But Seriously… Barack Obama’s Nobel Prize

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a blog entry that cited my second day Rosh Hashanah sermon. It defended President Obama from what I consider ill-advised attacks against him, caustic and often personal attacks not grounded in any reality. As I see it, he’s a relatively untested politician in a terribly difficult job in a ridiculously difficult time, doing the best he can. The jury is out on him, and time alone will tell. (Yes, Mr. Safire a”h, too many clichés, but they are all perfectly appropriate!).

In the context of “time will tell,” even as someone more than a little inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, I found myself totally stunned by the decision of the Nobel Prize Committee to award President Obama this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Without expending too very much mental energy, I, like so many others, could easily come up with other more deserving recipients.

Let’s see- there are the protesters in Iran who risked their lives in pursuit of a truly democratic election, Chinese dissidents who continue to wage a courageous struggle against repression… Like I said, it’s not too hard to come up with alternatives. Up to this point, President Obama has done little more than signal a desire to work more cooperatively with the world community (particularly Europe) than his predecessor President Bush did. If the point of the Nobel committee was to deliver a slap in the face to former President Bush, slap delivered. But at what price?

I cannot imagine that President Obama actively campaigned for the Nobel Peace Prize. If anything, were I in his shoes, I would be embarrassed to receive such a high honor for so little accomplishment (yet). I am told that, in advance of the awarding of the Nobels, the potential recipients are informed that they are “in the running,” and asked if they would accept the award if they were named the winners.

I wish President Obama had said no when he got that first call. And even if doing so after the announcement would cause embarrassment to the Nobel committee, I wish that President Obama would decline the award even now. What an act of leadership that would be, to admit publicly that to award a Nobel Peace Prize based on the style of a few months of leadership, before anything has really been accomplished, would be to belittle the courage of those who have placed their lives on the line for the sake of peace.

For me, that would really be “change that I can believe in;” a politician who places principle above ego.

We can learn a lot about this president from what he does, and what he doesn’t do. Like I said, the jury is out.

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.