Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Obama Peace Prize Ordeal

I want to give a caveat right away: I am really not that political. Those of you who know me understand that although I am a former prosecutor, I can come down on issues in a way you wouldn’t expect. And I usually don’t weigh in strongly on current political events. But the Obama Peace Prize ordeal caught my attention.

Some background: The Peace Prize has been awarded 90 times to 120 Nobel Laureates between 1901 and 2009 – 97 times to individuals and 23 times to organizations. The receipts are as varied as humanity itself: from Yasser Arafat (a Palestinian leader who participated in Peace talks with Yitzhak Rabin, but also committed terror acts against Israelis), to Elie Wiesel (a Romanian Jew who was deported to a German concentration camp during WWII, survived the Holocaust, and went on to publish several books and speak out on human rights). Some of the most well known recipients of the Peace Prize are Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Woodrow Wilson, Al Gore, and now Barack Obama.

Most of us when we think of the NOBEL PEACE PRIZE we assume (and rightfully so) that it includes a component of MERIT.

So what about it?  In the case of the most famous recipients, the accomplishments speak for themselves: Martin Luther King didn’t just talk of civil rights, dream of it, he actually marched, rallied, inspired, and accomplished tangible changes in this country. Mother Teresa didn’t just wish for sick people to be healed, she went out in the world and nursed the ill to health – offering tangible “hands-on” help. Woodrow Wilson was a President forced to join in war, who then went on to bring about the convention on League of Nations – arguably a seminal international covenant. And Al Gore brought us “An Inconvenient Truth”, a campaign that truly changed the international conversation on global warming.  What exactly has Obama done to earn this HUMONGOUS honor? Somebody please tell me.

I’m not making any policy comments on Obama, his administration’s plans, or his rhetoric.  Trust me, I voted for him and am happy that I did!  But geez Louise…isn’t bestowing this honor a bit premature?   I mean how about giving the dude a chance to actually accomplish something.  Trust me-- I love how he talks about bringing nations together, restoring America’s place in the world, and getting us out of war… but has he actually done any of those things yet? I thought the Nobel Prize was for incredible accomplishments in peace, not just honorable aspirations for peace!

This piece of news bothers me not just as a citizen but bothers me as yet another example of inconsistent modeling and messaging to our kids.  What does bestowing this prize say to we our kids? I am disappointed that Obama won the prize NOW.  “Now” being the key word. That’s not to say that he might have EARNED it later. I just worry that kids around the country (and around the world) are getting the wrong message: you can win a prize just based on your intentions, your “celebrity factor” or because there is no one else better. What about putting in the hard work? What about recognizing the less known people who pour the hearts and souls in their work and actually accomplish what they set out to do?
In an elementary school in Hempstead, NY (renamed Barak Obama Elementary after his election) kids weighed in on Obama winning the prize:

“I was proud, because Barack Obama did a good job,” said fifth-grader Ashley, 9. “He was definitely for peace - he wanted countries at war to come together. He knows that teenagers are getting hurt.” Another fifth-grader, at the school Tiara, 10, said her uncle is serving in the Army, either in Iraq or Afghanistan. “I was excited because he's my inspiration,” she said of Obama. “He earned it, because he wants peace in Iraq for our soldiers.”

The language of these students concerns me – as I’m sure it reflects the thoughts of children in schools all across the country … that is, he “earned it” just because he wants it. I don’t give my daughter her allowance just because she wants her room to be cleaned. I give her the reward when she actually gets the work done.  (Not so often by the way.)

What was the hurry? Why couldn’t the prize have been awarded in a few years, after Obama spent a few years in office? I really don’t understand it. It seems that most of the past Peace Prize honorees have been given recognition for a lifetime of work, or participation in a truly memorable/significant event in history.

Pablo Triana made an excellent point, summarizing the issue, in his recent Huffington Post blog:
…this Nobel may be transformed into a Trojan Horse: an excuse to forever demean the award as merely a propaganda affair… It seems to me that by rushing things a bit too much, those Northern Europeans have shut themselves in the foot. Read more

I know what some of you are thinking: but Obama will bring a better, more peaceful world…! Ok! But, as a prosecutor, I just want him to prove it and DO IT!
On a lighter note, take a peak at Maureen Dowd's satirical article on the subject published in New York Times... "Gandhi Wuz Robbed" at: 

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