Fair. Balanced. American.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Christopher Beam in Slate

Is right:

The prize's vagueness helps. In his speech, Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland gave only abstract justification for picking Obama. "We are not awarding the prize for what may happen in the future, but for what he has done in the previous year," he said. "We would hope this will enhance what he is trying to do." The committee's statement wasn't much more specific, alluding only to his "vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons."

In his speech, Obama used this vagueness to his advantage. If the Nobel committee wasn't going to explain the award, then Obama would: "I will accept this award as a call to action," he said, "a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century."

He then proceeded to summarize his ambitions for the United States and the global community, touching on nuclear disarmament, climate change, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, religious persecution, and the fight against poverty and disease. He even mentioned the war in Afghanistan, which, whatever its goals, is still a war. The result was a choose-your-own acceptance speech.

Thus was Obama able to give the impression that the Nobel committee wasn't blessing any one aspect of his agenda, be it health care reform or nuclear cutbacks or cap-and-trade. It was blessing everything. Anything he does will now have some added symbolic heft: In an international climate where President doesn't have much gravitas anymore, President and Nobel Peace Prize Winner does. Whether it's asking India to step up emissions controls, negotiating sanctions with Iran, or discussing free trade in Latin America, Obama now has added prestige, if not authority.

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