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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Monday, May 20, 2024

Obama's acceptance of Nobel Prize politically irresponsible, undeserved

A roomful of reporters simultaneously gasped in shock. Thørbjorn Jagland, leader of the Nobel Committee, had just announced Barack Obama, a man who had been inaugurated president of the United States only twelve days before the February 1 nomination deadline for the prize, as the committee's selection from a field of 205 candidates for 2009. In the United States, the reaction was similar. Republicans, and even many Democrats, wondered what Obama could have done in 12 days to warrant being nominated for the prize and how what he had done in less than nine months as president could have warranted winning it. Obama himself seemed surprised. ""To be honest,"" he said, ""I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize.""

So why, then, was he awarded the Nobel Peace Prize? Later in his speech, he attempted to address that question when he said, ""I know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement. It's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.""

And he was correct. When former President Jimmy Carter won the award in 2002, then-Nobel Committee leader, Gunnar Berge, said, ""With the position Carter has taken on this, it can and must also be seen as criticism of the line the current U.S. administration has taken on Iraq."" Barack Obama had done little but speak in his first 12 days as president and has no major foreign policy accomplishments to his name so far in nearly nine months.

By awarding the prize to Obama, the current Nobel Committee has effectively made another referendum against the Bush administration, further cheapening the prestigious reputation of the prize it awards in the process.

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But the committee's choice provided Obama with a golden opportunity. Had he respectfully declined the award on the grounds that he has simply not had enough time to accomplish anything meaningful yet, he could have made substantial political gains both at home and abroad. He would have taken a significant step toward silencing the persistent accusations of elitism that have plagued him since before he was even elected. He did say he was ""surprised and deeply humbled"" that he had won, but actions speak louder than words, and according to his critics, words without any resulting actions have been the defining characteristic of his Presidency thus far. By declining to accept such a blatantly politically motivated award, he would have shown that, at least in this case, he is above the kind of partisan bickering he has spoken out against so often. If anything, foreign leaders who Obama wants to open a civil dialogue with would have been softened toward him after seeing a display of humility like that.

But unfortunately, this will become both a missed opportunity and a liability. Instead of making progress toward quieting his critics, he has given them more ammunition. Obama has only reinforced his unwanted status as a celebrity president who is more talk than action. He has certainly not garnered any goodwill in the Middle East, where he could have used it. Worst of all, by accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama put his seal of approval on the actions of the Nobel Committee, which decided to use its position to get involved in partisan politics. The dark cloud of his recent failed Olympic bid is still hanging over him, but Friday, Oct. 9, ultimately may end up being the day Barack Obama wishes he could have back.

Ben Turpin is a member of the UW-Madison College Republicans. The College Republicans can be contacted at wisconsincrs@gmail.com. Please send feedback on the article to opinion@dailycardinal.com. 

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