At first, I thought I'd overslept. Somehow I'd managed to doze into at least the next decade. After I'd refreshed the computer screen this morning, the stunning headline blared across the screen, the words shaking me from a semi-slumber the alarm clock hadn't completely shattered. President Barack Obama. The Nobel Peace Prize. Wow. Already? After determining that we are still in 2009 and I hadn't pulled a Rip Van Winkle, I then wondered if I was reading the title correctly. I did a double take and retrained my eyes and senses on the deceptively short sentence, making sure the subject agreed with the verb. The headline still stated that President Obama won the prize and not something like President Obama talks about the prize; I wasn't missing a caveat like a subtitle explaining he merely congratulated the winner.
After the headline's initial surprise, the award's import claimed center stage. The risk in awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to a sitting head of state is obvious. Only hindsight will reveal the award as either sheer brilliance or folly on the part of the Nobel committee. When the leader of the world's reigning superpower, engaged in two inherited, interminable wars, steps onto the international stage (at times, the international battleground) armed with the cachet the Nobel Peace Prize, there is an assumed perception that the leader's actions and words are blessed by the Nobel committee. Obviously, the Nobel committee criteria considers the heretofore, and they certainly hope the past will predict the future for the recipients.
I wasn't unique in being stunned this morning. The world is overcoming its initial surprise. President Obama's supporters are joyfully singing, shouting and blogging his praises while opponents are casting the drama as, if not a tragedy, at least a farce. Cynics will undoubtedly accuse the Nobel committee of disingenuously hamstringing the president. It won't be long before the president's opponents cast the golden award as golden handcuffs and insinuate that even though the Nobel committee won't have a physical presence in American deliberations, the gravitas of the Nobel Peace Prize will weigh heavy on the president's decisions.
Such foreboding will justifiably be brushed aside as knee-jerk histrionics and hubris among the flurry of immediate reactions. The predictable partisan responses are exemplified in the Republican National Committee's statement:
The real question Americans are asking is, 'What has President Obama actually accomplished?' 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.
The absence of even a hint or moment of perfunctory congratulations demonstrates the political warfare in America. While President Obama's supporters are hoping he is the resurrection of FDR, conservative pundits and even a few worried Democrats are envisioning the reappearance of Jimmy Carter. Ironically, this accolade will likely embolden that comparison. Even though a more apt corollary in this instance would be between the president and Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, also sitting presidents when receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Carter's recent honorarium will likely be the talking point opponents add to their list linking the 39th president to the 44th.
Yes, there will be the obligatory bickering and gripes. Still, after a relatively quick assessment of the news (and a quicker assessment that I was indeed reading the news, or at least the headline, correctly), it appears that at least some of the hope and excitement that drove last year's candidacy continues to survive the realities and harshness of warfare in Iraq, Afghanistan and Capital Hill. The realities of governance will continue its daily grind, wearing away the luster of the heady optimism that drove the Obama candidacy to victory almost a year ago. But it would be cool if for just one day we could go past Carter's presidency to the hippie idyllic and call a truce among the clashing political ideologues. Perhaps even flash a peace sign in honor of the prize. Even though that'll never happen, I can still hope.