Obama and that Nobel Prize

I’m taking a break this afternoon from watching the Carolina Panthers bring joy and hope to the fans of yet another NFL team. And somewhere in there, there’s a transition to the actual topic of this blog post.

Since the announcement earlier this week that President Barack Obama was to be the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, I’ve been thinking about the reaction — especially in this country — to that surprising turn of events. I’ve thought since he took office that there were too few people here in the U.S. that could take a clear-eyed view of the new American president. Either he is adored too much or reflexively resented for his every breath and eye-blink, with little in between. And the reactions to this event have fallen along the same lines.

Centrist that I am, I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. And that’s one reason I think most folks are missing the real message in the Peace Prize decision. Personally, I think the president deserves neither the prize, nor the criticism that he’s received for being its recipient. (To his credit, the President himself says he hasn’t done enough to merit such high-level recognition.)

What the American people really should be getting out of this is what it says about the rest of the world’s opinion of our country, its government and its policies. I had a little taste of this when Jayne and I took our group of Wingate students to London for the semester last fall.

We encountered almost no anti-Americanism directed at us, but it was clear that the British people as a rule didn’t care much for the Bush Administration and for their own government’s cooperation with our unilateral foreign policy decisions. We found a high level of interest in the U.S. presidential election and were amused that people just came right out and asked us who we were going to vote for.

On the weekend following the Nov. 2 election, our group traveled to the southwestern tip of England for a tour of the area in and around Plymouth for the students’ geography class. The instructor, a professor at the University of Plymouth, and I talked about U.S.-British relations over some Cornish pasties (look it up) and ale at a pub in the little seacoast town of Looe.

In so many words, he said what we had come to find out — that while the British people didn’t care for the war in Iraq and other U.S. government actions over the previous eight years, they still held high regard for the American people.

“We haven’t been comfortable with not liking America,” he said.

Meanwhile, some little old ladies at the next table chimed in, figuring out somehow that I was not from around there, and said how pleased they were at how the American election came out.
As the London-based Financial Times newspaper said in an editorial after the election: Europe got the American president it wanted, and it was up to the governments of their nations to help achieve the cooperation that they had found wanting in the U.S. during two Bush terms.

So, yes, it seems pretty silly to award a prize based on hope and potential for someone to achieve something. But I think Americans should actually be complimented by what that says — that as the world’s lone superpower and possessor of vast military might, we’re still the last best hope of the planet. And it’s not unreasonable for nations of good will to want us to use that power responsibly.

I liked what New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman said in his most recent piece, that the president should use his acceptance speech as an acknowledgement of that, and as a tribute to all American military men and women who have given of themselves to preserve peace and freedom throughout the world.

Whoever’s in charge of the government, they’re the real heroes.

(And speaking of joy and hope, the Panthers have given their own fans some since I started this piece. 20-17 over Washington…a Nobel for Jake Delhomme, maybe? Or is it too soon?)


About theoldperfessor

I'm a college professor, teaching journalism and public relations classes at a small private university, and a freelance writer.
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