Friday, October 09, 2009

Decline the Honor, Obama!

Look, the Nobels are a contest, not a sport or an election with more-or-less specific, public, well-defined rules. It's a group of people--the Norwegian Nobel Committee--awarding a prize to a contest-winner, and just like every contest, the choice of the winner will reflect popularity, mixed with various personal motives (some relevant, some not), which are further mixed with lots of claimed measurements of various criteria (again, some relevant, some not). So the committee has awarded President Barack Obama the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples" (as well as his "vision"). Very nice, to be sure; and, given that awarding said prize to Obama is the very best way for the Committee to make their real beliefs--which are surely, as one commenter has already put it, "boy is the world relieved you guys didn't choose McCain"--known, it's reasonable. But, honestly, c'mon.

The Peace prize is already the most baldly political, and hence the most mocked and derided of the Nobels. Does that derision almost entirely come from American conservatives, sneering at Nobel Peace Prize recipients Jimmy Carter (2002) and Al Gore (2007)? Yes. Does that make such criticism illegitimate? No, it doesn't. Contests can always, rightly, be criticized for almost any choice they make; those who set themselves up as prize-awarders have to be prepared to deal with that. With Jimmy Carter, they could point to decades of international diplomatic work in dangerous parts of the globe: again, much of it derided or condemned by parts (and not always just conservative parts) of the American intelligentsia, but nonetheless the work was there, which anyone could point to. Al Gore is a somewhat smaller fig leaf for the Norwegian committee to hide behind, but still, there have been years of activism on behalf of environmental causes to point to there. But President Obama? At the very, very, very best, one can only put it the way Michael Russnow does (hat tip to Rod Dreher): this is an "enormously premature" award, which "to a certain extent cheapens the prior recipients and the work all of them performed over so many years."

Respectfully decline the honor, President Obama. It's not your time for it yet.

10 comments:

Barry said...

"Does that derision almost entirely come from American conservatives, sneering at Nobel Peace Prize recipients Jimmy Carter (2002) and Al Gore (2007)? Yes. Does that make such criticism illegitimate? No, it doesn't. "

However, the sheer level of war-loving among US conservatives *does* render their criticism illegitimate.

Anonymous said...

'However, the sheer level of war-loving among US conservatives *does* render their criticism illegitimate.'

LOL about war-loving conservatives ... one word ... Kissinger - too bad LBJ didn't get it too...

Russell Arben Fox said...

Barry, I don't agree. Clearly, the great majority of those who call themselves "conservative" in the U.S. could care less about the aims of the Nobel Peace Prize. But that does not mean their disrespect of the sometimes blatantly political (or, perhaps better, "aspirational") way the prize is award lack any point. This award confirms their opinions, while obliging those who feel otherwise about the Nobel to concede that at least one of the general assumptions of their derision has some merit. It's just a bad move all around.

Anonymous said...

Can someone put Obama in a movie so he can get an Oscar, too? Maybe a new Emmy category to pick up one of his national addresses or press conferences?

It would be a slap in the face to refuse the award, but he should be humble about it, stating it that he accepts it "on loan" for goals to be accomplished or something.

RJ said...

As far as conservatives are concerned, the Nobel Peace Prize has been a joke ever since they awarded it to Yassir Arafat. Pres. Obama should decline it because it's already been cheapened to the point of meaninglessness.

djw said...

Al Gore is a somewhat smaller fig leaf for the Norwegian committee to hide behind, but still, there have been years of activism on behalf of environmental causes to point to there.

I'm tempted to agree that Obama's prize is a premature and unfortunate one (although I'm not sure the downsides of actually turning it down down't outweigh the benefits). But I think you dramatically understate the case for Gore. The case is very strong. In three premises:

1. Gore (+IPCC) have done as much as anyone in working to create the possibility of collective action to meaningfully ameliorate future global climate change.
2. Without that substantial collective action, global climate change is likely to produce a great deal of ecological devastation particularly in geographical areas with weak states and tenuous peace to begin with.
3. There are very good reasons to believe that the conditions of (2) are likely to produce violent conflict.

The award often goes to people grappling with the problem of restoring peace after it was lost. Gore belongs to the fine tradition of Norman Borlaug; his work is in the field of creating conditions where not loosing the peace in the first place is a more likely scenario.

djw said...

....and I know you probably know all this and agree and it's a question of emphasis. I've come to be quite reactive to the "Gore's award is a just political/a huge stretch", which is based on refusing to think about the environment/security relationship at all.

Craig T said...

Barry said "However, the sheer level of war-loving among US conservatives *does* render their criticism illegitimate." Which just goes to illustrate the liberal view and strengthen the argument that Obama just won another award for not being Bush.

Stuart said...

The Economics Prize, some say is as political as the Peace Prize. And it isn't even really a Nobel.

Anonymous said...

There is no way that President Obama can turn down this award. His makeup and his ego will not allow it. And the polls are not in just yet. Give the White House a little more time to adjust the spin. It is another jewel in his crown!