By Eugene Robinson
Somebody explain this to me: The president of the United States wins the Nobel Peace Prize, and Rush Limbaugh joins with the Taliban in bitterly denouncing the award? Glenn Beck has a conniption fit and demands that the president not accept what may be the world’s most prestigious honor? The Republican National Committee issues a statement sarcastically mocking our nation’s leader—elected, you will recall, by a healthy majority—as unworthy of such recognition?
Why, oh why, do conservatives hate America so?
OK, I know, it’s just some conservatives who’ve been exhibiting what they, in a different context, surely would describe as “Hanoi Jane” behavior. Others who haven’t taken leave of their political senses—and are familiar with the concept of manners—responded to President Barack Obama’s unexpected award with equanimity and even grace. Sen. John McCain, for example, offered his good-natured congratulations.
Some of Obama’s most strident critics, however, just can’t give it a rest. They use words like farce and travesty, as if there were always universal agreement on the worthiness of the Nobel peace laureate. Does anyone remember the controversy over Henry Kissinger or Yasser Arafat or F.W. de Klerk?
The problem for the addlebrained Obama-rejectionists is that the president, as far as they are concerned, couldn’t possibly do anything right, and thus is unworthy of any conceivable recognition. If Obama ended all hunger in the world, they’d accuse him of promoting obesity. If he solved global warming, they’d complain it was getting chilly. If he got Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu to join him around the campfire in a chorus of “Kumbaya,” the rejectionists would claim that his singing was out of tune.
Let the rejectionists fulminate and sputter until they wear themselves out. Politically, they’re only bashing themselves. As Republican leaders—except RNC Chairman Michael Steele—are beginning to realize, “I’m With the Taliban Against America” is not likely to be a winning slogan.
More interesting, but no less goofy, is the recommendation—by otherwise sane commentators—that Obama should decline the award. This is ridiculous.
If the award just represented the political views of a handful of left-leaning, self-satisfied Norwegian Eurocrats, as some critics have charged, then it wouldn’t matter whether Obama won it or not. But of course it means much more. The Nobel Peace Prize, irrespective of the idiosyncratic process that selects its winner, is universally recognized as a stamp of the world’s approval. For an American president to reject such a token of approval would be absurdly counterproductive.
Obama has shifted U.S. foreign policy away from George W. Bush’s cowboy ethos toward a multilateral approach. He envisions, and has begun to implement, a different kind of U.S. leadership that I believe is more likely to succeed in an interconnected, multipolar world. That this shift is being noticed and recognized is to Obama’s credit—and to our country’s.
The peace prize comes as Obama is in the midst reviewing war strategy in Afghanistan. Some advocates for sending additional troops are complaining—and some advocates of a pullout are hoping—that the award may somehow limit the president’s options. But the prize is nothing more than an acknowledgment of what Obama has been saying and doing thus far. He hardly needs to be reminded of his philosophy of international relations—or that he once called Afghanistan a “war of necessity.” Threading that needle is not made any easier or harder by the Nobel committee’s decision.
What I really don’t understand is the view that somehow there’s a tremendous downside for Obama in the award. It raises expectations, these commentators say—as if expectations of any American president, and especially this one, were not already sky-high. Obama has taken on the rescue of the U.S. financial system and the long-term restructuring of the economy. He has launched historic initiatives to revolutionize health care, energy policy and the way we educate our children. He said flatly during the campaign that he wants to be remembered as a transformational president.
The only reasonable response is McCain’s: Congratulations. Nothing, not even the Nobel Peace Prize, can set the bar any higher for President Obama than he’s already set it for himself.
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
© 2009, Washington Post Writers Group
White House / Pete Souza
Conservatives may not like Obama, but they ought to salute his achievement. It is, after all, an honor for the country as well as the man.