by Ben Cohen
If you read Barack Obama's book 'Dreams From My Father', you get a pretty clear picture of who he is as a man. It is a somewhat painful memoir as he retells his story of how he came to grips with his unstable and racially mixed family, but a life affirming one as he learns to create a positive identity of his own.
The most poignant part of the book was Obama's experience as a community organizer in the South Side of Chicago. His dedication to the poverty stricken residents of one of the most violent and desolate parts of America is a testament to his character, and a very good reason for progressives to get behind him.
Although Obama has governed as a centrist, one can't help but think that he is turning a very heavy ship ever so slowly leftwards, and that deep down, he wants the same things progressives do -- the extension of equal rights to gays, the end of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, reconciliation between the Israelis and Palestinians, and serious reform of the financial system.
It is true that Obama has largely failed to deliver on all the above. But then again, he has only been in power for 10 months. And there has been progress -- the engagement with the Middle East, multilateralism as the first option rather than the last, substantial unemployment benefit, cheaper student loans, a commitment (on paper at least) to CO2 emissions reductions and a rebranding of America abroad.
Does this warrant a Nobel Peace Prize? Yes, and here's why.
America became a feared and despised state under the rule of the Bush Administration. The brazen disregard for global opinion, the trampling of international law, and the overt environmental destruction were hallmarks of a Presidency determined to project American power at all costs. With one election, the world forgave, and almost forgot the tragic Bush years as a young black President who spoke of hope rather than hatred, and cooperation rather than force swept into power.
This monumental shift cannot and must not be underestimated. As Andrew Sullivan writes:
I don't think Americans fully absorbed the depths to which this country's reputation had sunk under the Cheney era. That's understandable. And so they also haven't fully absorbed the turn-around in the world's view of America that Obama and the American people have accomplished. Of course, this has yet to bear real fruit. But you can begin to see how it could; and I hope more see both the peaceful intentions and the steely resolve of this man to persevere.
Obama's Peace Prize was not necessarily given to him for what he has accomplished. It was given to him for what he can accomplish. As Desmond Tutu put it:
"It is an award that speaks to the promise of President Obama's message of hope."
Hope will not fix the environment, stop the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or prevent bankers from stealing all of our money. But given the United States unique position in the world, its enormous power and influence, it is a start in the right direction given its previous trajectory. Hope implies a desire to better, and it simply could not get much worse than before.
Obama can certainly do better, much better than he is now. But it is too early to cast judgment, and he deserves time to make the changes he promised.
Obama has won the most prestigious prize for contributions to humanity in the world.
Now he must earn it.
(photo by baonguyen)