October 9th, 2009


Expecting Miracles

President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in a surprise announcement this morning. The reason, the committee said, was to honor his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

To which I say, "Uh...what?"

Look, for the most part I like Obama. I certainly like him a whole hell of a lot more than our previous president. Against my better judgment, even after being burned so many times before, I still have high expectations for his administration--but that's all they are, expectations. And that, it seems, is all this Nobel Peace Prize is about too, and to me, that's a little nutty. After all, shouldn't the Nobel Peace Prize be given to someone after their plan comes to fruition, not merely for claims of intent? Obama's plans have not born any fruit yet--in fact, I'm not even sure they've been fully put in place yet. Only the barest seeds have been planted. So why the rush to give him the award? Why not wait and see what happens? Shouldn't the award go to someone who has done something really good, instead of to someone whom the committee is hoping will do something really good? I mean, the man has only been in office for nine months now and he hasn't done all that much yet.

This reminds me of shortly after the 2008 election, when the economy started sinking even faster, and everyone turned to Obama and said, "Do something!" And Obama had to be like, "We only have one president at a time, folks, and I ain't him yet." It was as if people couldn't freaking wait for Obama to be president. Part of that was the desire to be rid of his predecessor already, to be sure, but a lot of it was an unfair piling on of expectations. Obama's a smart guy, they seemed to think to themselves in December of 2008, before he was even in office. Why hasn't he fixed the world yet? That's a lot to handle, and I don't envy Obama his position as someone who is expected to basically be Superman.

Currently, his approval rating is hovering around the 50-yard line. Not bad for a U.S. president, really. But that's a drop from earlier this year, and if you ask me, it's those wild expectations that are to blame. Why hasn't he fixed health care yet? Why am I still out of work? That kind of thing. We're a culture of impatience. Not that these issues aren't important--they are important--it's just that sometimes our impatience leads us to expect miracles.

And I feel like that's what the Nobel Committee is doing by giving a president who hasn't even been in office for a year yet a Nobel Peace Prize. It's nice of them, sure. It speaks to the confidence they have in him, and the hope that he will succeed in making the world a better, more peaceful place. But in the end, it's just one more wild expectation piled onto the shoulders of a human being. It makes me wonder how much more he can hold before his legs give out, and it makes me wonder why we, as a world, keep setting ourselves up for disappointment by expecting miracles.

More On Obama's Nobel

"I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee. Let me be clear, I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations. To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize, men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace...I know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes. And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century. Now, these challenges can't be met by any one leader or any one nation. And that's why my administration's worked to establish a new era of engagement in which all nations must take responsibility for the world we seek."

You know what? Cool. That was exactly the right speech to give in these rather strange circumstances. Though I do not take back my assertion that the Nobel Peace Prize is premature, I applaud you, sir. I also applaud the fact that you're donating the roughly $1.4 million award money to charity. That's not something you usually see politicians do unless they're caught up in some kind of fundraising scandal. You've handled what could have been a potential minefield of arrogance and faux pas pretty well, President Obama.

You know who else is handling it well, and whom I also applaud? John McCain. The Arizona senator and one-time rival of Obama's for the presidency said: "As Americans, we're proud when our president receives an award of that prestigious category....I think Americans are always pleased when their president is recognized by something on this order."

And a tip of the hat to Mike Huckabee too, for telling his fellow Republicans to quit it with the "right-wing whining" over Obama's award.

It's nice to see some civility and humility in American politics, even if I know it's only temporary. But I'm going to pretend this is the way it always is for now--at least until the crazy sound bites from Beck, Hannity, Malkin and Limbaugh get played back repeatedly on the news and serve to remind me otherwise.