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Sunday, October 18, 2009

“Man of Peace”: Barack Obama wins prize based on noble intentions

He's a great humanitarian, he's a great
He knows just where to touch you, honey, and how
you like to be kissed.
He'll put both his arms around you,
You can feel the tender touch of the beast.
You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.

In recent months, Barack Obama has been called many things— a saint, a sinner, a savior, a scourge. But just as Obama is not the literal Second Coming, he probably isn’t Satan either.

According the five-man Nobel Peace Prize committee, however, Barack Obama is a man of peace.

The irony that the world's most prestigious peace award has been bestowed on the newly-minted president— a man who has yet to stop any wars, right any innate injustices, or dismantle any of the world’s arsenals hasn't been lost on anyone.

But considering military escalation in Afghanistan is all but inevitable, the Iranian mullahs are allowing the beheading their political rivals and North Korea is nearing nuclear proliferation with each passing day, no one doubts we need someone to stand up for peace. It's just that the selection of Barack Obama has more than a few people scratching their heads.

But he beat them all. One hundred and seventy-two individuals, 33 organizations— a total of 205 nominations. The most ever.

In the past, the coveted peace prize has gone to monks, martyrs, social activists, scientists, former Communists, and environmental conservationists. However, it seems this year it went to a man whose biggest accomplishment to date was restoring some semblance of dignity to the presidency simply by not being George Bush.

In light of the global backlash over the decision, however, apparently dignity does not a dignitary make.

Even Obama was ill at ease when he heard the news. Not since Bill Clinton was asked about a certain blue dress worn by a certain intern by the name of Monica Lewinsky, or Richard Nixon was questioned about a certain group of ‘plumbers’ sent to fix a ‘leak’ in a certain Watergate hotel has a sitting president seemed so uncomfortable.

Unlike his predecessors, however, Obama did not bring the decidedly awkward moment upon himself. That distinction belongs to the five-man Norwegian Nobel Committee that nominated him just 12 days into his prescient presidency.

Of course, in all the hubbub over Barack Obama’s merits as a man of peace, one true man of merit was overlooked…

This year marks the seventh time Bob Dylan has been nominated—and passed over—for a Nobel Prize. The reason for the repeated slight is, like just about everything related to Dylan, a bit of a mystery. Most music critics agree that Dylan is perhaps the most profound wordsmith in modern music. Yet Dylan’s repeated nomination has yet to cement consensus among literary authorities, who are plagued by the nagging question as to whether song lyrics qualify for literature's most prestigious award.

The irony, of course, is that the lyrical nature of Barack Obama's words, rather than quantifiable results of his actions, was probably the largest contributing factor leading to Obama receiving this year’s prize.

To his credit, Obama publicly acknowledged that he didn’t deserve to be in the company of the past Peace Prize winners. And though it seems unfathomable that he would have rebuked the esteemed Nobel committee, Obama did have an alternative: Turn it down.

As Ross Douthat in The New York Times noted in his assessment of the brouhaha following the Nobel announcement, saying ‘no thanks’ to the premature honor would have offended no one but the Norwegians who selected him. It would also have sent a clear signal to Congress and world community that Obama is finally willing to relinquish the thorny messianic crown that, as Douthat accurately observed, has both accompanied—and impeded—his presidency.

There’s no question a large part of Barack Obama’s success—and a major factor contributing to the ‘pushback’ he has experienced in recent months—revolves around this daunting duality. On the one hand, there is Barack Obama ‘the myth’; on the other, Barack Obama ‘the man.’ The problem is that these qualities are not at opposite ends of the spectrum. Rather, there are inextricably intertwined.

Without question there's a mystique that imbues Barack Obama. And judging from their unanimous decision, the Nobel Peace Committee has fully bought into that mystique. But by confusing the notion of aspiration and accountability, the Committee has done a disservice to the Nobel Peace Prize as well as their latest laureate.

By awarding Barack Obama this year’s prize, the Committee effectively debased the criteria upon which the prize was founded. It is not enough simply to set the table for peace; you must serve up the meal. The only thing Obama brought to the table was the Kool-aide. And the Committee drank it up in spades.

And while the fault lies mostly at the feet of the Nobel Committee for this evident blunder, the culpability is not theirs alone. By accepting the prize, the nascent US President allowed himself to be placed high atop a tenuous pedestal like some conquering Roman hero. And now that Obama has ascended to that precarious perch, he's handed his opponents the perfect segue to make the case that the Emperor has no clothes.

Come to think about it, maybe Dylan ought to be thankful the Nobel Prize Committee keeps passing him over…

He got a sweet gift of gab, he got a harmonious tongue,
He knows every song of love that ever has been sung.
Good intentions can be evil,

Both hands can be full of grease.

You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yet another all too tenuous link between current affairs and Bob Dylan, this time highlighted by the ludicrous suggestion that Mister Z should be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Dream on, sweet prince...

And as for your snide insinuation that Obama should have refused the Peace Prize - the shine may be coming off the President's early luster, but there is no denying that he has single-handedly given the rest of the world a much needed lift of the spirits (remember "Hope"?), and gone a long way to repairing the damage done to the way America is perceived beyond these shores.

Lift your head, try to see the bigger picture.