Nobel Decision

Jeez-Louise, what’s with all the catcalls against the Nobel Committee’s decision to award this year’s Peace Prize to President Obama — particularly the ones coming from progressives?

Me, I agree with and applaud the committee’s decision.

I admit, though, that my first reaction on hearing the news was, “Yeah, but what has he actually done to deserve this award?”

I think the Nobel Committee probably anticipated that question. I mean, we all do understand that these things aren’t decided on a whim, right? Actually, I think one of the reasons for their selection was to challenge people to actually think about why they did what they did.

Among other reasons, the Committee likely considered these factors:

A. President Obama represents the return of the United States as a world leader — one the world wants to follow, that is. Under the Bush administrations, the US led the world, too. The difference, of course, was that Bush was leading us off the edge of a cliff and the rest of the world considered that a bad idea.

B. By awarding Obama the prize, the Committee is likely nudging him down the path toward peace. The timing, as the Obama administration is deciding what to do about Afghanistan, may have played a role.

C. Politics. I’ve already read the indignant objections that the committee politicized the award. Two words: Duh, and, good. Prizes are always about politics at some level. In this case the award was political, not in the partisan sense, per se, but in the sense of endorsing a political philosophy, i.e., the vision thing.

D. Race. Obama didn’t receive the Peace prize because he is Black. But, I do think race entered into the decision in this sense: Europeans in general have never been reluctant to point out racism in the United States. Tell me if I’m wrong, but by electing Obama president, I believe the US became the first industrialized nation to elect as its leader someone who is not merely a member of the majority ethnic population. This is big. Imagine the UK with an Anglo-Pakistani Prime Minister or France with a Franco-Algerian President. Or, for that matter, Norway with a Sami PM. With the steady stream of racist invective directed against Obama by Glenn Beck, et al., we forget that a majority of American voters elected a president who is bi-racial, something Europe has yet to do.

The most obvious thing to state about Obama’s selection is that it is a surprise. Can we please move passed what’s obvious and ponder a bit on the possible, less obvious motivations? Can we, in other words, allow ourselves to be visionaries, as the Nobel Committee was in making their decision?


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.