President Barack Obama is a very busy man. That must be the reason he has yet to return any of my calls, e-mails, love letters or pleas for an interview.
“The weight of the world is on your shoulders” has, by now, become a clichéd proverb — but one that accurately encompasses Obama’s smorgasbord of duties. And as the obesity epidemic continues to rise, the planet he’s holding up is only getting heavier.
So it’s only fitting that Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize win on Oct. 9 would manage to become more of a burden than an honor. He hasn’t done anything wrong — which, after the last eight years, is prize-worthy in and of itself — but he has yet to really do anything at all.
Recently, our collective lack of Obama faith has been apparent. The youth questions his promises, the Democrats refuse to work with him and the conservatives balk at his every move (though it’s markedly less cool to hate something the Republicans already hate — it’s like if your dad started listening to rap music).
But this isn’t about Obama; for once, the issue surpasses him. The problem is the prize itself, one that awards notable persons yearly as opposed to preserving the essence of the award by granting it to those exceptional few when we’re lucky enough to find them.
The Nobel Committee made some mistakes in the past (Yasser Arafat is rather questionable in retrospect), and skipped over some deserving candidates (the inventor of the “take a penny, leave a penny” system is, without a doubt, the Susan Lucci of Nobel laureates), but never has the Nobel Committee been tainted by the ever-present allure of celebrity.
Because that is what Obama represents in the context of such an award. My faith in him and his administration remains constant, and I do still believe that he will commit to his promises and enact the changes we so desperately need and he so gallantly preached.
But the Nobel Prize awards humanitarian efforts, culturally significant efforts, or, if we want to make it simpler, efforts that have actually happened. Awarding Obama before he has had the chance to move beyond rhetoric is not only demeaning to the award itself, but devaluing an honor that would be substantially more gratifying had it been granted once Obama actually completed his efforts. Moreover, it simply enhances the gap between our Obama obsession and the list of actual changes he’s made — a fact that his naysayers highlight any chance they get.
And those changes are, as of now, few and far between. Obama himself seems aware of it, accepting the award with equal parts humility and almost cognizant humiliation. He has called this win “a call to action” — but isn’t that what the election was for?
It’s hard to know, then, what a peace prize means in the context of a time when we, as a country, practice rendition and other questionable torture techniques, and are involved in two wars — one that, as of this month, became America’s longest. It’s a hard thing to justify, especially when given on the same week that we bomb the moon.
Many argue that the Nobel Committee’s hope was to entice the political examination of our war with Afghanistan. True, it places Obama to a higher standard as peacemaker, but the prize feels more like a political checkmate than the acknowledgement of a job well-done.
We balked at former President Bush’s preemptive war, but what this last week has shown us is that the public is clearly more terrified of preemptive praise. We balk at his accolades, questioning their merit because they feel like too much in light of too little, especially with the positive humanitarian efforts that are occurring daily without the benefit of name recognition.
I believe that by the time Obama’s first term is over he will have spread substantial change through not just our country, but every territory that has felt either the effects of U.S. involvement, or just the shattering of the U.S. image.
We are a nation that has basked in the myth of the frontier, preaching the necessitation of violence as the lifeblood of our country, dating back to its origins. We are in the process of reevaluating those priorities.
For our leader to be given an award promoting peace — in a time where the very notion of that term is in question — calls for a better understanding of what this prize represents.
Reassessment is needed on all fronts.