It is absurd and it is embarrassing. It would even be infuriating if it were not such a declaration of emptiness.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has embarrassed itself and cheapened a great award that had real meaning.
It was a good thing, the Nobel Peace Prize. Every year the giving of it was a matter of note throughout the world, almost a matter of state. It was serious. It mattered that it was given to a woman like Mother Teresa in 1979. She had lived for 30 years with the poorest of the poor; she and her Missionaries of Charity dressed their wounds, healed their illnesses, and literally carried them from the streets to mats and beds in a home where they would at least have in death the thing they had not had in life, someone to care for them. She didn’t just care for them, she did the hard thing: She loved them. Her life was heroic, epic, and when she was given the Nobel Peace Prize, it was as if the world were saying, “You are the best we have. You are living a life that should be emulated.”
Nelson Mandela was unjustly imprisoned for 27 years, and he came out without bitterness. There’s a hero for you. He preserved his faith and that of his countrymen that together they could make their nation better, more decent and humane. He lived a life of moral and political struggle, broke the old chains that had bound South Africa. At the end he was a literal inspiration to the world.
Some Peace Prizes have been more roughly political, or had a political edge, and were of course debatable. Woodrow Wilson, self-infatuated after World War I, had little patience with those who foresaw that the Peace of Versailles would lead to more war, and did not understand or know the political realities and deeper nature of his own countrymen. And so his League of Nations flopped in America, the one place where it absolutely had to succeed. But—well, he helped end “the war to end all wars,” issued his Fourteen Points, did try to make the world better. Ferocious Teddy Roosevelt, that progressive and bloody-minded man, worked hard to forge a truce and a peace between the czar’s Russia and Japan.
More deeply into the political life of the 20th century, there were Jimmy Carter and Al Gore, and their Peace Prizes were what they were. But each man had a body of work; each had devoted considerable time and effort to a great issue. It was always absurd that Ronald Reagan, whose political project led to the end of the gulag and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and who gambled his personal standing in the world for a system that would protect the common man from annihilation in a nuclear missile attack, could not win it. But nobody wept over it, and for one reason: because everyone, every sentient adult who cared to know about such things, knew that the Nobel Peace Prize is, when awarded to a political figure, a great and prestigious award given by liberals to liberals. NCNA—no conservatives need apply. This is the way of the world, and so what? Life isn’t for prizes.
Yet even within that context, the giving of the peace prize to President Obama is absurd. He doesn’t have a body of work; he’s a young man; he’s been president less than nine months. He hopes to accomplish much, and so far—nine months!—has accomplished little. Is this a life of heroic self-denial, of the sacrifice of self for something greater, of huge and historic consequence, of sustained vision? No it’s not. Is this a life marked by a vivid and calculable contribution to the peace of the world? No, it’s not.
This is an award for not being George W. Bush. This is an award for not making the world nervous. This is an award for sharing the basic political sentiments and assumptions of the members of the committee. It is for what Barack Obama may do, not what he has done. He hasn’t done anything.
In one mindless stroke, the committee has rendered the Nobel Peace Prize a laughingstock, perhaps for as long as a generation. And that is an act of true destruction, because it was actually good that the world had a prestigious award for peacemaking.
The members of the committee have also put the young American president in a terrible place. They make it look like all the talk of “The One,” the heartthrob of the European elite, the darling of the international left, is true. They make him look prefabricated and inauthentic, an empty structure held up by essentially silly people. Which puts him at a disadvantage in his own country, because Americans don’t really like it when flaky European politicians tell them how they ought to see him or the world.
And you have to wonder how the truly self-sacrificing professionals who are attempting to create a sound American policy on Afghanistan are going to experience this. Hmm, can a president who just won the left’s great peace prize decide to increase American troop strength and presence in a foreign war? What impact will this have on larger geopolitical considerations?
Assuming the White House did nothing to encourage or lobby for the award, it is not Barack Obama’s fault that he has been embarrassed by this honor. And it may possibly hold for him an unanticipated benefit. It may give him pause: Look what idiots my biggest international supporters are. I may have to rethink a few things.
How to redeem this? That is a hard question, but here is one idea. The president will deliver a big speech in Oslo Dec. 10: white tie and tails, a formal, bound statement. The world, as they say, will be watching. He should deflect the limelight. (Can he?) He should make his subject bigger than himself. (Is there a subject bigger than himself?) He has been accused of traveling through the world on an extended apology tour. That isn’t fair, but the tag is there. How about an unapologetic address, a speech, with the world’s elites leaning forward and listening, about the meaning of America? A speech that shows a grounded and sophisticated love for his country and its great traditions and history. Not a nationalistic speech, not a prideful one, but a loving one.
For instance: The Peace Prize judges won’t see it this way, but America has gone to Europe twice in the past century to fight for peace. This is an old concept, and has to do with killing killers so they can’t kill anymore. It cost America a lot to do this, and we kept no territory, as they say, beyond the graves where our soldiers lie. America then taxed itself and gave its wealth not only to its allies but to its former adversaries, to help them rebuild. We didn’t actually have to do this. We did it to make the world better. We did it to foster peace. (They should give us a prize.)
America hasn’t just helped the world, it literally lit the world with its inventions, which are the product of its freedoms. The lights under which the Peace Prize judges read, and rejected, the worthy nominations? Why, those lights were invented by an American. The emails the committee members sent to each other, sharing their banal insights on leadership? They came through the Internet. Who invented the Internet? It was a Norwegian bureaucrat with a long face and hair on his nose and little plastic geometric eyeglasses? Oh wait, it was Americans. The members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee are healthy because they have been inoculated against diseases such as polio. Who invented the polio vaccine, an enfeebled old leftist academic in Oslo? Nah, it was a man named Jonas Salk. He was an American.
Europe’s elites experience Mr. Obama as a historical accident that needs and deserves their encouragement. Actually he was elected with 69.5 million votes, and you know, they were cast by Americans. Go figure.
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Mr. Obama should get the spotlight off himself and put it on the great thing that yielded him up and made him possible. America is misunderstood these days, and he could perform a public service by helping people understand it better.
Love, after all, never harms the world, and as an added practical bonus such a speech would obscurely embarrass the committee, which won’t be able to criticize the thoughts of its hero. That would be pleasurable for Americans, and therefore helpful to Mr. Obama.
This might to some degree redeem this wicked and ignorant award, this mischievous honor.