Obama and the Nobel Prize

October 12, 2009by

While much of the discussion following in the wake of US President Barak Obama’s being given the Nobel Peace Prize has been focused on whether or not he has done enough to merit the award–or whether he “needs” it–there is a global moral behind the story. According to the Nobel committee,

“His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population,” the committee said of Obama.

This explanation begs a number of questions. How much of a “majority” of the world’s population shares any definite set of values? Assuming there might be such a majority, on what grounds would the rest of the world’s leaders be held accountable to the values and attitudes of the majority? The reasoning behind this decision seems to be driven primarily by sentiment, along with privileging a democratic philosophy of governance on a worldwide scale. Whatever the merits of a democratic state might be, it is a delicate arrangement to try and set on the world stage. While the United Nations has made attempts at universal declarations based on a notion of world majority opinion, there is still no real means of implementation or enforcement by any kind of world legislative authority–and it’s another question altogether whether such an authority is even desirable. What is clear is that several issues and events worldwide continue to elicit the notion of universalizing values. Still in need of much discussion is how these values are going to be formulated, agreed upon, and expressed.

On the lighter more political side of the issue, here are reactions from SNL, MIA, and Cornel West:


“It’s gonna be hard to be a war president with a peace prize. Gonna be difficult. Very, very difficult. And so I think he knows that and we as fellow citizens have to, um, as brother Tavis would say in his wonderful book Accountability, keep him accountable and loving and self critical, not self-righteous way. I think it’s very difficult for any head of an empire to be under the pressure of peace. ‘Cause you’re head of the largest military in the world, you got over a thousand military installments on the globe, you got ships in every sea. It’s very difficult. And I think following brother Martin King, we know that peace is not the absence of conflict, peace is the presence of justice. So They go hand in hand. Thank god for Hebrew scripture, Amos is no joke. Connected.

So now the whole world is watching, saying, what are the ways in which as president, you will be a promoter of justice here at home for poor people, for working people. So jobs can’t be an afterthought to your economic policy. But you all get my point. It becomes a challenge now, you see. It’s going to be difficult to have a peace prize and not investigate folk who have been torturing people, you see. It’s going to be difficult having that moral authority in office and the tension that goes along with that, you see.

So my response is congratulations, celebration, and I wish your precious mother and father were around. I wish your grandparents were around to see it, that just died. And yet the challenge becomes now even more intense, you see!

You think of Nelson Mandela and Martin King, Ralph Bunch. What a standard! Whew! But then I also recall Teddy Roosevelt and Henry Kissinger won the peace prize too. De Klerk won the peace prize too, so we gotta pray for our brothers and sisters in Sweden sometimes. But for the moment, we all ought to celebrate and help our dear president.”