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Why Obama Deserved the Nobel Prize October 11, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, Political Philosophy, politics.

Throughout much of the 20th Century, America was a world power that would on occasion do the right thing. We often made horrible mistakes and failed to live up to our ideals. But we seemed to grasp the fact that our welfare depended on supporting the welfare of others. Thus, the U.S. took some interest in human rights and used some of its power and wealth to promote human development in other parts of the world. There was moral purpose behind our actions even when the purpose was derailed by stupidity. The same could not be said of other world powers—Nazi Germany, U.S.S.R, or China—so in comparison, the U.S. was on balance a force for good.

All of that changed with the conduct of foreign policy under the Bush Administration. Under that singularly malicious regime, we engaged in an enormously destructive, unprovoked war in Iraq, suspended moral norms regarding humane treatment of prisoners, and refused to cooperate on a host of important issues from climate change to nuclear non-proliferation, all the while relishing our willingness to thumb our nose at the rest of the world when it raised objections to our policies. The fact that the regime ended by precipitating global economic freefall put an exclamation point on the nearly universal judgment that the U.S was  no longer a force for good.

The clear intent of the Bush Administration was to set a new direction in world affairs, one in which the U.S government and its corporate backers would continue to amass power by any means necessary while refusing to take the interests of anyone else into consideration.

The rest of the world was rightly horrified at the prospect of a global order ruled by a cynical hegemon that had given up on moral purpose. Because of our size, wealth, strength, and influence, the welfare of the world depends on the actions of the U.S. Putting that much power in the hands of a conservative political ideology that refuses to be constrained by moral purpose was recognized by much of the rest of the world as a recipe for disaster.

It is that prospect that has greatly diminished under Obama. He has made clear in both word and deed that he will be guided by moral purpose. That is no small change. With moral purpose, trust is available. And with trust many things are possible, especially prospects for a relatively peaceful future and cooperation on challenges that confront the globe.

In the aftermath of Friday’s surprising announcement by the Nobel committee, commentators across the political spectrum have argued that Obama hasn’t done anything to warrant such a prize.

I disagree. The decision to be guided by moral purpose is a fateful and monumental act, because it determines whether we approach each day with hope or fear, emotions that regulate our sense of what is possible and what is not. Obama’s rhetoric of hope is not empty and not a mere aspiration. That hope conquers fear is a necessary condition for stable cooperation—even the cynical monarchist Thomas Hobbes recognized this when he deemed the decision to abide by the social contract the very first political act. That contemporary conservatives have forgotten this fundamental fact of political life is testimony to how far they have fallen.

In contrast to the carping coming from the American media this past weekend, the rest of the world has largely praised the award. People who are not blinded by ideology can see a clear difference between an America guided by moral purpose and an America run by people like Bush and Cheney. Yet, it is not merely a thank-God-you’re-not-Bush award. It is a positive affirmation of the role that morality plays in our common life.

In a sense, of course, this is faint praise. In essence, the Nobel Prize Committee has given a prestigious award to someone for choosing moral purpose over moral catastrophe—a choice most human beings make routinely. Why place Obama in the company of the other recipients of the award—such as Aung San Suu Kyi, Desmond Tutu, or Martin Luther King Jr.—who made uncommon, heroic sacrifices to inch humanity toward peace?

All peacemakers have one thing in common—they are willing to take the first step toward peace, which is always a gratuitous act of faith with no assurance it will be reciprocated. Obama has announced to the world that the U.S. is willing to take that step. As with the other recipients of the prize, he confronts destructive forces with an act of generosity. Unlike most of the other recipients, he does so from a position of power. The powerful renouncing power is an event sufficiently rare to warrant celebration despite lacking personal sacrifice.

It remains to be seen how much Obama will accomplish as President. Wars must be unraveled in a way that does not increase violence—a difficult task at which he may fail. There is a real danger that his sense of moral purpose will founder when it runs up against the military/industrial complex and the avatars of corporate greed who still run this country. It may be that the seeds of moral corruption are so deeply embedded in American life that recovery in the short run is impossible.

But Obama receives this award because he has re-certified the moral purpose of American conduct. If there is to be a new beginning, it will be because of that act.

Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com



1. estherlou - October 11, 2009

Obama took office as President 2 weeks before the deadline for the nominations. He may have accomplished things now, but in the 2 weeks after he took office, what could he have possibly done to warrant his nomination?

2. spitze86 - October 11, 2009

Aung San Suu Kyi accomplished nothing, if you think about it. She is still under house arrest and Burma has changed little. Yet she shares that vision and made that first step.

I would also argue that conservatives should back off. Conservatives do not hold the ideals or qualifications to be worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. Their ideals are inherently against supporting international governments. Republican administrations have been known to not pay UN membership fees. What is the point of bashing Obama for winning an award that should have little significance to the opposition?

3. deathschmelda - October 12, 2009

way to stereotype.

4. Tania Azevedo - October 12, 2009

he hasn’t done a thing he should of had the decency of refusing the prize. I think the people of the Nobel prize committee were just excuse my language, kissing the united states ass for some reason.

It also demonstrated to me that Obama sees himself not as just another public servant that he is, but as some kind of superstar I think that fame has gone to the man’s head. He doesn’t seem like a humble person or leader to me I was never under his spell I am not a republican don’t get me wrong ,but I voted for him because I considered him to be the least of two evils.

He took the opportunity away from someone that may of needed the prize more because of the money or attention it would of brought to their cause. But then again as egocentric as he seems its all about him.

If he wants me to start considering him a leader I want him to work hard to at least seem like he’s trying to work on what he promised I understand he is not Jesus on Earth but I cant stand his vague speeches within the humanly possible I want more action and less talking.

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