Phil Nugent is so on the money I'm going to re-post his take here and link to it.
I'll freely admit that, when I turned on the computer this morning and saw the news that President Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, my first thought was that the Yes Men or some similar bunch of jokers must have hacked into the Yahoo! News page. A lot of talk has already been stirred up about how this is ridiculous because it amounts to awarding a major international humanitarian award to someone on the basis of lofty ambitions, idealistic goals, and inspiring speeches. You think? If you have to give someone an major international humanitarian award every year, then, given the state of the world, you're going to spend a lot of time making symbolic gestures. Read the list of Nobel Peace Prize laureates and the citations attached to their awards, and you will notice many variations on the phrase "for his/her/their efforts". Not successes, mind you, but efforts. Considering that Yasser Arafat got one, in tandem with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, for his "efforts to create peace in the Middle East", which some might argue is kind of like giving Susan Atkins an award as Midwife of the Year. One of the few instances when someone got it for a single concrete act came in 1973 when Henry Kissinger (and Lê Ðức Thọ, who had the grace to turn it down) won the prize for the cease-fire in the Vietnam War, and that has long been recognized as the greatest sick joke in the award's history.
The news does seem a little like a joke about the way that Obama seems (especially to his enemies) to seem to stride through life to the tune of Karen Carpenter singing "Close to You", just as (say) the story about Newt Gingrich having a pouty fit because he didn't get to spend a lot of snuggly alone time with President Clinton during the flight to Israeli for Rabin's funeral seemed like a joke about Gingrich's petty, megalomaniac instability (and the way that he himself derailed the budget shutdown by telling the story seemed like a joke about Clinton's ability to dance on the bodies of his own self-imploding enemies). In the end, though, who cares, really? Why, all those people who, this time last week, were practically dancing in the streets because Chicago wasn't going to get to host the Olympic games, which they saw as a slight to Obama. (Limbaugh and the dittoheads who have openly prayed for Obama to "fail" aren't kidding--they really don't want anything good to happen in this country for the next four years, lest he get some of the credit for it. This is their patriotism, the same kind of patriotism that, when George W. Bush was in office, took the form of condemning anyone who suggested that soldiers in combat zones overseas be given sufficient body armor and other protective resources, if the President and his Defense Secretary didn't want them to have it.) When the Olympic Committee is seen to be dissing Obama, wingnuts are suddenly hugely impressed by the wisdom of international deliberative bodies, but when the body in question is offering Obama a Nobel, it's probably only a matter of time before a meme is generated alleging that he only got the award after Roman Polanski put in a good word for him.
It is already being helpfully suggested that Obama should do the right thing and turn the prize down, pointing out that he is not (yet) worthy, and thus heading off "a Nobel backlash" that, writes Mickey Kaus, "seems non-farfetched." Really, you think so? You think that a man who has been routinely denounced for his steady availability (i.e., over-exposure) and bi-partisan reaching out (i.e., spinelessness, wresting defeat from the jaws of victory), and eloquence (i.e., empty fancy talk), all of which he brought to the job, like rain to the desert, after eight years of a rigid ideologue who hid behind his handlers and couldn't manage to be articulate enoug to even be coherent much of the time, could somehow fall under attack for having been given an impressive-sounding prize that he hasn't earned by a bunch of foreigners? Is it really so important to these people who gets the Nobel this year that they think Obama shouldn't have it on his mantle if he has the chance to stick it up there, or is this what it feels like: battered liberals doing what they've begun to accuse the President of doing, and trying to reach out to the very people who've been using them for pinatas by agreeing, hey--our guy ain't that great! I might agree if I thought the award going to Obama was an abomination, like the Medals of Freedom that Bush pinned on all his lackeys and toadies. But at worst it's just silly, albeit silly in a nice way, and anyway, it's not as if I'm the one who's being invited to drag my ass out to Oslo in the winter.
Of course, the people who'll yel loudest about it will be those who can't see a Nobel for the President as a nice thing for the country but as a slap in the face, because they think this democratically elected president who was voted into office in a landslide and is widely liked, if not loved, as a dictator whose existence is an implicit condemnation of their values and their way of life. (The very lowest of the low will see it mainly as more evidence that well-spoken black dudes just have everything handed to them.) And you know what? They're right, kind of, at least about the part regarding what's being implicitly condemned. The Nobel does have one very real purpose, and that is that, by giving it to the right person once in a while--a Dalai Lama, a Lech Wałęsa, a Desmond Tutu, an Al Gore--you can really piss off some people who richly deserve to be pissed off. The Committee has done its best to suggest that Obama was given the award because of the things he wants to do, but I suspect that he was given the award for something he is, or rather isn't: i.e.. he isn't George W. Bush, or Bush's designated successor. Which ought to be recognized as a very low bar, but there's more to it than that.
The Bush years should be--will be--remembered as the country's moral low point since the end of slavery, a time when an inane little man with no qualifications but his family connections lost a democratic election, was appointed to the job of leader of the free world anyway, by his father's old cronies and party colleagues and with the complicity and approval of the press, and then proceeded to spend his full term ignoring the needs of the country and its people while using the time to instead order up legal rationales for an imperial presidency dedicated to the justification of torture and wars of choice, while creating a climate of fear that was meant to provide a reason for all of it. It was a horror show, and for those of us not of boundless faith, there were moments during it when it felt as if it would never end and that the most rotten people in America had succeeded in permanently reshaping the country and its values to make a better climate for their lizard skins. This all must have been dismaying to the many people in Europe who love what this country is supposed to stand for, who have a special place in their hearts for its history and its stated ideals and principles, and who were especially saddened, in 2004, to see a man voted back into office as recompense for having been caught wiping the Constitution and his own beloved Holy Bible with his diarrhetic ass.
You don't hear much about it now, not in this country, not even from most Bush haters (who do have a lot else to focus on), but among Bush's crimes and atrocities, one of the greatest still has to be the way he took the moment after 9/11 when the whole world was offering America its condolences and tender best wishes and threw them down and danced on them with a stupid cackle, just to show his gym buddies how tough and "independent" he was. Just as Walesa, in the days when Poland was in lockdown, and Tutu, when apartheid was still the law of the land, were given the Peace Prize largely to show them the world's gratitude that there were living counter-examples to their own corrupt and degraded societies, Obama has been given the prize for letting the world breathe a sigh of relief at the news that, no, it isn't going to go on forever, that the people whose job it is to decide wanted it to stop. (Even though, Garry Wills recently pointed out, it hasn't yet stopped as thoroughly as it should. But that's another post.) In light of this, the award should rightly have been given, not to Obama, but to the voters of the United States, who made the real heroic choice last November. But to have done that would have come too close to admitting the real reasons for giving the prize to Obama, which would have amounted to saying aloud that America, from the moment that the Supreme Court decided that honor and intellectual decency were things that it would be happier without, to at least the 2006 midterms, seemed about as much of a lost cause as Poland under martial law and South Africa during apartheid. And you don't win a peace prize, or get chosen to distribute them, by saying things like that.