Barack Obama has a tremendous opportunity now to recapture lost political capital, unify this country behind his leadership and increase (if that’s possible, in light of today’s development) his international prestige — all of which would be an enormous boost to the things he’s trying to achieve:
He should say, “Thanks, but no thanks” to the Nobel Peace prize.
If he does that, everyone will think more of him. That is to say, everyone who is susceptible to being influenced. The Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks who make a good living from criticizing him will still do so, but no one but the nuttiest fringe types would still be listening. Everyone with a scintilla of fairmindedness would be impressed if he declined this honor.
If he doesn’t do it, this award will simply be another occasion for the Right to hoot and holler and deride, and the Left to dig in its heels and defend Their Guy, and the crazy polarizing spin cycle will spin on, while health care and everything else gets lost amid the shouting.
I got a foretaste of this this morning. I was about to get out of my truck to go in and have breakfast when I heard the news that had stunned the White House and everyone else: Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In the next few moments, I quickly filed the following three tweets:
Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize? The White House is stunned, and so am I. Isn’t it a tad premature or something?
What did Obama win the Nobel FOR? Good intentions? I mean, seriously, the man just GOT here…
Hey, I LIKE Obama; I have hopes he’ll EARN a Nobel one day soon. But he hasn’t had the chance to do so yet…
Then, when I walked in to get my breakfast, I ran into Steve Benjamin and Samuel Tenenbaum, and asked them if they’d heard the news. They had. I expected them to share my shock. I mean, I saw one report (which I haven’t been able to confirm yet) that Obama was only sworn into office TWO WEEKS before the nominations for the Nobel had to be in. The president himself knows better than to claim he’d earned it. Here’s what he said this morning:
Mr. Obama said he doesn’t view the award “as a recognition of my own accomplishments,” but rather as a recognition of goals he has set for the U.S. and the world. Mr. Obama said, “I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many transformative figures that have been honored by this prize.”
But Steve and Samuel — especially Samuel — felt like they had to defend the president’s receiving the prize. And here’s why: While I had just heard the news and was naturally flabbergasted, with no other stimuli acting on me, Samuel gets up at 4:30 every morning, and has usually had several full cycles of spin by the time I leave my house. He had already heard right-wingers attacking the award on the airwaves, so he was in defensive mode.
This is what the whole Left vs. Right thing gets us: We can’t even agree when something wild and crazy happens. And the president of the United States getting the Nobel Peace Prize for what he MIGHT do, for what he INTENDS to do, for his POTENTIAL, is wild and crazy.
Face it, folks: The Nobel committee gave him this prize for Not Being George W. Bush. This is a measure of how much they hated that guy. I didn’t like him much either, but come on… (While I haven’t talked to my friend Robert Ariail today, I can picture the cartoon already: Obama clutching the prize to his cheek saying, “They LIKE me! The really, really LIKE me!…”
Here’s where the opportunity comes in. The president was on the right track with the humble talk, but he should go a big step further: He should decline the prize, insisting that he hasn’t earned it yet.
This would transform perception of Barack Obama both domestically and internationally. If he simply takes the award, no matter how eloquent his words, he’ll be seen as an ordinary guy who can’t resist being honored, whether he deserves it or not. The Right will go ape over it and keep on going ape over it, and the Left will ferociously defend him, making all sorts of improbable claims to support his receiving it, and those of us in the middle will see the Right as having the stronger point at the same time that we’re put off by their meanspiritedness, and nothing will be accomplished.
But turning it down, saying, “Not yet; wait until I’ve earned it” would catapult Obama to such a state of greatness that he would overarch all ordinary partisan argument. No one could say he was wrong, and most people would be blown away by such selflessness. It would give him tremendous amounts of juice to get REAL health care reform instead of some watered-down nothing, which is probably what we’re going to get.
Internationally… well, if they love the guy now, they’d be ecstatic over him if he turned it down. I mean it. Think about it: What do they love about this guy? His perceived nobility and humility. They hated Bush for what they perceived as his arrogance, and they love Obama for what they perceive as his humility before the rest of the world. If he just took the prize, the world would just shake his hand and that would be that. But if he turned it down, suddenly Iran would be negotiating with a guy with more respect than anyone in the whole wide world has had in a long time. And maybe we’d get somewhere — with Iran, with Russia, with China, in Afghanistan, in Palestine, take your pick.
As I said, I like Obama, and I want him to succeed. But I know he hasn’t earned this honor yet. And I’m firmly convinced that turning it down would afford him the greatest opportunity to succeed with his agenda that he’ll ever have.