Monday, October 12, 2009

In defense of Obama's Nobel Prize

So while I was away, I hear that the big chief won the big prize.

And I hear that the criticism started right away. (My favorite subhead in one of the Irish newspapers was: "Taliban, Republicans criticize choice.")

Of course, anyone who reads this blog knows how I feel about the President. (I love the man.) So you might not want to take what I say at face value.

Moreover, I'll make three concessions:

1) The Nobel Peace Prize is a pretty ridiculous prize. While plenty of worthy people have won it over the years, Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat have also won it. It's blatantly political (as all the Nobel prizes are, even in some cases the sciences) so a case could be made that nobody should really give a shit.

2) It hurts Obama politically. Not that it should, but it probably does. He has always had to fight accusations that he was too effete; too European; not the red blooded American candidate/president. He's already got a difficult enough job in trying to pass healthcare -- he doesn't need to deal with any more political tsuris.

3) Peace probably isn't going to be Obama's greatest legacy. Hey, let's not forget, fellas: Obama is a war president. And it doesn't look like we're going anywhere in Iraq and Afghanistan any time soon. When the history of the Obama administration is written, I think his legacy will probably be pulling the economy back from the brink and enacting healthcare rather than ending the wars started under Bush.

That being said -- even if Obama didn't spend another hour in office, he'd be Nobel worthy.

Let's look at what he did do:

1) The Fiscal Crisis. Has everybody forgotten what conditions were like when Obama first entered office? The economy was in full cardiac arrest. $8.3 trillion of wealth vanished. Hundreds of thousands of jobs were disappearing every month. And while we are a long way from being out of the woods, things are completely different now. At the end of closing today, the Dow was at 9885. On the day Obama was sworn in it was 7949. That's more than a 20 percent uptick. That's remarkable. He passed a tremendous stimulus package which saved our Republic from further economic calamity, and he did it without a single Republican vote in the House of Representatives.

Now, an argument could be made that this has nothing to do with peace -- but I would argue it most certainly does. Societies disintegrate when their economies collapse. Given that the American economy is the biggest in the world, our collapse would have precipitated an even uglier global unraveling. Does any serious person really believe that wouldn't include catastrophic unknowns? I can't say what the ramifications would have been (nobody can) but Obama's behavior in office was vitally important for issues of global peace.

2) Ending enhanced interrogation. Do I wish that Gitmo was closed by now? Yes. But the changes at the Justice Department, the C.I.A. and the military are profound and extremely important. The legacy of the Bush Administration and its assault on the Constitution is largely undone -- and that's thanks to Obama. Now, I'm pretty sure that John McCain might have done the same thing if he were elected (and it's one of the reasons McCain is a better Republican than most) but McCain was never president. Obama is. He should get the credit.

3) Giving the world hope. I agree with the saps out there. I think Obama is a transformative President. I think he did change America's image in the eyes of the world for the better. I think he bought us important allies. Many of these alliances haven't paid the dividens we'd all like. But something has definitely changed. The rest of the world is taking the threat of Iran much more seriously than they did under George Bush -- and the credit for that goes to Obama.

So, yes, I think Obama fully deserves his Nobel. Can't wait to see what he does in year two.