And the Nobel Prize for Most Cynical Nation Goes to…The United States! (October 11, 2009)

There’s a really insidious group of people I have come to detest in 2009. Shamefully, this group includes members of my own household more often than I can stomach. These folks are the ones who rallied behind Obama in the early Summer of 2008, when his cultural zeitgeist was at its absolute trendiest peak. They wanted “change” and followed Candidate Obama’s every move, infected despite themselves with a heady rush of “Yes we can!” euphoria.

However, the inevitable crash from the drug that was the Fall 2008 campaign came hard and fast for a section of the populace in January of this year. That’s when the camera ready events came to an end – the awe inspiring Grant Park Rally, the flashy and momentous Inauguration. When the dust settled and the pilgrims left down, it was time to get to work. And oh what work there was to be done! Two wars, a soul scraping economic and housing crash, the corporate mayday of so many huge America brands, layoffs – just to name a few of the challenges our new President had waiting for him on Day One.

And this is where so many of Obama’s former supporters began to show their true colors. Because all along they mistook our President’s intelligence and passion for some sort of promise of quick returns. They wanted results and they wanted them now. So what if Iraq and Afghanistan had been underway long before the President was a Senator from Illinois? He had better have our troops out (and security in the region, naturally) within six months. So what if the economic crisis had been in part triggered by years of bad policy and deregulation, of generations of people living beyond their means? Let’s right this thing and put people back to work before the holiday season – or else. Who cares if health care reform is taking longer than expected because of an unparalelled political quagmire on Capitol Hill, as well as at the American breakfast table? It matters not that our ambitious President has tackled all of these problems, often without the will or support of members of Congress, including members of his own party.

No, these fair weather friends awoke Friday morning to learn that President Barack Obama had won the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize with only one question on their minds: What has he done? And I know from personal experience this weekend that the question does not only relate to foreign policy.

Obama won the prize for 3 reasons:

1. No one, and I mean no one, had inspired more people, in more places, in the last 12 months. I know many folks choose to interpret the award as more of a lifetime achievement kind of thing, and I suppose that’s their right. Be that as it may, and no matter what side of the political fence you sit, it cannot be ignored that the man’s charisma and genuine likability is a powerful tool. Just ask John McCain. Or the screaming throngs in Europe that have turned out at every one of his public appearances.

2. He is not Bush. Do not underestimate the power those words carry internationally. It is the benefit of short term memory that we can barely recall the time, just a few months ago, when America was isolated and virtually friendless around the globe. Eight years of “Bring ’em on!” and “Axis of Evil” imperialism had made America and the world less safe (do you hear me Republicans?!), not more. I do accept that in part, the Nobel Committee has bestowed the prize on a clean break with the unhelpful, shall we say, attitudes of the past.

3. It’s only been 9 months, but wow. I am paraphrasing here, and I wish I could remember whom to credit, but I heard it said best last Sunday on “Meet the Press.” Obama’s approach to the international community is rather revolutionary. In the past, America has prided itself on its strength, it’s ability not to need anybody, its stoic resolve. Obama is subtly and slowly trying to change that mindset for American citizens. What’s cool in the 21st century is cooperation, information sharing. America is still the only superpower, no doubt about that, but we don’t need to ground that into everyone’s coffee. We are now a partner rather than a dominator, no longer the distant and stern grandfather. It may very well be political (and what decision, if we’re being honest, isnt?) but yes, I think the Nobel panel wanted to recognize this tectonic shift in Western diplomacy. And by the way, why the hell not? Doesn’t this create peace, which is the point of the Nobel Prize?

Can you imagine Bush, or any other President for that matter, ever going on Al Jazeera and speaking to the Muslim world in a believable way, that conveys a recognition of people of all religions and beliefs systems as equally human? Neither can I. That hardly means that WASPs and Muslim militants will be exchanging friendly emails anytime soon, but Obama definitely opened some lines of communication that were down before.

But to return to the earlier point of my post. What has really injured my spirit the last few days are the jeers and derision by a healthy dose of our citizenry towards the President’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize at all. Some have even gone so far as to suggest he decline to accept it. Please tell me when we became so jaded that we could look at the bestowing of such an honor on our sitting President with anything but pride? 2009 has been such a suck ass year (you can quote me on that), why aren’t we unified in finding this pretty cool?

It makes me sad. Is there anything this country can collectively celebrate anymore? You don’t have to agree with everything Obama has done in order to find joy in the Nobel Peace Prize. That’s for all of us man, for the better, stronger and more tolerant America that we are supposedly on the path toward becoming. Let’s act like we deserve it.


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