October
10th 2009
Who ever could have predicted?

Posted under: American history, European history, weirdness

Well, I did.  Will the Nobel be Obama’s “Commander Codpiece” moment?

Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize furnishes yet more proof of the enduring fatuity of our times.  Most Americans–and many Europeans, apparently–who really should know better make political decisions based entirely on their feelings, not on objective reality.  Just as many Americans voted for George W. Bush in 2004 because they “felt” he would make them “safer,” so the Nobel for Obama has also been awarded not for concrete achievement but on the basis of the emotions he stirs in some:  “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future.”  (Emphasis mine.)  Good Lord.

Can we eat Hope?  Will Hope cover your hospital bills?  Will Hope shut down Guantanamo Bay and end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?  Will some magical Hopey goodness halt the melting of the polar ice caps?  Huh?  How’s that working out for us so far?

26 Comments »

26 Responses to “Who ever could have predicted?”

  1. Indyanna on 10 Oct 2009 at 9:50 am #

    This almost seems like an effort by the Nobelists to *obtain* prestige by association, rather than to confer it. And very reminiscent of the nirvana phenomena we observed and extensively commented on here during the spring of ’08. Of course, it’s also being widely interpreted as a European after-the-fact riposte to Bush II. As storms go, I think we can ride this one out.

    The most outrageous thing, though, is that I was totally open in the end zone on this play and the worthies in Oslo didn’t even glance in my direction. I think I’m going to hold my breath until either they or the MacArthur designators in Chicago step up their games and at least give me a chance to drop one while wide open! My phone *has* to ring one of these years at 4 a.m.

  2. Susan on 10 Oct 2009 at 10:37 am #

    But really, Historiann, you can’t blame this one on Obama. And he was right to say he didn’t deserve it. I read it as the Nobel Committee saying that he is acting as president as we want the president of the US to act, and that this matters. Reading the international reaction suggests to me that yours here is a tad provincial. And while we can’t eat hope, without hope it’s very hard to change things. Never mind what we know about the medical power of hope.

  3. rootlesscosmo on 10 Oct 2009 at 11:32 am #

    Well said. And Indyanna: on reflection, do you really want to join a club that includes Henry Kissinger?

  4. Erica on 10 Oct 2009 at 11:40 am #

    I saw it more as something like “you’ve made the world an immensely better place just by replacing Bush” — which, still, doesn’t quite seem like the standards by which a Nobel Peace Prize candidate should be measured. I guess not all the winners can be “winners”…

    Try hope with a dash of cumin and salt, sautéed in butter with some onions and bell peppers — it’s delicious!

  5. Historiann on 10 Oct 2009 at 12:03 pm #

    Susan, I’m not blaming Obama–I say quite clearly here that it’s other people who are led more by feelings and emotions than documented achievement. (I do think it’s his problem that he doesn’t have more of a record for his first year in office.) I think his campaign style, and the fact that his political campaign was one built around a cult of personality rather than on a record of achievement, leaves him vulnerable to strange gestures like this one.

    Yes, I am provincial. I’m glad that he has the esteem of Western Europe, but Barack Obama is President of the United States, and I believe that the U.S. is better prepared to lead internationally if it cleans house and takes care of business at home. (Well, minus Pres. Sarkozy, who famously asked, “Est-il faible?” We don’t know yet.)

    Erica, I too think this is a “congratulations, you’re not George W. Bush!” award. But I find it utterly unimaginable to think that the Nobel committee would have given a President John McCain or a President Hillary Clinton this award. In a way, it could *only* have been given to Obama, who remains a cipher with little achievement outside of his ambitions for higher office. Clinton and McCain have all of those troubling records as public officials…

    And, Indyanna–I think you’re right that this is an attempt to make the Nobel committee relevant in contemporary geopolitics. But, remember how the pundits all thought that George W. Bush was so macho and totally awesome and invincible back on May 1, 2003?

  6. Indyanna on 10 Oct 2009 at 12:18 pm #

    The first thing that came to my mind when I heard of it was the point about the university where O gave the commencement speech but did not receive an honorary degree because his “body of work” was yet to come. And I think he might have graciously declined it on that ground.

    Kissinger got a MacArthur?!? I get more and more bummed with each award cycle. :)

  7. Roxie on 10 Oct 2009 at 12:43 pm #

    No, Indyanna, Kissinger got a Nobel PEACE Prize, which may just suggest that you are not quite EVIL enough to get one. Try harder!

    Totally with you on this one, Historiann. We weigh in on the Nobel and the (possibly not so) Big Gay March on Washington this weekend: http://roxies-world.blogspot.com/2009/10/signs-taken-for-wonders.html. The title says it all, really.

  8. Comrade PhysioProf on 10 Oct 2009 at 12:46 pm #

    I think his campaign style, and the fact that his political campaign was one built around a cult of personality rather than on a record of achievement, leaves him vulnerable to strange gestures like this one.

    Oh, puhleez. Talk about propagating right-wing bullshit. What POTUS has *ever* campaigned on anything *other* than “cult of personality”? This shit started with George Motherfucking Washington, and hasn’t been any different since.

  9. Bing on 10 Oct 2009 at 1:04 pm #

    Yeah, this is a ploy on the part of the Norwegian Nobel Committee to use the Prize as a catalyst for American foreign policy’s continuing shift toward multilateralism. I hardly think it came about primarily because of some sort of non-rational disregard for objective reality. This is a calculated PR coup for the Committee. I have a feeling that they want to hold Obama to high standards, essentially to encourage the not bombing the hell out of people. They put the prestige of the Prize on the line of course. It’s a calculated gamble, and it only does make sense in the light of the passing of the neocon era.

    I’d have to see the evidence that it would not have been given to Secretary Clinton, but I have no idea what that evidence would look like.

    HJ

  10. Historiann on 10 Oct 2009 at 1:50 pm #

    Careful, CPP–many here (myself included!) have Ph.D.s in American history. You are right that Obama didn’t invent the campaign built around his personality, but it’s untrue that every presidential campaign since GW has been run that way. I can think of several very issue-driven political campaigns: the 1992 Perot and Clinton campaigns, the 1980 Reagan campaign (his 1984 campaign was much more a cult of personality campaign), both the Nixon and McCarthy campaigns in 1968, the 1948 Truman campaign, and the 1932 Roosevelt campaign. Others may have more and better ideas. (Oh yeah: Lincoln’s 1860 presidential campaign!)

    Last year, whenever the Obama volunteers came to my door, they were almost to a person unable to articulate any specific policy positions he stood for, or why those were superior positions. It was all about the awesome coolness, and how all of their Fb friends got them involved. As I predicted, all of that awesome coolness doesn’t get $h!t done in Washington, and all of his cool Fb friends and volunteers from the campaign vanished this summer in clutch moments of his push for health care reform. The intensity on this issue has shifted to the Rs, in spite of their almost complete leadership vacuum.

    I’m “hope”ful that stuff will get done, but I’m still waiting. (Aside from the Sotomayor appointment, that is. Credit where credit is due.)

  11. Comrade PhysioProf on 10 Oct 2009 at 3:27 pm #

    Careful, CPP–many here (myself included!) have Ph.D.s in American history.

    Lolz! Good point.

    Even those POTUS candidates that talk like they’re running on issues are really running on personality. Clinton is a perfect example, what with all his “empathy” and so forth.

  12. rootlesscosmo on 10 Oct 2009 at 5:13 pm #

    If we’re counting unsuccessful candidates, Dewey 1948, Stevenson 1952 and 1956–lord knows those weren’t about the candidate’s magnetic personality. Was Stevenson the last bald man to be nominated by a major party? A print candidate sandbagged by the arrival of TV, he got tagged as an “egghead” and never came close to having the charm to escape that (gendered, McCarthyite) label.

  13. Anastasia on 10 Oct 2009 at 5:21 pm #

    I read a relevant quote today from the Simpsons.

    Sideshow Bob: “Convicted of a crime I didn’t even commit. Hah! Attempted murder? Now honestly, what is that? Do they give a Nobel prize for attempted chemistry? Do they?”

  14. Digger on 10 Oct 2009 at 5:56 pm #

    LOL @ Anastasia

  15. Historiann on 10 Oct 2009 at 6:03 pm #

    CPP, Clinton’s empathy connected with people because it was connected to his policies to help working people. No one voted for him thinking that he was a model husband or anything but a successful, competent governor who understood people’s problems. He was not a glamorous candidate, but his connection with people worked for him (and still does). (And recall how out of touch George Bush appeared–being surprised by supermarket scanners, and checking his watch in the middle of one of the presidential debates. It didn’t take much in the way of empathy to make Clinton look like the better bet that year for more voters.) Perot ran the anti-charm technocratic campaign, combined with the touch of the crazzy, and that still earned him a substantial minority of votes in November!

    rootlesscosmo: Yes, Stevenson–the reason why the Dems will never re-nominate the same loser twice! (It worked for Jefferson and Jackson, but never again since 1828…) I certainly don’t think the Stevenson approach is a good one. Excellent point about the hair–and one thing to keep Mitt Romney’s hopes alive for 2012. He has an awesome head of hair, for realz. (McCain wasn’t entirely bald, but pretty much on his way, don’t you think?)

    The Presidential Hair thesis: might it help explain John Kerry’s win over Howard Dean in 2004? Kerry’s hair is better than Dean’s, but it didn’t help him prevail over Bush in the end. (What is up with Bush’s hair? That’s some pretty bad hair, but at least he’s got hair.) I remember Gore’s handlers being sensitive about his bald spot showing in 2000–were there rumors that he used that spray-on shoe polish to cover it up? Obama’s hair is excellent–I like the little flecks of gray that are creeping in. (Love that short look.) Among Republicans, it might explain Ford’s tragic loss to Carter, and a good argument for why Reagan should have prevailed in 1976 over Ford in the primary (Reagan’s hair was pretty terrific, in its day.) Perhaps it’s surprising that Kennedy won in such a (dubious) squeaker, since his hair was far superior to Nixon’s.

  16. thefrogprincess on 10 Oct 2009 at 6:19 pm #

    I’m of mixed minds about this whole thing. It’s ludicrous that he won it but then again, he had no control over the matter. It does remind me, though, just how little Europeans understand the US. I found this a lot when I was abroad. Obama’s election did miracles to boost the image of the US in Europe, to a degree I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t been there to see it. So in a way I’m not surprised at the Norwegian panel’s decision. But I’m not convinced they (or others outside the US) realize how damaging this could be to what’s a pretty dicey political situation over here. I’m not nearly as critical of Obama as Historiann and others are but even I felt immensely uncomfortable about what amounts to an anointing based on little and I’m worried about what this unnecessary burden of an award is going to mean for our involvement in Afghanistan, healthcare reform, and who knows what else. The Nobel panel has played into the hands of the right but I doubt they see it that way.

  17. Bavardess on 10 Oct 2009 at 6:48 pm #

    Thanks for this, Historiann. I was discussing the Nobel with a group of other non-Americans last night, and we were all perplexed by what the criteria might have been. All we could come up with was, ‘made some pretty good speeches’ and ‘not a complete idiot’ (see also under, ‘not George Bush’). I can understand, though, how the prize might now be used to exert (or try to exert) pressure on Obama in the realm of European politics.

  18. Historiann on 10 Oct 2009 at 8:46 pm #

    thefrogprincess writes, “even I felt immensely uncomfortable about what amounts to an anointing based on little and I’m worried about what this unnecessary burden of an award is going to mean for our involvement in Afghanistan, healthcare reform, and who knows what else.”

    This is exactly my concern, too. Pomp and ceremony are fine if they’re in the service of a solid agenda. (Isn’t this the lesson of the Commander Codpiece performance of 2003? That grand gestures that commemorate nothing are ultimately hollow and will be seen as foolish?) But I suspect that a lot of this pomp and ceremony that Obama has surrounded himself with, and that now is laid at his feet (in the Nobel), may threaten his ability to get stuff done. (Stuff done, not speeches!)

    In the end, I’m doubtful that Obama will tailor his policies in deference to the Nobel. He’ll just have to try a bit harder to convince people that sending 40,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan is really in the service of peace. (I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad idea, so long as there’s a clear goal in mind and a timeline for getting the hell out. Lord knows the European allies & other members of the coalition forces there are damned tired and want to get the hell out themselves.) At least, if he’s smart he won’t let the Nobel get in his way. But unfortunately, that’s all it is at this point in his career–it’s something that could impede his agenda rather than facilitate it.

    It’s too bad the Nobel committee couldn’t have waited a few years to take the measure of his accomplishments. But as I suggested in an earlier comment, that’s precisely what makes awarding it to him this year so enticing–there’s no troubling war record or other lengthy record of public service to get in the way. If they waited a few years until he had actually done something, they would have been challenged to explain the award even more in light of Obama’s decision to bomb X region of Afghanistan or to launch air strikes in Waziristan. (For example.)

  19. cgeye on 10 Oct 2009 at 8:58 pm #

    One thing that Anglachel mentioned — someone had to prepare an extensive nomination presentation prior to the nomination deadline — so someone had to put that together *during the campaign*, not just in those weeks after the election and before Feb. 2009. I wonder who that was?

    The Nobel papers are locked away for 50 years, but someone will talk here, soon enough. The people who work for him have too much ego not to.

  20. ER Doc on 10 Oct 2009 at 11:35 pm #

    The Nobel papers are locked away for 50 years, but someone will talk here, soon enough. The people who work for him have too much ego not to.

    “The people who work for him” nominated him??? I don’t think anyone associated with the Obama campaign has the standing to nominate anyone for the Nobel Prize. The Nobel committee makes the choice on its own, and uses its own standards. The committee was presumably looking at what Obama had promised during the campaign, and what he’d said in the aftermath of the election, and hoped to encourage that process, and build on it.

  21. cgeye on 11 Oct 2009 at 2:16 am #

    Uh, this is the Nobel Committee’s Venn Diagram:

    Nobel statutes on who can nominate were slightly broadened in 2003. They now include former laureates; current and former members of the committee and their staff; members of national governments and legislatures; university professors of law, theology, social sciences, history and philosophy; leaders of peace research and foreign affairs institutes; and members of international courts of law.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20091009/ap_on_re_eu/eu_nobel_peace_myths

    So any member of Congress, any law or political science professor, any thinktank member could have started the process — and someone had to know his record well enough to compile a report that would make him competitive with other potential nominees. Since America didn’t hear of Obama before 2004, and he wasn’t prominent as a candidate until 2008, the nominator had to get some cooperation from his team before the election. He was too obscure concerning his initiatives centered on peace, otherwise.

  22. Historiann on 11 Oct 2009 at 7:01 am #

    cgeye–I’m skeptical that anyone close to Obama nominated him. One thing I do believe is that the WH was just as surprised and shocked by this Friday morning as pretty much everyone else. Interesting that the records will be open in 50 years–that’s actually not that long in terms of other records restrictions I’ve heard of. (Since I work in such old-timey history, nothing I’ve ever consulted or wanted to consult was hamstrung by a hold like that, so I’m not too familiar with the practice.)

    This prize is an artifact of the excitement he generated around the world in 2008, not anything he’s done in 2009, other than not being George W. Bush. (But, thanks for doing the legwork on the nominating process–how cool that *I* can now nominate anyone I like! I have a few ideas. . . )

  23. LadyProf on 11 Oct 2009 at 8:59 am #

    Historiann, kidding aside: I checked it out and (at least as a practical matter) you may not nominate anyone you like. In theory you are qualified, but in practice the Nobel committee will solicit recommendations from people who fall into those groups rather than read letters with supporting docs. So you could send in an unsolicited nomination, but it’ll go in a crackpot file.

  24. Historiann on 11 Oct 2009 at 9:50 am #

    Well, I think most of the grant and job applications I’ve submitted over the course of my career have gone into the Crackpot File, so that won’t be a new insult!

  25. Profane on 11 Oct 2009 at 10:26 am #

    The Nobel Peace Prize jumped the shark long before this year (Kissinger, Arafat), and, of course, more recently and closer to home:

    http://blog.al.com/stantis/2007/10/Stantis-NobelpoliticsCOLORRGB.jpg

    One can only hope that Obama does not let this affect his any foreign policy decisions.

  26. Historiann on 11 Oct 2009 at 11:02 am #

    Agreed. But, Obama being Obama, he’s much likelier to risk pissing off his left flank than the right. American and European leftists will piss and holler and moan, but where else do they have to go? (That’s his calculation, anyway.)