THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Mr. Obama's Prize

Once upon a time, not so long ago, and in a land right here, election to the Presidency of the United States of America was a big deal. But no longer. Now, elevation to head of government and state of the world's only superpower is a humdrum affair, a middling measure of smallness deserving not of praise, but of scorn. Once upon a time, presidential elections were political contests where there was a basic assumption of fitness for, at least, consideration. But no more. Now, we live in an era of absurdist reduction, when "community organizer" is a sneer, and the real work of the world is done by governors of states less populous than Brooklyn, politically minded former first ladies, and Barry Goldwater's replacement -- when a president should be able to wrest an Olympics from Rio de Janeiro, but not be so persuasive as to command the respect of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

These are interesting times. Suddenly the 108-year-old Nobel Committee has "diminished" both itself and its Peace Prize and done their 2009 Laureate President Barack Obama "no favors" from this "too early" conferment because, after all, what has he done anyway. Well, that's one view. What we know is that the president neither nominated himself nor lobbied for the award. We know that he was as "surprised" as any of us about his selection, and that he is "deeply humbled."

"To be honest," the President said, "I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have been honored by this prize, men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace."

The President may not, but The Norwegian Nobel Committee does, and so do I.

Because of his deep and abiding commitment to Chicago's South Side, including his work with the church-based Developing Communities Project, the tenants of Altgeld Gardens, and the grassroots, interfaith and interracial Gamaliel Foundation.

Because he chose to begin his legal career in a Chicago civil rights firm where he represented community organizers, discrimination victims and black voters trying to force a redrawing of city ward boundaries.

Because he has, throughout his career, upheld a duty to the ideals of democracy, cooperation, and civic engagement, particularly as director of Illinois' voter registration drive Project Vote; as a state legislator; and as a United States Senator.

Because I had to tell a 65-year-old woman in New York the day after primary season Super Tuesday that Mr. Obama was not even the Democratic Party's nominee, yet alone the President-elect.

Because it rained in North Carolina on election Tuesday, and we still turned the Tar Heel state blue.

Because according to the Nobel Committee, "Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts."

Because "only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population."

Because he has endured with grace and dignity the mind-numbing viciousness of the Republican opposition, and because he has given every indication that he will continue to meet their obstreperousness with both candor and resolve, humility and also a spirit of partnership for four or, even, eight years.

Because he is not a king, yet he must constantly work to calm his supporters who want him to behave like one.

Because the cause of brotherhood and the promotion of peace is ongoing, ever-changing, never done.

And because, as the The Nobel Committee said in 1975 upon awarding that year's Peace Prize to Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov:

In the will and testament that Alfred Nobel drew up prior to his death in 1896, he directed that the Peace Prize should be awarded to the person who had "done the most or the best work for fraternity between peoples, the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

As is only to be expected, the Nobel Committee's interpretation of these premises has varied in accordance with changing attitudes to the concept of peace over the years.

In the ranks of Peace Prize laureates during these last seventy-four years examples of this are readily available. The Committee has rewarded:

champions of the ideas of international law;
champions of social justice, such as Leon Johaux;
for humanitarian achievements, such as Albert Schweitzer;
for pacifist work, such as Bertha von Suttner and Carl von Ossietzky;
for the promotion of human rights, such as Rene Cassin, Martin Luther King, and Albert Lutuli.

From the very start the decisions made by the Committee have frequently been the subject of criticism and debate. This need not, however, mean that they were incorrect.