Sunday, December 20, 2009

Why Did They Give President Obama a Nobel Prize?

The Bigger Picture
Published on November 5th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
Since Tuesday was Election Day back in the states, I will discuss the results and their implications for President Obama’s political agenda next week. I will use today’s column to conclude my discussion about the negative reactions from some commentators in America to President Obama’s selection as this year’s Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
Last week I said that I basically agreed with the concept that actions speak louder than words. Many of those who expressed disagreement with the Nobel panel’s decision to give this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama have cited the same idea in support of their arguments that it wasn’t proper to give the Nobel Prize to President Obama at this early stage of his Presidency. They feel it would be more appropriate to wait and see what President Obama actually accomplishes as President before handing him such a prestigious international award.
While I have a great deal of respect for many of the political analysts that made these types of comments, I still strongly disagree with them. Granted, my perspective on American politics has been altered by living abroad here in Dublin for the last three years. But I also know that there are many other political commentators back in the states who have never lived abroad who nonetheless share the same sentiments that I do.
As I mentioned last week, the motives of political extremists on the right and left who condemned the selection of President Obama are just as transparent as those of the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists who have now become their newest allies. Sowing seeds of mistrust and hate is an integral part of the message these rigid thinking people want others to believe. So a national and world leader who seeks to inspire ordinary citizens in both the US and the rest of the world with a message of hope and peace undercuts their message and reduces the chances that their skewed vision of the world will prevail.
And in at least a few instances, any accolades given to President Obama simply serve as an opportunity for money-grubbing demagogues like Rush Limbaugh to rally their rigid thinking acolytes to call in and voice their displeasure. What these simpletons don’t realize however is that “Rushbo” and others like him use these calls as proof of the popularity of their shows to radio and TV advertisers. Truth be known, Rush Limbaugh makes a lot more money from advertising sales when there is a Democrat like Clinton (and now Obama) in the White House than when someone named Bush resides there.
But ascertaining the motivations of more thoughtful US political commentators is a much tougher task, especially when they are people you respect and in some cases seek to emulate. While I may be wrong in my assessments of these political analysts’ motives, I truly believe most of the negative reactions that they expressed were quite sincere.
Many of them are just as dismayed by the partisan political gamesmanship they see on display in Washington DC as I am, so stoking partisan flames doesn’t make any sense to me as a motive for them. Nor do any of them have radio and TV shows that would benefit from rousing anti-Obama supporters as a means of demonstrating their shows’ popularity to advertisers. Furthermore, most of them have been generally supportive of President Obama’s economic stimulus, environmental and healthcare reform proposals, so undercutting the President doesn’t make sense in this regard either.
So although I think their motives were genuinely sincere, I also think they were rooted in the fact that they are also products of America’s somewhat unique cultural affinities. Like me, they were all born and raised in an American culture that celebrates and recognizes real achievements more than it does hopeful aspirations or abstract ideas. It’s not that Americans and American culture doesn’t appreciate those with a gift for lofty words and inspiring speeches; it’s just that Americans expect them to be translated into action. If they aren’t, then Americans tend to view them as impractical and rather useless.
But precisely because they, like so many other Americans have been raised to believe that “actions speak louder than words”, I think those political commentators who were critical of the Nobel committee’s decision to award the Peace Prize to President Obama missed a very critical point. The world may no longer be threatened by the possibility that the Cold War could become a nuclear holocaust, but there are still many other potential disasters lurking on the horizon. So the words and vision of America’s President matter because the world is looking to America for solutions to these problems.
President Bush, Vice-President Cheney and their neo-conservative Republican allies used the American public’s anger and revulsion over the 9/11 terrorists attacks to advance their idea that America was powerful enough to replace recalcitrant regimes and transform those countries into a mirror image of America. They demanded concessions from their adversaries as a pre-condition to even talking directly with them. But their bullying tactics didn’t work and President Obama is now trying to salvage what he can from the disastrous economic and military policies his predecessors implemented.
Obama knows that while America may still be the most economically and militarily powerful country in the world; it no longer has the political will or the wallet it needs to bend opponents to its will. Obama also realizes that the process of resolving the worlds many conflicts can’t begin until we first change the rhetoric we are using and stop demonizing those we disagree with. Obama is also secure enough that he can talk to America’s enemies instead of trying to bully them.
The Nobel award is recognition that President Obama’s use of rhetoric is important because he is setting an example for other political leaders around the world. Unlike some US commentators, the Nobel panel also realizes that without a change in political leaders’ rhetoric, the chances of resolving the world’s conflicts are slim and none.

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