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Joseph A. Palermo Headshot

Reaction to President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize is Another "Teaching Moment"

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During the initial 24-hour news cycle following the announcement that the President of the United States had won the Nobel Peace Prize we heard all manner of demeaning, diminishing, and ridiculing of the President and the prize. Beltway pundits David Brooks and Ruth Marcus appearing on Jim Lehrer's News Hour both bashed President Obama and the Nobel prize as being unwarranted and insignificant. Brooks called it "a joke." On Democracy Now! I heard Naomi Klein say pretty much the same thing as the Beltway savants. A lot of commentators heaped praise on John McCain for being "gracious" because he didn't diss Obama for winning the prize. But what would you expect that grumpy old man to do? Spit bile all over it like the rest of his Republican colleagues?

The cynical and sordid response in America raises a few questions: Have we lost the ability as a nation to accept something good when it comes our way internationally? Have we become so traumatized by the belligerent Bush-Cheney-Bolton unilateral militarism of the previous eight years, with its attendant hatred for the world and its people, that we are incapable of recognizing the simple fact that it is much better for America to have a president who is admired and respected in the world than one who is despised and feared?

It wasn't long ago when Republicans and right-wingers across the country (the evolutionary predecessors of the Tea Baggers) were pouring out French wine into gutters and burning Dixie Chick CDs in protest of anyone who had the wisdom or forethought to try to warn us that invading Iraq, toppling its government, and militarily occupying the country without international support might not be a good idea. The Franco-phobia ran so deep that Republicans in Congress, led by Representative Bob Ney (who is now fittingly in prison), changed the name of "French Fries" in the House cafeteria to "Freedom Fries." Anyone not going along with the party line that invading Iraq was a vital national project had his or her patriotism questioned and was silenced in the mainstream media.

Fast forward to the 2008 Republican National Convention and we hear Rudy Giuliani demean and diminish Obama's experience as a "community organizer," which was one of the more memorable laugh lines from the gathering. And then from that point onward just about everything Obama has achieved has been met with withering sarcasm and ridicule. He sends Bill Clinton to free American prisoners in North Korea and it turns out to be a stunning success that offers a breakthrough in relations with that weird and dangerous nation and the media greet the news with a collective yawn. His efforts to win the 2016 Olympics are fruitless but provide hours of content for right-wing bloviators who ridicule and demean his effort. He wins the Nobel Peace Prize and these same gasbags trash the Nobel Prize and the President. David Brooks said on the News Hour that "nobody cares what five Norwegian guys" think.

What's missed in the deafening cacophony of right-wing noise and chatter is that Americans should use this Nobel Prize as yet another Obama-inspired "teaching moment" to come to terms with just how much George W. Bush's foreign policy scared the hell out of the rest of the world. And we should understand how the world is relieved Americans came to their senses and looks to us for global leadership.

To illustrate this point one only has to compare the media coverage of Bush's landing on the aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln off the San Diego coast on May 1, 2003. Chris Matthews and the rest of the political media talking heads embarked on hours of breathless commentary about how regal and wonderful the spectacle was and how proud they all were to be Americans and blah, blah, blah. G. Gordon Liddy even spoke admiringly of the bulge in President Bush's codpiece. Masculine virility and macho militarism was fused with the national symbols of the flag and the military.

Europeans have seen this before. When we were engaged in our little rah-rah rally, the rest of the world was absolutely horrified. The biggest military power on Earth was acting belligerent and its president was indulging in bombastic nationalistic grandstanding. And this display was happening at the same time Baghdad was gearing up for a horrific sectarian bloodbath that everyone seemed to be able to see except for the Americans and their imperial president prancing in a flight suit and declaring "Mission Accomplished."

What Bush did was shift the posture of American foreign policy toward militarism and unilateralism, and he did so with a jingoistic right-wing Christian fundamentalist flair. President Obama, in less than ten months, has reset American foreign policy more toward multilateralism and a mature engagement with the world.

He has a long way to go and things might not work out. But at least he is moving in the right direction. The Nobel committee was just trying to give him a nudge. It's a symbolic prize. I don't understand the vitriol aimed at the President for winning it. But it is an international recognition that Obama is at least on the right track.

If the media would only cover Obama's peace prize win with half as much enthusiasm as they did Bush's landing on the aircraft carrier we might have made some measurable progress. We'll have to wait for Obama's next success and see what happens. Maybe all the demeaning and diminishing of Obama will grow old and tired, boring and repetitive, and then the media can move on to find something else to ridicule. But I won't hold my breath.

Around the Web

Barack Obama's peace prize starts a fight - Times Online

Obama peace prize win polarizes Web - CNN.com

From right and left, questions about peace prize - Yahoo! News

Obama Awarded Peace Prize - WSJ.com

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