Photo by Jurvetson
The Nobel Peace Prize is odd in that it’s usually awarded to encourage more than reward. People have won for the Israeli/Palestinian peace process, Iran nuclear disarmament, etc. These obviously not accomplishments. At this point they might actually be called failures. The Peace Prize is kinda meant to support people trying to do something now as much as reward past success. I personally think this is a bit off, but it has its own logic. In that sense Barack Obama is trying to do something now, and the language he has communicated to the world has already made a difference. However, I think it may have been more opportune to give the award to someone who’d already reached billions of people. Like Michael Jackson.
I think Obama is definitely the coolest person walking the face of the earth today. However, I don’t think he’s done what he’s set out to do yet. The Nobel might theoretically help him, but it can also hurt domestically. Right now he’s got this edgy health care debate and this Norwegian stuff doesn’t placate the Republican south. Not that they’re placable. The nomination date for the prize was also Feb 1, so he’d been President for 10 days. So the award would be basically for his campaign and contribution to global thought (which is actually immense). He still has a lot of work to do.
However, as mentioned, the Peace Prize is not necessarily a reward as much as encouragement. To quote Foreign Policy
The Nobel Peace Prize’s aims are expressly political. The Nobel committee seeks to change the world through the prize’s very conferral, and, unlike its fellow prizes, the peace prize goes well beyond recognizing past accomplishments. As Francis Sejersted, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in the 1990s, once proudly admitted, “The prize … is not only for past achievement. … The committee also takes the possible positive effects of its choices into account [because] … Nobel wanted the prize to have political effects. Awarding a peace prize is, to put it bluntly, a political act.”
As Andrew Sullivan says, this is a potentially transformative moment in history and perhaps this is a downpayment on that. I dunno. I hope the Nobel will help, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily appropriate. He already has a Grammy.