Chicago lost a big one last week, the 2016 Olympics. This week, one of its sons won a Nobel Prize. Chicago has once again proven to be the city of big shoulders.
Some rejoiced last week when Chicago lost its bid, because it was seen as Obama’s failure. Many of the same folks are criticizing his recent “win.” The man can’t seem to please some people.
The criticisms, hours after the announcement, are already taking shape: He didn’t deserve it. It’s too early in his tenure as president. It just goes to show that he is more concerned about the world than troubles at home, etc.
Let’s clear up a few misconceptions. The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded for various reasons. There isn’t a single criterion. Some individuals have won for helping to end a war (Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Kissinger), for humanitarian work and conflict resolution done over the years (Jimmy Carter), for seeking to improve international relations by supporting an international organization (Woodrow Wilson). It can also be given to the individual who has done the most in the past year to bring about world peace. The latter is the reason cited by the chair of the Nobel Committee, and former prime minister of Norway, Thorbjorn Jagland, for honoring Obama. The New York Times reports:
“The question we have to ask is who has done the most in the previous year to enhance peace in the world,” Mr. Jagland said. “And who has done more than Barack Obama?”
He compared the selection of Mr. Obama with the award in 1971 to the then West German Chancellor Willy Brandt for his “Ostpolitik” policy of reconciliation with communist eastern Europe.
“Brandt hadn’t achieved much when he got the prize, but a process had started that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall,” Mr. Jagland said. “We have to get the world on the right track again,” he said. Without referring specifically to the Bush era, he continued: “Look at the level of confrontation we had just a few years ago. Now we get a man who is not only willing but probably able to open dialogue and strengthen international institutions.”
But wouldn’t you know it. Instead of experiencing some pride in the fact that a sitting American president has won the Nobel Peace Prize, which certainly sends a positive message to the world, like the conservatives who rejoiced at Chicago losing the Olympics, Republicans can’t wait to criticize the man for winning a prize he wasn’t even seeking. Listen to Michael Steel, chairman of the Republican Party. (From The New York Times , Oct. 9, 2009)
“The real question Americans are asking is, ‘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,” Mr. Steele said in a statement. “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.”
This is cheap and mean spirited. Its concern with scoring domestic political points is on a par with those who thought embarrassing Obama over the Olympics was worth more than the benefits of an Olympics to Chicago and America.
Obama won the prize in part because he is a genuine cosmopolitan, in the best sense of the term. His politics look to the world stage and America’s place on it, not behind or above it. But it appears that many Americans simply don’t realize the extent to which his words during the election and his approach to international relations–one which emphasizes the idea of respect–have transformed perceptions of America. (Perhaps America might really be interested in decreasing violence around the world, in decreasing nuclear weapons, etc.)
Leading America, the most powerful nation on Earth, out of the moral and political myopia of the last eight years is surely worth a Nobel Prize. In this regard, who has done more for world peace this past year than Barack Obama?