I first found out Friday morning in class when I was sneaking peaks at the New York Times headlines on my iPhone while simultaneously participating in a discussion about the complete absence of agape love in our culture's love stories (maybe another blog). When the headline caught my eye, in surprise I accidentally inhaled my scalding Earl Grey tea. After recovering enough to breathe again, reading a few articles online, talking to some smart people, and reflecting on my own, I have this to say.
To be sure, the enraged conservative cries of "But he hasn't even done anything yet!" are not completely off the mark, but I really don't think the Norwegian committee has suddenly turned into brainless idealists or screaming star-struck fans. I think the word "Prize" is what is tripping people up. Prizes go to people who have crossed the finish line first and Obama has barely taken a first lap. But in the press release, words like effort, vision, hope, and future are key. So instead of picturing a big shiny medal or an A+ hanging on the White House refrigerator, I encourage you to reflect on the analogy my friend Ben Taylor offered. He said that the Nobel Prize for Obama is like infant baptism. In front of the whole world congregation, Obama has been marked as a man who will work for world peace. His identity has been set publicly, and everyone who witnessed it is called to assist him in "the way he should go, [so that] when he is old he will not turn from it."
My conception of American politics has a significant European influence. I was in Germany when Bush was in his second term and I came to detest my American accent because of the associations that went along with it then. My new German friends pulled me into tourist shops full of anti-Bush tee-shirts and mugs--some of the most startling depicted Bush's face next to Hitler's with German phrases I'm grateful I couldn't translate. I was in Scotland, Ireland, England, and France during the election season and encountered either ambivalence towards American politics or complete support and yes, hope, for Obama's election. French shop keepers teased (maybe?) that they would only sell me things if I swore on the American flag that I voted for Obama. In pubs and parks, I was able to have conversations with people about international politics, instead of feeling attacked. I returned to England after Obama was made President, and although there are valid frustrations with some of the policies, just as there are among Americans, the general attitude is still positive.
This Nobel Prize is the most significant proof of the shift in the world's perception of America from a place of selfish, ignorant, aggressive power-wielding to a country that is trying desperately to get our shit together so we can use our influence to make the world a more peaceful place. You don't have to put a bumper sticker on your car, but every American should be on the sidelines of the World Peace racetrack cheering Obama on and keeping him hydrated as he runs this very difficult race to the end.