By Joe Conason
Outraged babble and sanctimonious tut-tutting over President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize will pour forth until the very evening he accepts the prize in Oslo, and then for years afterward. His critics are infuriated, they say, because he didn’t earn the prestigious award, or because he didn’t refuse it—or just because those left-wing Norwegians have a lot of nerve. How dare they insult us by bestowing their highest honor on the president of the United States and inviting him to deliver a lecture?
The conservative media machine has nearly seized up, filling hours of airtime, reams of newsprint and zillions of pixels with glowing rage.
A columnist for The Wall Street Journal, usually known for her saccharine sentimentality, calls the award “wicked and ignorant.” A radio talker with an enormous audience says that the Nobel committee “suicide-bombed itself” and declared that he sides with the Taliban and Iran in their disdain for the committee’s choice.
A nutty host on Fox News Channel suggests that the president had delayed escalating the war in Afghanistan in order to win the prize. An even nuttier and far more celebrated Fox News host insists that the Nobel Prize is merely the latest development in a conspiracy by “global interests that have extraordinary power.” (And the Republican National Committee chairman dispatched a quick direct-mail hit, hoping to channel all the anger into cash.)
Following closely behind this flood of bile from the right came the sour emissions of mainstream commentators, who either demand that the president reject the prize or warn that it will hurt more than help.
Stirred up as the wingnuts seem to be, neither they nor their friends in the media possess much understanding of this little episode. If the hotheads understood how Obama actually did earn the prize, in the minds not only of the Norwegians but presumably most of the world’s inhabitants, their fury might reach nuclear levels.
The five members of the Nobel committee are much too polite to explain their decision in unambiguous terms. All were selected by Norway’s parliament, in accordance with the terms of Alfred Nobel’s will, and are politicians themselves. That could be why they were so impressed by the American president’s single big and undeniable accomplishment last November: He inflicted a clear political defeat on those excitable extremists and their politicians, and removed them from power before they could do any further damage to world peace and security.
He kicked out the neoconservative faction, led by former Vice President Dick Cheney, that prefers armed confrontation to diplomacy—and the world applauded in relief, along with the majority of Americans. Whatever the new president may or may not have done since then, nobody beyond a minority of die-hards would wish the Cheney faction to return.
Stopping John McCain, a neoconservative belligerent, and his dangerously clueless sidekick, Sarah Palin, was a significant achievement—and a close call until the final week or so. That is what Obama did, along with millions of other Americans. It is not a mere aspiration or a hope or a pretty speech.
Will the prize help Obama? For a fair assessment of that issue, it is helpful to know who gave it to him. Conspiracy theorists and smug commentators alike contend that the prize is somehow diminished by a supposed association with the left, always neglecting to note in their own ignorance that such figures as Henry Kissinger were among the recipients back when Norway’s parliament was thoroughly dominated by socialists.
While the committee’s current chairman is indeed a leader of the social democratic Labor Party, two of the members of the committee that voted unanimously to honor Obama are politicians of the right. The deputy chairman is the former leader of Norway’s Young Conservatives, and another member also belongs to a conservative party.
Right and left, the world agrees that Obama is a refreshing change. He is restoring the prestige and admiration squandered by the Bush-Cheney regime, as worldwide surveys have lately proved. The prize is merely a symbol of what has already happened—and what may someday help the president to achieve his most important international objectives.
Joe Conason writes for The New York Observer. To find out more about Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate Web site at www.creators.com.
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White House / Pete Souza