Sometimes, I can be of two minds on the same subject, such as President Obama’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. On one hand, I can identify with the criticism and cynicism that the so-called leader of the free world (and its largest empire), and a fairly new one at that, could be truly qualified for such an honor.
But then, despite my disappointments in Obama’s leadership of late, I find myself more inclined to seek a way to use this moment to move us forward with solutions that can benefit all of us.
We, and even Obama himself, could waste a lot of time lamenting over whether or not he was deserving or not (which is always questioned when a Black man or a person of color gets anything). I’d rather seize the moment to advance the work of justice and peacemaking, globally and domestically. (It’s kind of like dwelling on whether or not Congressman Joe Wilson was respectful to the President during his health care speech, instead of talking about the more substantive issue of whether people who are immigrants and their families should be denied access to health care).
In it’s award citation to Obama, the Nobel Committee said “His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.”
Obama actually has been exercising leadership by articulating a lot of the right values and attitudes, both on the domestic front (remember hope, unity and change?)—which clearly resonated with the majority of people—as well as on the international stage (he’s been a leading voice for nuclear disarmament, reaching out to and respecting the Muslim world, calling for restarting peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, criticizing torture, etc.)
These values, attitudes and proposed actions are, indeed, shared by the majority of the world’s population. People want peace, justice, unity, hope and real change. But now the task is to translate those shared values into bold action.
Obama has only had nine months as president, so he deserves some slack. The problem is that in those nine months, he has clearly demonstrated many of his weaknesses as a leader. He’s missed opportunities (e.g. the World Conference on Race), he’s not followed through on promises (e.g. closing Guantanamo for good), he’s given a pass to Israel for continued abuses against the Palestinian people, or on the home front, he’s turned over to Congress the drafting of a weak national health care policy). Disappointingly, it’s a long and growing list. Without more aggressive and principled action, he risks squandering the domestic mandate he received to lead us towards the kind of fundamental change so many of us still believe in.
But those who elected Obama are equally implicated in our failure to not demand that he live up to his promises. Some of us, so elated to be done with the disastrous Cheney/Bush chapter, are guilty of coasting this past year, when we should have been stepping up our fights and demands for justice.
Most of the world knows—except, perhaps, those who are blinded in their own stake in greed and exploitation—that there cannot be peace without justice. And justice is founded upon the values of human rights, civil right, gender equity, racial equality and fair treatment of all people.
Now that Obama has won this award, there should be no excuse for him, or any of us, to compromise on our convictions. Now his international credibility and mandate has been boosted. Hopefully, he, and all of us who seek real change, will be emboldened to articulate and amplify our shared values, and to match our words with real actions to move us towards global justice and peace.
I can be just as skeptical as the next person as to whether Obama, given his mixed track record since taking office, can make good on his words. And, I’m certainly wary that any leader of the world’s biggest empire can be relied upon to act with full integrity for the global good. But I’d rather direct that skepticism into useful action.
Why not applaud and seize this moment by going forth more boldly as the peacemakers and changemakers we all must be? Rather than second-guess the Nobel Committee, why not work to prove them right?