On November 4, 2008, the US did something vital and magnificent in front of the entire world. We rescued the most powerful nation in world history from a future defined by warmongering, ignorance, cruelty, homophobia, Christian fundamentalism, unfettered greed, environmental destruction, and a disregard for the rule of law. Yes, we should've never been there in the first place and should have reversed course much sooner, but the fact that we did it so decisively and emphatically breathed new life, inspiration and hope into every country across the globe.
Is a nation worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize for coming to its senses? Maybe, though one can certainly argue it does. But unlike Time magazine copping out in 2006 and awarding its Person of the Year award to "You" for Web 2.0 (instead of giving it to the creators of Wikipedia, Facebook and other social networking sites), the Nobel Peace Prize doesn't get awarded to hundreds of millions of people. So the Nobel committee awarded it to Barack Obama, the man who represents the traits that a majority of voters believe should define America as we attempt to lead the world to a better, more just, more peaceful future.
The Nobel Peace Prize wasn't for Obama. It was for us, the American voters who elected him and slammed the door on the Bush era, as well as a long history of racism and bigotry. So instead of asking whether Obama deserves the award, the much more important question is whether we deserve it.
Many progressives say that Obama has not truly ended the Bush era by closing Guantanamo, prosecuting terrorist suspects or setting them free, ending torture and throwing those who approved it in jail during his first nine months in office. Personally, I wish he had done all of these things (along with repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act) within his first three days.
But the thing that many progressives forget is that Obama, despite the caricature republicans created for him during the election, is not a wild-eyed ideologically driven liberal completely beholden to his base. He's a moderate committed to bipartisanship, and he proves it all the time -- just look at his reluctance to simply roll the republicans on issues like the public option. He also does things a lot slower than progressives would like, evidenced by his oft-stated commitment to repealing DADT without providing a deadline for doing it. Obama also avoids picking fights, which many consider prosecuting torture architects to be.
Another complaint from the left is that Obama hardly deserves a peace prize when he's escalating the war in Afghanistan, which looks more like Vietnam every day. But progressives are also forgetting that escalating the war is exactly what Obama vowed to do practically every day of his campaign. Iraq was the bad war that we had to end and Afghanistan was the good war that needed more troops and attention, and most of America, even democrats, agreed. Even those who disagreed with Obama's plans (including myself) largely held their tongues, not wanting to criticize Obama when the bigger goal of winning the election was the priority. When I began working on Brave New Films' Rethink Afghanistan project in February, opposing the Afghan war was a very lonely business. Even MoveOn and Code Pink weren't supporting us, still believing that Afghan women and the gains they had supposedly made as a result of our occupation would be endangered if we ended the war. And when Obama sent 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan earlier this year, there was barely any opposition lest anyone be accused of ruining the honeymoon.
So instead of complaining that Obama hasn't deserved his Nobel Prize by not doing more things faster (when he's plenty busy already and history shows that this would be out of character) and by doing something he always said he'd do (which a majority of people seemed to support until a few months ago), let's focus on what we can do to deserve the prize that was really meant for us instead of criticizing the guy who accepted it on our behalf.
Contrary to popular belief, it's usually the citizens who are way ahead of their elected officials. That means it's our responsibility to force Obama (and our elected officials) to recognize our priorities and pick up the pace. Give them the courage and support to do the right thing. And if they haven't seen the light, make them feel the heat.
So call Obama, your representative, your senator, or any other elected official and let them know how you feel. Don't wait for some email or blog post telling you to do it on a specific day for a specific cause. Write down all the relevant numbers and put them by your phone at work or program them into your mobile phone. Call them when you are bored at your desk, get particularly riled up about something, are waiting in line, get the urge to take part in a democracy, or feel like earning a Nobel Peace Prize. Be eloquent, specific and clever. Think of interesting metaphors and analogies to use (i.e. "Bombing Afghanistan to stop Al Qaeda is like bombing Italy to stop the Mafia.") Make it something you do every Tuesday. And Wednesday.
But definitely don't gripe that Obama hasn't earned the Nobel Peace Prize. While he will be accepting the award in Oslo, it was meant for us. We are the ones who have to earn it.
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