The Common Good

A Nobel Prayer

I got the first call at 6:30 a.m. from a reporter: "What's your reaction to Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize?" "What?" I answered, and then had the presence of mind to say, "Call me back when I'm awake." My surprise sounded much like Obama's, when he was awakened with the news a half hour earlier than I was. Given what my Friday was like, I didn't get a chance to do a post or interviews about it all. But over the weekend, in the midst of my usual baseball coaching and full-scale family activities, I did keep my eyes and ears open to the responses of other people. "WOW" is all I can say to the cavalcade of abuse heaped on the new president, whom they said so far had "accomplished nothing!"

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Martin Luther King Jr. won this award, along with Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and an array of courageous heroes for peace, justice, and human rights. Most suffered greatly, all sacrificed a great deal, and some were eventually killed for their witness to a different kind of world. The committee has sometimes slipped -- never giving the award to Gandhi, but once to Henry Kissinger. But the collection of people who have been honored with the world's most notable prize for peace is pretty impressive company to be in.

President Obama was actually appropriately humble in admitting in his statement that he didn't "deserve" to be in such company. Instead he said that he would accept the honor as "a call to action." May it be so, I say. To state that the award was "premature," as many did, is not an unreasonable opinion; thus far, the very early stages of this new presidency have been characterized, quite reasonably, by more expressions of commitment and intent than by the results of those words.

But those words, intents, and commitments have already struck a very hopeful tone that the rest of the world has noticed -- and that was the real reason for the award. It is a quite different and quite welcome tone than the world has seen and heard from the U.S. for some time. And the award says very clearly that most of the world is glad for the change -- even if it's mostly just a change in words so far.

It is the offer to engage rather than the threat to dominate, the desire to work together rather than to dictate terms, a multinational approach rather than a go it alone foreign policy, a whole new approach to the Muslim world rather than fulfillment of the prophecy of a "clash of civilizations," a willingness to challenge both sides in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, and apparently even a deep personal commitment to move us toward "a world without nuclear weapons." Even if those are all just words so far, they are very hopeful and very welcome words to most of the world.

But ah -- not to Obama's critics! You see, it's not that they just think the award is premature, because he has only offered words and not many deeds; it is that they are totally against the intent and commitments of Obama's words. That's the issue. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill Kristol, Lynne Cheney, Christopher Hitchens, and all the other apologists of the old order that I heard raging against Obama this weekend, want the opposite of all the things the new president says he is for. They want the opposite of all the new tone and directions cited above, and the re-assertion of a world dominated by the military might of one superpower, which they unabashedly claim is the only way to "peace."

The vitriol against Obama's peace prize and "those Norwegians" who gave it to him is much deeper than the president's lack of achievements thus far; it is based on a fundamental clash of worldviews. But the bad news for the old order advocates is that more and more Americans are rejecting their view of the world, embracing new global realities and possibilities, and are glad that much of the world is now viewing their country in a more positive light.

The best description I read of what the Nobel Peace Prize might mean for Obama and the U.S. was embedded in a long article in The New York Times which called it "a prayer." Indeed, may the granting of this prize not just be an award to a young and yet unaccomplished president; may it also be a prayer for the U.S. itself, to lead in a new way and to seek a fundamentally different approach to the many global decisions that this new president will now have to make.

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