Times columnist echoes VFR on what Obama should have done about the Nobel Prize

Last Friday, in the entry, “Will Obama unjump the shark?”, I said that President Obama should turn down the Nobel Peace Prize. If he did so, I continued,

The world will be impressed by him. He will look like a serious man rather than a ludicrous egotist—which he will look like if he accepts the award…. the world will write him down as a fool—and as a tool of the Nobel Committee, which is clearly seeking to control him by awarding him in advance for the course of conduct they want him to pursue.

Now op-ed columnist Ross Douthat of the New York Times makes the same points I made:

Heckuva Job, Barack
Published: October 11, 2009

This was Barack Obama’s chance.

Here was an opportunity to cut himself free, in a stroke, from the baggage that’s weighed his presidency down—the implausible expectations, the utopian dreams, the messianic hoo-ha.

Here was a place to draw a clean line between himself and all the overzealous Obamaphiles, at home and abroad, who poured their post-Christian, post-Marxist yearnings into the vessel of his 2008 campaign.

Here was a chance to establish himself, definitively, as an American president—too self-confident to accept an unearned accolade, and too instinctively democratic to go along with European humbug.

He didn’t take it. Instead, he took the Nobel Peace Prize.

Big mistake.

People have argued that you can’t turn down a Nobel. Please. Of course you can. Obama is a gifted rhetorician with world-class speechwriters. All he would have needed was a simple, graceful statement emphasizing the impossibility of accepting such an honor during his first year in office, with America’s armed forces still deep in two unfinished wars.

Would the world have been offended? Well, to start with, the prize isn’t given out by an imaginary “world community.” It’s voted on and handed out by a committee of five obscure Norwegians. So turning it down would have been a slap in the face, yes, to Thorbjorn Jagland, Kaci Kullmann Five, Sissel Marie Ronbeck, Inger-Marie Ytterhorn and Agot Valle. But it wouldn’t have been a slap in the face to the Europeans or the Africans, to Moscow or Beijing, or to any other population or great power that an American president should fret about offending.

In any case, it will be far more offensive when Obama takes the stage in Oslo this November instead of Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s heroic opposition leader; or Thich Quang Do, the Buddhist monk and critic of Vietnam’s authoritarian regime; or Rebiya Kadeer, exiled from China for her labors on behalf of the oppressed Uighur minority; or anyone who has courted death this year protesting for democracy in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

True, Obama didn’t ask for this. It was obvious, from his halting delivery and slightly shamefaced air last Friday, that he wishes the Nobel committee hadn’t put him in this spot.

But he still wasn’t brave enough to tell it no.

Obama gains nothing from the prize. No domestic constituency will become more favorably disposed to him because five Norwegians think he’s already changed the world—and the Republicans were just handed the punch line for an easy recession-era attack ad. (To quote the Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, anticipating the 30-second spots to come: “He got a Nobel Prize. What did you get? A pink slip.”)

Overseas, there was nobody, from Paris to Peshawar, who woke up Friday more disposed to work with the United States because of the Nobel committee’s decision—and plenty of more seasoned statesman who woke up laughing. (Vladimir Putin probably hasn’t snickered this much since John McCain tried to persuade Americans that “we are all Georgians” during last year’s weeklong war.)

Meanwhile, the prize makes every foreign-policy problem Obama faces seem ever so slightly more burdensome. Now he’s the Nobel laureate who has to choose between escalating a counterinsurgency in Afghanistan or ceding ground to a theocratic mafia. He’s the Nobel laureate who’ll either have to authorize military strikes against Iran or construct an effective, cold-war-style deterrence system for the Middle East. He’s the Nobel laureate who’ll probably fail, like every U.S. president before him, to prod Israelis and Palestinians toward a comprehensive settlement.

At the same time, the prize leaves Obama more open to ridicule. It confirms, as a defining narrative of his presidency, the gap between his supporters’ cloud-cuckoo-land expectations and the inevitable disappointments of reality. It dovetails perfectly with the recent “Saturday Night Live” sketch in which he was depicted boasting about a year’s worth of nonaccomplishments. And it revives and ratifies John McCain’s only successful campaign gambit—his portrayal of Obama as “the world’s biggest celebrity,” famous more for being famous than for any concrete political accomplishment.

Great achievements may still await our Nobel president. If Obama goes from strength to strength, then this travesty will be remembered as a footnote to his administration, rather than a defining moment.

But by accepting the prize, he’s made failure, if and when it comes, that much more embarrassing and difficult to bear. What’s more, he’s etched in stone the phrase with which critics will dismiss his presidency.

Slick Willie. Tricky Dick. Jimmy “Malaise” Carter. Dubya the Incompetent.

And now Barack Obama, Nobel laureate.

[end of article]

Here are some comments by L-dotters on the Douthat column:
Reply 5—Posted by: Spidey, 10/12/2009 6:04:43 AM

This was a slammer of an artcle coming from the Slimes. I said the other day if Obama had turned this down he would have gone up 8 points in the polls. But the narrative he’s created around himself as world president wouldn’t allow him to do it. It was an easy oppurtunity to show some stones and he didn’t.Then for him to come out and say he’s going to use the award as a springboard to further what he’s started is even more ridiculous.But let’s face it.,AlGore getting this award was a joke also and a big part of this is the tin cuppers at the UN wanting the US to fill their coffers to fight “global warming”. That’s the other danger with him getting this award the push for cap and tax.

Reply 11—Posted by: lynn 11, 10/12/2009 6:50:36 AM

This “accolade,” along with image of the grandiose Obamas in Copenhagen, amplified all that is wrong with them and with his presidency. Getting something for nothing is not the American way, but it is apparently the Obama way. Under his “leadership” we are building a nation of people with “gimme, gimme” expectations, lazy and shiftless natures, no national pride, and no work ethic. A nation of people like that will be easy to control and manipulate “for the greater Obama good.” This will be Obama’s Leftist Utopia but our national nightmare if it truly comes to pass. This “prize” has revealed things about Obama that his minions do not want to believe. Sometimes the truth hurts.

Reply 18—Posted by: LoneVoice, 10/12/2009 7:15:25 AM

The very fact that the NYT would write anything this critical of Obama even with cover is amazing. It’s almost as if the NYT was begging him to change his mind and decline the award. Or maybe even they are seeing the writting on the wall. Nah!

Reply 20—Posted by: varkdriver, 10/12/2009 7:28:51 AM

Barack may have no shame, but many Americans are ashamed that he accepted such an accolade. Just dilutes the value [although Yassir, Jimmuh, and Algore already helped that].

Like all the rest of us, I am stunned this appeared in the NY Slimes. Perhaps the Old Gray Lady realizes she needs to turn on some bilge pumps before the stern disappears beneath the waves.

Reply 23—Posted by: Beagle, 10/12/2009 8:08:09 AM

The arugula-chomping manchild’s ego trumps even his political instincts. I remember the time here in Seattle when the Seahawks acquired a football player named Bosworth amid much outlay of money and press hoopla and worship. He was to be our season’s “hope and change,” and the Boz cashed in and played right along. Thus was his total failure on the field all that more stunning and humiliating. So it shall be for Fauxbama.

Reply 40—Posted by: cobieone, 10/12/2009 9:40:33 AM

The article is a slam, and rightfully so. President Zero should have refused this “award”, but we all knew he would not. By accepting, he puts our war efforts in a compromising position, which is the reason the leftists gave him the award in the first place!

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 12, 2009 11:41 AM | Send

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