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Nobel (Sur)Prize: Words Matter

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A last word on how Obama didn't "earn" his Nobel Prize.

Reading the near unanimous commentary about how Obama didn't really deserve this reward -- including the president himself in his typically apt comments -- reminded me of something...something...ah yes: it was identical to those who doubted the candidacy of a young Senator who was "articulate" but had few accomplishments. What's he done?

We know how that ended. So too the Nobel.

Skeptics from Lech Walesa to George Will apparently don't get it. They fail to grasp what the Nobel Committee and most of the world do -- that Obama represents the power of positive speaking. Deeds may be better than words but words can be powerful and transforming. When Lenin said he wanted "land, bread and peace" for Russians in 1917 and Kennedy said "ich bin ein Berliner," their language so fit their moments that they cracked the levees of history.

Conservatives are left to argue that it's a bad thing that Obama won, a bad thing that he's more popular in other countries than their own elected leaders, that he should have actually turned it down (David Brooks and Ross Douthat in the New York Times). They are scornful that Obama won because he wasn't Bush. Let's assume that's true. It's nonetheless rational to reward Obama for at least talking up a nuclear-free world and engagement rather than unilateral invasions and disdain for diplomacy. The president's positions may seem self-evident, but they weren't to Bush and Cheney. The world noticed.

We've seen this movie before with President Obama and will again: especially when in a jam, he can literally talk his way out, whether it was Rev. Wright during the nomination battle to his visionary remarks in Egypt about Islam to his speeches at the UN and elsewhere about nuclear arms and diplomacy. And who can doubt that he'll again give a winning acceptance speech in November in Oslo? His combination of eloquence, elegance, equaniminity and progressive patriotism is a gift that keeps on giving. It won him the presidency, won the Nobel, and wins him support far beyond even his largely popular policies.

There will no doubt come a time when, as Saturday Night Live mockingly did two weeks ago, people will assess if his performance matches his promise. "May the deeds I've done speak for me," goes the Baptist Hymn. Eight months into his term, he's at least laying out a vision and a program that will enable future generations to grade him.

Liberal were and are still irked at Reagan's popularity. But the fact was that most Americans just personally liked him and his way of speaking, irrespective of the harshness of his policies. Obama is our Reagan. We will soon enough determine if he's also our FDR.