Oct. 10th, 2009

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When I first heard the news that our president was awarded the Nobel peace prize, I thought it was a joke. Then, when it was still real, I felt indignant. "I like him and all," I said to no one in particular, "but what the hell has he done to deserve this? What does he have in common with Gandhi, or Mother Theresa, or... hmm.... who else has received this award?"

I went on over to Wikipedia, like you do, and looked at the long list of recipients. I was very surprised at a number of the individuals and organizations that are Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. Woodrow Wilson and Henry Kissinger, for instance. But then, in the later 20th and beginning of the 21st century, we see a lot of organizations. Doctors without Borders, for instance. The International Atomic Energy Agency. Reading through the statements of the leaders of those organizations who accepted the prize, I realized something very important. The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded not just because of good work done, but also because of good work in progress, and is very much meant as an encouragement towards more good work. (( http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/europe/10/09/nobel.prize.laureates/index.html ))

"But what good work has Obama done yet?" I hear my rightward and center-ward friends and loved ones asking rhetorically. "All he's done is swatted a fly on SNL!"

Well, I'd bet dimes to dollars that most of us are not aware that Obama, this summer in early July, achieved an agreement with the Russians to decrease our mutual nuclear stockpiles by a third. By a whole third. Really, if the gravity of this is not sinking in, realize that our species' capacity to destroy our planet will be reduced by orders of magnitude. Still within destroy-all-life range, but still. This is HUGE. (( http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106292556 )) Note: This is in addition to the reductions already to be in place by 2012.

Why didn't you hear about this? Do you remember the news this summer, especially in early July? "MICHAELJACKSONISDEADANDYOUCARE." Not to say I didn't care, but our public discourse and our media representation of important events were completely dominated by Michael Jackson. So, of course, we didn't hear about a little thing like extreme nuclear disarmament.

"But that was done several months after the nomination deadline," says some of my savvier conservative friends. "When he was nominated, he was only in office for eleven days!" Yes, this is true. Let's not forget that one of his first actions in office was a call to close Guantanamo Bay, which has become an international symbol for human rights atrocities and the depraved depths of American hubris. (( http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/01/22/guantanamo.order/index.html ))

But perhaps more important than these two (of many) concrete accomplishments is something that many Americans will have trouble seeing, due to our insular culture. The election of Obama has heralded a change in international discourse. He is willing and able to engage nearly all parties in diplomatic talks. Some in our country may see that as a problem, preferring to believe in American unilateralism, but in a world rocked by violence, inequity, and resource scarcity, the very symbolism of the most violent, most inequitable, most resource hungry nation (at least perceived as such) sitting down to talk not just with allies and trading partners, but with disenfranchised entities, and even our perceived enemies.... this symbolism is mighty. Indeed, the mere fact of Obama's presidency is a sign of peaceful progress for our species.

I applauded Obama when he said, "To be honest, I feel that I don't deserve [this award]..." and I also applauded Obama when he said, "I will accept this award as a call to action." He does not mean merely a personal call to action, but a call to action for us all. On his inauguration day, President Obama said to us and the world, "We are ready to lead once more." Yesterday, the world said to Obama, "We are ready for your leadership." The world has heartily endorsed American leadership, and rejected American unilateralism.

Obama deserves this award for the work he has done, the work he is doing, and the work he will do. And we deserve a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate as our sitting President. Let's work together to lead the world in peace, equity, and shared resources.

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