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Kabuki Dancing in Oslo

By       Message Bob Sommer     Permalink
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View Ratings | Rate It Headlined to H4 12/11/09

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President Obama's discomfort with the Nobel Peace Prize was evident from the moment he stepped to the podium. He appeared somber, even hesitant, as he began speaking. The Nobel Committee had put him in a tough spot. Decline, and you publicly insult them. Accept, and you...what?

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Well, maybe not use the speech to justify escalating a war.

Not to pick on too easy a target, but W would have shown up convinced that he deserved the award. Both the text and delivery of his acceptance speech would have been filled with smugness. He'd have punctuated his sentences with quick flips of the page without looking down. Calling him out for hypocrisy would have been a lay-up.

Obama, however, was uncomfortable. Citing Gandhi and King to justify not only the escalation of the war in Afghanistan but American exceptionalism in general requires distilling and serving a murky brew of revisionist history and muddled language. We're in Orwellian territory now. Peace is War. Or something like that. For someone with an excellent mind and superior language skills this can't have come easily and the speech and its delivery betrayed that discomfort.

Oslo is only 300 miles from Copenhagen, but the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference might as well have been taking place on one of the melting polar ice caps. Civilization itself is threatened by the emission of 28 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually into the atmosphere, but Obama only found room in his speech for a quick nod at the issue, when he might have used the occasion of this unearned -- and undeserved -- award to rally the world's polluters to sanity. But the free market won. War is Peace.

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Obama skipped out on the awards dinners, perhaps a gesture of humility. Or maybe the possible slight to King Harald and the Nobel Committee was outweighed by the potential PR gain of appearing humble. Or maybe he genuinely believes he did the right thing by accepting the award and using the occasion to justify war but the parties were just too unseemly. What a kabuki dance.

If he's stuck with some ambivalence about how he should have managed the occasion, maybe he should take the hint: Trying to be all things to all people means you'll end up being nothing to anyone, and the greatest opportunity in history will have been squandered literally the chance to lead mankind back from the eve of destruction.

Bob Sommer is the author of Where the Wind Blew (a novel). He blogs at Uncommon Hours.

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Bob Sommer is the author of WHERE THE WIND BLEW (a novel). His work has appeared widely in literary, scholarly, and commercial publications, including Centennial Review, Studies in American Fiction, American Book Review, New England Quarterly, (more...)

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