BY SUSAN ESTRICH
OK, so President Barack Obama hasn’t accomplished enough to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize under the conventional approach.
There is, no doubt, some courageous political prisoner somewhere in the world who has been in home confinement for decades fighting a repressive and dictatorial regime and deserves it more. Granted.
The thing is, though, I didn’t hear too many of the world’s political prisoners, or their advocates, denouncing the choice of Obama. What I heard, loud and clear, were the president’s critics – the people who disagree with him on things like the economy and health care and whether he should be president in the first place – using the award of the Nobel Prize as part of their daily attack points.
The president handled the unexpected award with grace, saying that he would accept it on behalf of American values and for everyone who strives for dignity and justice.
The president’s critics handled the unexpected award with no grace at all, and not much patriotism, either.
Nobel Prize purists may take offense at the idea that the committee was trying to support the president’s efforts to pursue diplomacy as the path to peace, but why should conservative Americans care?
For a change, the world is on our side, rooting for our president’s success, eager to bolster his standing in the world in the hopes of furthering his and our mission. For a change, the American president is popular abroad; foreign leaders are eager to be associated with him. This is bad? This is something to be suppressed? Not in my book.
My guess is that most Americans don’t care one way or the other about the president getting the Peace Prize. With double-digit unemployment, it’s hard to care about where the Olympics will be held in the next decade or who stands on the stage in Stockholm. Symbols don’t count for much in tough times. A few points of unemployment for the Nobel Prize would be an easy trade. The president himself would probably take that deal.
But it wouldn’t satisfy his critics. Nothing, it appears, will. If they are willing to attack the Nobel Committee for having the audacity to support our president’s agenda in the world, who or what won’t they attack?
Free speech, open debate and, yes, even vicious criticism are essential elements in a democracy. I will defend to the death the right of the president’s critics to say whatever they want about him, so long as they do not incite violence. But the fact that you have a right to criticize doesn’t mean that’s what you should get up and do every morning, using whatever tinder you can find to make the fire bigger.
President Bush’s supporters used to complain, with reason, that by the end of his term, there was nothing the president could do that wouldn’t be ridiculed by his critics. Too many liberals didn’t just disagree with the president; they hated him. And that hate got in the way of the respect every American should have for our president, whoever it is. My conservative readers constantly remind me of this. They are right. But it’s no excuse for doing the same thing to President Obama, and it’s making us look more than a little foolish to a world community that is trying to help us.
If you couldn’t care less about who gets the Nobel Peace Prize, I totally understand. If the dissident had won, most of us would have forgotten his or her name by now. What’s troubling is not that many people don’t care a whit about the Nobel Prize and even see it as a distraction. What’s troubling is the loud and vicious criticism from those who seem to care very much for reasons that can only be explained by their opposition to all things Obama – even the promise of peace.
– Susan Estrich’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer