Obama Should Have Turned It Down

By Rinku Sen Oct 09, 2009

Obama’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize reminds me of this clothing commercial in which a man whose face you can’t see is at an interview or on a date. He’s told that he has horrible work history or got the lady’s name wrong just before he’s offered the job or a nightcap. The slogan, "you get what you’re suited for," implies that you don’t have to actually deserve a benefit as long as you look the part. The Nobel selection committee appears to have so internalized that message that they’ve given the world’s most prestigious honor to a 9-month president whose promises are yet unfulfilled. I’m sure the Nobel committee is very, very smart, but it all made me wonder if they’re so eager to reward the first black president of the U.S. that they wanted to get it done now, just in case he turns out to be a warmonger robbing them of their chance to meet the coolest kid on the block. The people who elected him hoping for change need to think critically and seriously about what this means for holding him accountable to the vision he put out during the campaign. Maybe Obama will make peace, maybe he won’t. There’s no way to know at this early stage, though the Administration’s flirtations with escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistan raise real questions. If, as the President said in his acceptance speech, this is a "spurring" prize to encourage him to follow through on climate change and other agendas, we should make sure that it doesn’t provide more cover than motivation. And consider what it does to his standing with world leaders. I imagine that plenty of presidents and prime ministers were picking their jaws up off the floor this morning, even while formulating the snarky joke they wouldn’t be saying in public. Do we really think that’s going to make diplomacy easier? There’s an additional element that affects the struggle for racial justice. Obama talks a lot about personal responsibility for black men. He doesn’t think you should whine and ask for things you’re not willing to earn. Is that just about asking, and never about accepting? Perhaps he will earn it, I’m not saying he won’t, but he hasn’t yet, as he himself acknowledged. What example does it set for him to accept huge accolades for things he hasn’t done? What does it do to his ability to govern? The courageous thing to do would have been to respectfully decline the prize. Great leaders see beyond all the hype that’s projected on to them for whatever reasons to get the actual work done. That’s what he, and we, need to focus on today, with no help from the Nobel committee.