Monday, October 12, 2009

I Give You, The Do-Nothing President

It is safe to say that nothing of recent note has engendered a firestorm quite like the announcement that President Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

You would think, gauging by some reactions, that the announcement disrupted the space-time continuum in a way that the ancient calendar of the Maya had not foreseen.

Much has been said about it at this point. Some people, myself included, applaud the move. Many others are confused, or fail to see how he "earned" it. Some are downright hostile, foaming at the mouth over how the prize has "become a joke," or "definitely went to the wrong guy," or bemoaning the fact that "there are so many more deserving people," or even claiming it is "a slap in the face to President Bush." And at the mention of the fact that the nominations for the award closed February 1st, a scant 11 days after he took office, there was a downright furor stirred up.

Time to take a depth breath, America. Now, let it out.

Much of the hysteria is due to the general atmosphere of anger, hypocrisy, and ill-will generated by the President's election. Nine months in and people still can't get over it. The amount of sheer animus toward a President has not been at this level since President Lincoln's first election, when a large portion of the country seceded, rather than be "ruled over" by someone they saw as an "abolitionist." Then, as now, it was a matter of perception, because Lincoln was nowhere near the abolitionist cause, and was desperate to do anything that would keep the Union together, short of abolishing slavery. Worse, his Presidency got off to a very slow start, as one Union general after another could not bring him the victories he needed to vindicate his efforts to fight a war to make the country whole again. He was pilloried and vilified, not only in the Confederate States of America, but the Union as well, even by members of his own cabinet.

So, President Obama can take comfort in the fact that he is not alone. Mind you, his job is a bit more difficult, fighting two wars overseas, while trying to survive a sluggish economy and create real reform at home. Perhaps even Lincoln would blanch at trying to take on so many things at once. It makes a civil war seem easy by comparison.

I will posit that bestowing the prize on President Obama was unexpected and a curious decision. Certainly, the Nobel committee was under no obligation to take the nomination to heart, but consider it they did, and it should be noted that while the nomination came fairly early in the President's term, the actual decision came some months later. In that time, President Obama had the opportunity to show that he was serious about fostering peace, through actions which sought to reverse the course of American foreign policy, by trying to open up dialogs with potential "enemies," shoring up relationships with friendly nations, restoring diplomacy as a centerpiece of foreign relations, and attempting to strengthen the place of the United States in the United Nations. By making Hillary Clinton his Secretary of State and letting her set the tone, he made it clear that a new breeze would be blowing, and that we would still be tough, but we would try to work with nations, not against them, unless their actions called for it.

Perhaps these do not seem to be accomplishments in concrete terms. Perhaps there is still much to do. Regardless, President Obama is no more a miracle worker than any previous holder of the office. To hold him against a standard that says everything he touches must be "fixed" for him to be successful, or to claim he has "done nothing" is sheer hyperbole. That he has not continued the ruinous policies of the previous administration, has upset the applecart of pomposity and grandiosity that was our foreign policy, and has made attempts to tackle, head-on, as many of the nation's intractable societal problems as he can, speaks volumes about the man.

President Obama has charted a new course, in search of a better America. Not unlike Columbus, who had a vision and pursued it -- despite ill winds, ill fortune, and a crew on the edge of mutiny -- our President is moving us forward, toward clearer air and brighter light. The Nobel Peace Prize should be thought of as a sign that we are on the right course.

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