Well, He’s Not Bush

09cnd.nobel.inline2-650 I woke up this morning to the news that Obama had won the Nobel Peace prize.

The overwhelming response among my Twitterverse is a deafening "huh?" The snark has already begun. One tweet says, "In other news, Obama wins the Cy Young Award."

Obama has only been in office for nine months and doesn't have enough accomplishments yet to earn this prize. The only things on his plus column are that his methods are promising and that he isn't Bush.

Nicholas Kristof is puzzled. Annoyance, even among his strongest supporters, is running high.

What's Obama going to do? If he takes it, he's going to piss off a whole lot of journalists who never won a Pulitzer and academics who haven't gotten that position at Harvard. Accepting the Nobel Peace prize will cheapen the achievements of past winners who genuinely deserved it. If he turns it down, he'll dis our European allies.

UPDATE:

Marc Ambinder debates whether or not he should turn down the award. More commentary on why Obama should turn this award. Snark from Drezner. Discussion at Crooked Timber and Russell Arben Fox tells Obama to turn it down gracefully.

26 thoughts on “Well, He’s Not Bush

  1. If he turns it down, he’ll dis our European allies.
    More evidence in support of my view that foreigners are shifty.
    Anyway, it’s very strange, but I don’t see how you can hold it against Obama. I’m sure he’d much rather have had the 2017 prize.

  2. Also, Josh Marshall: “But the unmistakable message of the award is one of the consequences of a period in which the most powerful country in the world, the ‘hyper-power’ as the French have it, became the focus of destabilization and in real if limited ways lawlessness. A harsh judgment, yes. But a dark period. And Obama has begun, if fitfully and very imperfectly to many of his supporters, to steer the ship of state in a different direction. If that seems like a meager accomplishment to many of the usual Washington types it’s a profound reflection of their own enablement of the Bush era and how compromised they are by it, how much they perpetuated the belief that it was ‘normal history’ rather than dark aberration.”

  3. I’m not holding it against Obama. Did I imply that in my post? Didn’t mean to. But people are sure scratching their heads over this decision.
    So, Josh Marshall is supporting this decision? Hmmm. I’ve been reading the liberal bloggers all morning. He’s standing alone on this one.

  4. Has anyone ever *turned down* a Nobel? I dunno about that … that could be perceived as a snub or arrogance of its own kind.

  5. I’m not holding it against Obama. Did I imply that in my post?
    No, you didn’t. I just wanted to note that I didn’t.

  6. I’ve never particularly cared about the Nobels, in particular the Nobel Peace Prize, and I suppose I’m like most Americans in that sense. Perhaps I would see things differently if I were a Western European; in fact, clearly I would see things differently then. But I’m not, I’m American, and I have to admit: I am surprised at just how much this bothers me. I am surprised that, the more that I think about it (there’s a long argument going on a Crooked Timber right now), the more bothered I am by it all. It does him and progressive causes, whether domestically or internationally, no good whatsoever, and it gives his opponents an additional stick to beat him with. Turn it down gracefully, immediately, I say.

  7. If politics were a Greek tradgey (which I don’t think can be ruled-out), this prize would be the sort of thing that happened just before the gods smacked hard.

  8. “it gives his opponents an additional stick to beat him with”
    What?
    Also, it’s not as if his opponents need anything particularly real to try to beat on him with. They’re quite happy making things up. (I’m failing to come up with examples of where abstaining from something as Russell suggests has been a winner in domestic politics, quite apart from whether it’s right to do, which I think it isn’t. Also, I’d have to go back to my Taylor Branch to look, but I suspect there were calls for MLK to turn down the Prize as well. I know that there were conspicuous calls for Hank Aaron to ‘gracefully’ decline to break Babe Ruth’s record. That’s not the kind of company I’d want to be keeping.)
    Have we all so quickly forgotten what it means that America can elect a black man whose middle name is Hussein, with all of the particularities of Obama’s background — from hardscrabble Kansans to a disappearing dad — to its highest office? The simple fact that a person like him is the highest magistrate in the most powerful country in the world is pretty doggone amazing. Are we so caught up in the minutiae of back and forth that we can’t see what an example to the world this is? Quite apart from correcting the course of US policy in important ways.
    Any leader accepts this award as the symbol of something more than themselves. Obama is a symbol of America’s ability to renew itself and offer an example for the world. What’s bad about that?

  9. What’s bad about that?
    I have some concern that this award, regardless of whether he accepts it or not, will actually move the world in a less peaceful direction. Independent voters may want some proof that Obama is more interested in their opinion than that of European elites. And aggresive leaders in other countries may feel that the prize ties Obama’s hands against them.

  10. “If politics were a Greek tradgey (which I don’t think can be ruled-out), this prize would be the sort of thing that happened just before the gods smacked hard.”
    Yes. If Obama allows Afghanistan to unravel (contrary to his campaign promises), the peace prize is going to look like a very dark joke.
    There’s an interesting video interview here with Lara Logan. The print article on the interview is entitled: “Lara Logan: “Counterterrorism” Afghan Plan an “Absolute Disaster””.
    http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/10/08/politics/politicalhotsheet/entry5372306.shtml

  11. My thought was “Well, I guess this challenges the notion that Americans have a monopoly on sentimental and cartoonish political opinions, while Europeans are all political sophisticates.”

  12. Ok, I haven’t yet re-read chapter 38 of Pillar of Fire, “Nobel Prize”, but the only people Branch quotes with negative public reactions to King’s prize are Bull Connor (“who said the Nobel committee was ‘scraping the bottom of the barrel'”, PoF, p. 517) and St. Augustine, Florida, police chief Virgil Stuart (“who called his selection ‘the biggest joke of the year'”, PoF, p. 517). I’ll drop in a note when I’ve looked through the rest to see if there were suggestions he should decline. Even though the big O has graciously accepted, as well he should.

  13. Doug,
    This is a moot point now–I just got back from three hours of classes–but look: yes, the Peace Prize has long been at least as much about symbolism as anything else. But there were specific accomplishments, activism, writings and so forth, which former recipients could construct their own symbol out of, or on whose behalf the Nobel Prize committee could construct a symbol for broader usage out of. The raw materials for Obama’s symbolism for purposes of peace, progress, and change around the world amount to exactly what Laura said: He’s Not Bush.
    As I said on my blog, I have no problem with popularity contests. But even popularity contests employ some sort of measurement or metric to claim that the recipent of the contest is “deserving.” If you want to measure desert for Peace Prize purposes entirely on symbolic achievement and aspirational promise, that’s fine, but you’ve got to have some raw material to give said achievements and/or promises their weight. The “raw weight” of Obama’s achievements and promises in this regard almost entirely tied up in the fact that he has a vision for things different than George Bush had. Tremendous! So do you. So does Laura. And neither of us are in a position to turn down an honor so as to avoid making it that much easier for people who think the president is a little too big for his britches. Obama was, and that’s what he should have done.
    (Oh, and incidentally, don’t you find comparisons between MLK and Obama in this context–telling a man who received death threats, who was imprisoned, who was physically threatened, and who had put ten years of his life on the line in the service of civil rights by the time the Nobel committee noticed him, versus telling a man who already has all the opportunity in the world ahead of him to do good to turn in down–at least a little insulting? Because I do, somewhat.)

  14. I dunno, after Jimmy Carter got the Not-George-Bush Nobel in 2002, and Al Gore got the Not-George-Bush Nobel in 2007 (and possibly the IAEA/Elbaradei in 2005 also collecting a Not-George-Bush Nobel, with the UN/Annan in 2001 looking a bit like a premature Not-George-Bush Nobel), I begin to wonder if the folks in Oslo really spend so very much time thinking about George W. “Good Riddance” Bush.
    James Fallows made what I think is a good point in his analysis of Obama’s acceptance remarks: “Surprised, yes; humbled, something that is necessary to say. But very effective to turn at once to the idea that this is not his reward and recognition but that of the country as a whole. It won’t keep his detractors from talking about his narcissism and vainglory, but nothing would; it is what his supporters would want to hear, and probably what the prize committee had in mind. He has probably figured out to say at every turn that this is an award not for him but for America and its ideals. And he can leave unsaid the reality that, from the prize committee’s perspective, it’s an award for returning to those ideals after an unpleasant hiatus.”
    (Fallows also points to a list of expected talking points from the right.)
    To choose just two people from the long list of Not-George-Bushes, I don’t think that Hillary Clinton or John McCain would have inspired anyone to write “Very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future.”
    The Obama administration has put a high priority and done good work on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation; that’s a topic that has often been dear to the Nobel folks’ hearts.
    Even if he has a very successful presidency, I wouldn’t expect him to have a national holiday in his honor, so in that sense I don’t expect Obama to stack up against King. On the other hand, the times are different and the issues are different. I don’t think there’s any shortage of death threats (hasn’t the Secret Service done something like doubled its budget?), and I was only half-way kidding with my very first comment.

  15. So, I also find it odd, and in fact, as someone else wrote, I think they (whoever they is) did it ’cause they want to put the weight of the entire world (and not just the American electorate) on Obama’s shoulders. They’re reminding him that he’s the leader of the free world.
    But, there is no graceful way to turn it down. Some Americans might want him too, because they don’t want him to be leader of the free world, but, I’m not one of them.
    Oh, and MH, I have to say, I don’t find calling foreigners shifty funny. Is it supposed to be?
    I just returned from a trip to Italy. There were some American jokes. What do you call someone who speaks 2 languages, “bilingual”, 3 languages, “trilingual”, 1 language, “American”, in the context of research on how multi-lingual folks have more flexible behavior. I honestly think we’re facing a new world, with the EU, and Schengen Europe, and more people who feel at home everywhere. Of course, scientists have always been an international society (tracing the citizenship/training/life histories of the recently announced nobel laureates in science shows that off brilliantly). So, my view might be kind of skewed.
    But then, on the way back, the literary agent sitting next to me had an excited phone conversation about selling the japanese publishing rights for an American techno-romance-fantasy-viking myth novel for much more money than she thought possible. I think internationalization is happening (yes, along with globalization) and is truly unstoppable (and good).
    Yeah, and I think that the Nobel Committee gave the prize to Obama to push that agenda. One can only hope that it doesnt’ go the way of Woodrow Wilson’s nobel prize.

  16. “I just returned from a trip to Italy. There were some American jokes. What do you call someone who speaks 2 languages, “bilingual”, 3 languages, “trilingual”, 1 language, “American”, in the context of research on how multi-lingual folks have more flexible behavior.”
    I don’t know about flexibility. That’s so not me, or a bunch of bilingual people that come to mind. And now that I think of it, Tony Attwood says that Aspies are sometimes particularly talented with languages and learning foreign cultures. Aspies are pretty much by definition not flexible, but perhaps Aspies who are bilingual and bicultural are more flexible than monocultural Aspies. I would still wager, though, that the average monolingual American is more flexible than even the average bilingual German.
    “I honestly think we’re facing a new world, with the EU, and Schengen Europe, and more people who feel at home everywhere.”
    Alternately, “who feel at home in every major world city, but who fear that they will re-live Deliverance if they set foot outside a metropolitan area.”

  17. Honesty compells me to add that I know a German who lives in rural Washington and has installed a lift-kit on his truck.

  18. “I don’t know about flexibility. That’s so not me, or a bunch of bilingual people that come to mind. ”
    Actually, I wasn’t just reporting an anecdote. There’s a study. It may or may not apply to you and people you know, ’cause it’s developmental bilinguals — children who learned two languages simultaneously from the time that they were infants. The study population is the Slovenian minority who live in Italy at the Italian/Slovenian border. The take home conclusion is the following: “Hence, bilinguals may acquire two languages in the time in which monolinguals acquire one because they quickly become more flexible learners.”
    Flexible Learning of Multiple Speech Structures in Bilingual Infants
    Ágnes Melinda Kovács* and Jacques Mehler
    Science 31 July 2009:
    Vol. 325. no. 5940, pp. 611 – 612
    I fully include out-side metropolitan areas in my flexibility (“feel at home anywhere” argument). Feeling at home in Verona, Baghdad, New York, Boston, Barcelona, London isn’t enough unless you can also feel at home in Trondheim, Chapel Hill, Nymingen, . . . .
    Now, true rural areas are probably going to be a thing of the past in the world of the future; they’re slowly dying.
    The German, who spoke fluent English, has lived in the Netherlands, the US, and Trento, seemed pretty flexible to me. Of course, this sample isn’t representative.

  19. “It may or may not apply to you and people you know, ’cause it’s developmental bilinguals — children who learned two languages simultaneously from the time that they were infants.”
    Now that I think about it, I know only two developmental bilinguals.
    “Hence, bilinguals may acquire two languages in the time in which monolinguals acquire one because they quickly become more flexible learners.”
    Interesting. I thought the conventional wisdom was that children raised bilingually are slower to speak initially.

  20. While I think this is premature, I don’t see how he can turn it down. What’s he going to do, send Sacheen Littlefeather instead?
    The Nobel committee thinks his potential makes him worthy of this award. It’s their award, and should go to who they see fit
    It’s too bad Arizona State wasn’t so forward thinking.

  21. Oh, and MH, I have to say, I don’t find calling foreigners shifty funny. Is it supposed to be?
    You could just consider it a shortened version of interstate behavioral patterns expected under realist assumptions of international relations.

  22. “The Nobel committee thinks his potential makes him worthy of this award. It’s their award, and should go to who they see fit…”
    Heaven knows there aren’t any Russian journalists or environmental activists, Tibetan monks, Chinese dissidents, Iranian democracy protesters, or founders of schools for Afghan and Pakistani girls who need the publicity and the award money to help them with their work (or keep them alive, for that matter).
    If the recipient had the guts, this would be the time to tell the Nobel Peace Prize committee that they need to get out of their current rut of awarding the medal to elected officials who go to meetings, give speeches, and sign stuff.

  23. Again Amy, I was not disputing the worthiness of others. I agree there are a lot of other people worthy of the prize. But it’s not mine to give. Or your’s.

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