Monday 12 October 2009

The Not the George W Bush Prize

I have little time for President Obama politically. Still, I can recognise that he is a clever man, a good speaker and a public figure with a warming personality. I also thought that he had a certain degree of tactical skill. The acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize proves that he has none.

Just think: how much greater he would have looked if he had declined, if he had simply thanked the committee for its generosity but said that the goals set out have still to be achieved. But he could not, because this unexpected and quixotic decision by the Nobel people came at the end of a bad period for Super Obama, capped by a humiliating personal snub by the International Olympic Committee.

I now have a deeper understanding than ever of Obama: he is no more than a celebrity president for a celebrity age, an age where style and image have triumphed over substance and results. Having failed in Copenhagen he bounced back in Oslo. As far as the X factor stakes go he is still up there with a chance.

Now a word or two about the Nobel Committee. My first reaction on hearing the announcement-after thinking it must be a spoof- was that it says nothing at all about President Obama, nothing about his achievements, and heaps about them, about the obvious political bias of these people and, I would add, their desperate attempts at political correctness. It seems obvious to me that Obama is being awarded less for what he is and more for what he is not; he is not a Republican; he is not George W Bush.

Look back on the history of this absurd prize, to whom it was given and, just as important, to whom it was not. Did you know, for example, that Ghandi was nominated five times but never recognised? Those who were recognised included such doves of peace as Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat and Menachem Begin. And now Obama joins their company, still at the outset not at the end of his career. From this point forward he has the burden of being a peace laureate who most likely will have to take his country ever deeper into war. On the domestic stage he raised expectations that he has been unable to meet. Now on the world stage impossible expectations have been thrust upon him. Who, but a fool, would accept the role of Messiah for a day?

So, there he stands, with one disappointment laid hard upon another. He is dithering over Afghanistan while Americans die; his health reform programme slips and slips; Guantanamo Bay is still open in the face of all of the liberal hopes; he has provoked a quarrel between the politicians and the generals; he looks less and less plausible. And in the midst of all this, all the domestic and foreign problems, he and Michelle had the time to slip over to Copenhagen to put their weight behind Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics, yet another failure, another sign that ‘Obama power’ does not work.

But cast down in one Scandinavian capital he was raised up in another, a form of personal compensation. He did not get the Olympics but at least he got ‘Peace.’ I rather suspect that the celebrity President has not the wit to understand that he did not get peace either, that he is unlikely ever to get peace. It’s the triumph of pious hopes over solid achievements.


  1. I am reminded of the sublime, almost revelatory passage from George Eliot's MIDDLEMARCH

    Her finely-touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself on channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive:for the growing good of the world is partly dependant on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who have lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

  2. A lovely passage from my favourite Eliot novel.