Ringside at the Apocalypse

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OCTOBER 11, 2009 4:54PM

Obama's Nobel Litmus Test

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The decision to award The Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama says an awful lot about the Nobel Prize Committee and about The President.  The domestic reaction to the announcement says a great deal more about American Society.

The reaction from the political Right is utterly predictable, utterly indistinguishable from the reaction of the extremist Far Right, and utterly without consequence.  After distinguishing themselves by incivil crowing over Obama's failure to influence his political hometown's chances at hosting the 2016  Summer Olympics, the Fox News / Limbaugh geek chorus further demonstrated the insubstantiality of their criticisms by joining such illustrious commentators as Hamas and The Taliban in condemning the Nobel Prize Committee for choosing to honor a sitting U.S. President with one of the most prestigious internal awards that exists.  As Congressman Alan Grayson aptly pointed out, the same people would greet news that Obama had cured cancer by lamenting that he was "putting oncologists out of business." 

The blindly reflexive nature of such criticisms has become glaring obvious to any observer with even a shred of objectivity.  The fact that the Republican National Committee cannot even muster enough patriotism or good sportsmanship to offer congratulations is abundant proof (if any were required at this point) that the GOP is completely owned by a conservative movement that in turn is completely owned by virulently xenophobic, racist imbeciles-- who are in turn owned by corporatist thugs who are all too happy to exploit a distrust of 'big government' that some how failed to exist when it was the GOP expanding the government.

Equally predictable and pointless is the reaction of The Left, which is beginning to respond to Obama more or less like a less-than-attractive high school girl who had managed to convince herself that giving up the goods in the back of a van would guarantee going to the prom with the star quarterback.  While progressive have good reason to feel a bit used by The President, that doesn't excuse them from failing to realize that The Nobel Prize Committee just handed their straying star jock a prize that he needs to earn... that he can only earn with their help.

The interesting question is whether or not Obama himself fully appreciates the potential game-changer he's been handed.  Whatever else the prize itself offers, the blindly partisan reaction to it by U.S. political extremists grants Obama an opportunity to buy back some credibility with the people who actually put him in office--the moderates and independents who are equally tired of conservative and liberal ideologues, who wanted results and still want them.  These are people who accept the quaint notion that honors paid to America's chief executive are honors paid to America, and who do not expect eight years of cowboy ignorance and unilateralism to be undone in a matter of months. 

But they are also the majority of Americans who are sick to death of eight years of war, whether the obvious war of choice that was Iraq or the supposed war of necessity that is Afghanistan.  This prize is awarded at a timely moment that the Nobel Prize Committee could hardly have foreseen when they included a newly-seated president in their deliberations but of which they are surely now acutely aware.  It is not the merely the partisans of The Left who expect a more thorough repudiation of the Bush Doctrine of secrecy, torture, and imperialism, even though it is entirely the partisans of The Right who defend that tarnished legacy. 

This being the case, The Left has an opportunity--no less so than The President-- to change both the tone and direction of current public discourse in American Politics.  Engaging in the same mindless rejectionism practiced by The Right accomplishes nothing beyond the fleeting satisfaction of ideological purism.  On the other hand, applauding this moment of recognition--and at the same time making plain the work that remains to make this prize justly earned--  could go a long way toward moving the United States back from a totalitarian brink to which it remains terribly, terribly close.

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