In 2007 former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in a variety of environmental initiatives in the service of world peace, climate change among them.
On Friday the Nobel Committee awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama for another kind of climate change: officially, “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”
But working through the lofty decorous language, Obama won for, among other things, changing the tone of the American interaction with the world, a tone cemented in the contentious eight years of the Bush administration. This prize was awarded for Obama’s applied research into geopolitical climate change, and the ways that a new American administration can usher in a fresh wind felt around the world.
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The news caught the White House by surprise. “I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee,” he said in the Rose Garden. “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.”
No longer had the prize been announced than the right-wing hate machine was firing on all cylinder.
“"The real question Americans are asking is, 'What has President Obama actually accomplished?'" reads a statement from Michael Steele, head of the Republican National Committee. "It is unfortunate that the president's star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working towards peace and human rights. One thing is certain -- President Obama won't be receiving any awards from Americans for job creation, fiscal responsibility, or backing up rhetoric with concrete action."
More problematic and less spinnable for the GOP is the little problem of who they’re siding with in its latest display of Obama hate:
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called the prize "hasty and too early."
"The appropriate time for awarding such a prize is when foreign military forces leave Iraq and Afghanistan and when one stands by the rights of the oppressed Palestinian people," the semiofficial Mehr news agency quoted Mottaki as saying.
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What’s even more of an optics problem for the conservatives is that Iran and Hamas at least came down on principle. Their opposition to his winning the prize was at least based on a nuanced rationale, largely staying away from the ad hominem attacks of the conservatives in the U.S.
"Obama isn't the first American president to win the Nobel Peace Prize, but he's the first to win it without having accomplished anything," wrote John Miller, of the National Review. "Obama's award is simply the projection of wishful thinking."
“I think that everybody is laughing," talk-radio windbag and former recreational pharmaceutical enthusiast Rush Limbaugh said on the air. "Our president is a worldwide joke. Folks, do you realize something has happened here that we all agree with the Taliban and Iran about and that is he doesn't deserve the award. Now that's hilarious, that I'm on the same side of something that the Taliban, and that we all are on the same side as the Taliban.”
“I predict right now that he will find a way to basically turn it down,” Time Magazine's Mark Halperin said on the MSNBC “Morning Joe” program. “I think he is going to say, ‘I share this with the world’ or whatever. I don't think he'll embrace this. Because there is no upside.”
“The damage is done,” “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski said.
Halperin and Brzezinski are, of course, out of their minds. The Nobel Peace Prize burnishes the global reputation of the recipient nation; rejecting it in general — and especially in the case of the United States — sends a signal of closed-mindedness that would do greatly more harm than good. You don’t turn down the Nobel Prize. It’s not a return-to-sender moment. This isn’t something you bought at T.J. Maxx that didn’t fit right when you tried it on at home.
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The Democratic National Committee — in one of the first broadsides of a new and more aggressive media strategy — responded to Limbaugh with its own sharp-elbowed statement.
“The Republican Party has thrown in its lot with the terrorists -- the Taliban and Hamas this morning -- in criticizing the President for receiving the Nobel Peace prize,” wrote DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse.
“Republicans cheered when America failed to land the Olympics and now they are criticizing the President of the United States for receiving the Nobel Peace prize -- an award he did not seek but that is nonetheless an honor in which every American can take great pride -- unless of course you are the Republican Party. The 2009 version of the Republican Party has no boundaries, has no shame and has proved that they will put politics above patriotism at every turn.”
Others got it – understood the recognition of the ways symbolism trumps substance — the ways symbolism sometimes is substance.
In Vienna, the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Obama has already provided outstanding leadership in efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation.
"In less than a year in office, he has transformed the way we look at ourselves and the world we live in and rekindled hope for a world at peace with itself," ElBaradei told The Associated Press.
“He has shown an unshakable commitment to diplomacy, mutual respect and dialogue as the best means of resolving conflicts. He has reached out across divides and made clear that he sees the world as one human family, regardless of religion, race or ethnicity,” ElBaradei said.
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"President Obama embodies the new spirit of dialogue and engagement on the world's biggest problems: climate change, nuclear disarmament and a wide range of peace and security challenges," said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Oslo sent a message with this announcement, an inconvenient truth at odds with those who’ve said that proven results should be the litmus test for status as a Nobel laureate:
There are many ways to achieve something “concrete,” something “tangible.” The first of these is to set the table for discussion, to establish the atmosphere for outreach, to clear the air of isolationist thinking — and the isolationist policies that followed in their wake. In an era of obfuscation and conflict, the pursuit of clarity and dialogue is itself a revolutionary act.
Image credit: Obama: Still from NBC News. ElBaradei: IAEA.