Friday, December 11, 2009

Humble Obama accepts Nobel prize.

Obama turned up at Oslo yesterday to collect his Nobel peace prize, setting off the expected cacophony of hate from the usual right wing quarters:

In honor of President Barack Obama’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, I think we should declare today Happy National Post-Achievement Day.

What award or honor don’t you deserve? Claim it.

What unearned prize for unmet aspirations would you like to give yourself? Declare it.

Of course, Malkin is ignoring the fact that Obama did not claim or declare his right to this honour. Quite the opposite. He admitted that the award had been "controversial", and that it had been awarded to him very early in his presidency.

"I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated," he said, to laughter.

The 108th recipient of the prize expressed humility, saying he could not be compared with giants of history such as Dr Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela who had received the prize. He said too that he was only at the start of his labours on the world stage, not the end.

Of course, the Malkins and other haters are ignoring the entire history of the Nobel peace award. It is not merely given to those who have brought about peace, it is also given to encourage those who seek a fairer world, often before their efforts have secured success.

It was for this reason that the Nobel committee threw it's protective arm around Archbishop Desmond Tutu, long before he had succeeded, along with Mandela, in ending Apartheid.

And Obama's acceptance speech, given by a man whose nation is currently fighting two wars, was certainly one of the most interesting that I have ever heard. It's unusual to hear someone accepting a Nobel peace prize whilst explaining the concept of noble wars.

By turns historical and philosophical and theological, Obama spoke about subjects such as reconciling the desire for peace with the need sometimes to wage war, the importance of nonviolence as well as its shortcomings and failures, and other Really Big Questions. Admirably, I thought, he did not give either this left-ish European audience or the American audience back home exactly what it wanted to hear. It was a complicated speech, maybe even hard to follow for some people. I love nuance myself, but it's not the kind of thing that makes the masses go ga-ga.

"My accomplishments are slight," Obama quickly acknowledged, before offering the second and more important acknowledgement that everyone was waiting for. Yes, he said, I am the head of state of a nation that is now enmeshed in two wars – one winding down (he noted hopefully), and one not of our choosing (an assessment with which many in that audience might have not agreed).

What could have followed was a series of self-justifying bromides regarding the planned build-up in Afghanistan. Not that George Bush ever would have received a Nobel prize, but that's the sort of thing Bush would have done, the kind of thing we heard so often over eight years – one-sided, sophistic and intellectually flimsy justifications, delivered with more than a soup├žon of defensiveness against those evil liberal elites (rhetoric of which conservatives never tire).

Nothing he could have done or said would have pleased those who have already decided that he is a Jimmy Carter figure, Hell bent on destroying the United States. But, to the rest of us, it was a minefield which he made his way through deftly.

My favourite line was the one he aimed at followers of al Qaeda:
"If you truly believe you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint."
Malkin and the other right wing haters will have ignored the fact that this line could have applied easily to the previous American administration.

I honestly think that this is what they hate most about Obama. He does nuance. And they loathe that. They seek constant certainty of the kind offered by the previous White House incumbent; even if what he was certain about was utterly wrong.

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