decision. I get the feeling that Pres. Obama doesn't really know either. I think he is inclined to agree with you which must be an odd position to be in.

William said...

I suspect that the NPP committee was as relieved as most of the free world when the previous administration and their political party was replaced by Mr. Obama and the opposition political party. Perhaps their primary reason for giving the award to our President was hope. Hope for the future and the promise of wiser decisions, made without a calculated financial gain for self and friends.

I'd like your recipe for snails.

Patricia said...

I have always said it is important to listen to those with whom we disagree, especially if the discourse can be civil. I am deeply grateful for your post and your civility.

I'd like to share my own response to the Nobel Committee awarding the Peace Prize to President Obama. For eight long years, I longed to be living anywhere but the U.S. I am about to earn a PhD in May 2010 and if John McCain had won the '08 election, I would be making concrete plans to leave the country. The day after the election, I awoke for the first time I could remember to a feeling of happiness at being here, not to mention gratitude over the fact that such a decent, intelligent and dignified man was willing to take this thankless position. Never mind the potential for personal benefit; the job is a sacrifice. No one could persuade me otherwise.

That being said, I am grateful to the Committee because they have further validated the relief I feel about having this man as our leader. It would seem they "get" him. It would seem they believe in him. It would seem they are willing to go out on a limb and support him and what he purports to stand for. I had tears in my eyes when I read the news; it was in an email generated by the President to his supporters during the election. I only contributed $25, but it was my first time ever contributing to a political campaign. I am 62 years of age.

And so, while I completely understand and respect your position on this matter, I am asking you to consider the perspective I have set forth.

In any case, thank you for your words and for so many other words I have now read at your blog.

Blessed be, to you and yours.

Patricia O'Neill
Los Angeles, California

Brian Kaller said...

Jason,
Sure, but it's a long question, and I try to keep the blog inside a certain focus -- e-mail me and we'll talk off-blog.

Scott,
I agree -- and it has to be said, we don't yet know if we'll have to bill Mr. Obama.

Cecelia,
I see what you mean about MLK, Betty Williams and Maraid Corrigan, although they had been ordinary people who had faced much danger over years, even if their goals had not been accomplished.
That's an interesting point about the prize's purpose -- I will grant you that no one needs a carrot more than the world's most powerful figure.

Mimosa,
Sure, Ireland is World Snail Headquarters, and they are all edible.

Brian Kaller said...

William,
I suspect you’re right. Coincidentally, hope is the subject of a project I’ll be writing about in the next few days. You’ll also get my recipe for snails soon.

Patricia,
Thank you for sharing that with me – I’m glad this has meant so much to you. Bless you too.