Ross Douthat has an interesting op-ed in today’s New York Times in which he argues that President Obama should have turned down the Nobel Peace Prize. Douthat’s reasons are compelling. In part, his argument is that the President is facing a host of lesser-of-two-evils, no-win options when it comes to decisions about global peace and war:
“Now he’s the Nobel laureate who has to choose between escalating a counterinsurgency in Afghanistan or ceding ground to a theocratic mafia. He’s the Nobel laureate who’ll either have to authorize military strikes against Iran or construct an effective, cold-war-style deterrence system for the Middle East. He’s the Nobel laureate who’ll probably fail, like every U.S. president before him, to prod Israelis and Palestinians toward a comprehensive settlement.”
Winning the prize has put the President in an awkward position for sure. It took everyone by surprise, we now know, not least of all the recipient himself. But the viciousness of the attacks, the meanness of the ridicule, the sheer, unending derision are, alas, not surprising.
One expects people like Rush Limbaugh to stoke the flames of Obama-hate at every opportunity. He makes his handsome living doing just that, convincing large numbers of Americans to vote against their own economic self-interest while exploiting ignorance, prejudice, and fear.
But I wonder about the ugly talk when it comes from Christians. It’s not a little ironic that for several weeks late this summer the lectionary placed pretty much the whole, uncomfortable letter of James in our faces Sunday after Sunday.
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. (1:19)
If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. (1:26)
From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. (3:10)
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. (3:17)
A couple of days before the Nobel Peace Prize was announced I saw a story about President Obama inviting Republican congressman John Shimkus to the White House to participate in a pick-up game of basketball. Shimkus, you might have heard, walked out on the President’s health care speech last month.
There are all kinds of cynical ways to spin this story and the fact that MSNBC and the Huffington Post were the major news outlets to run it is reason enough for many to glibly dismiss it.
But I’d like to think that Obama’s invitation to a political foe to join him in a friendly game of hoops is the kind of conciliatory gesture that is indicative of his character.
There’s plenty to be critical of in the Obama administration. Mike Taibbi’s article in the current issue of Rolling Stone, “Wall Street’s Naked Swindle,” is a damning critique of the White House’s collusion with the corruption of Wall Street, its inability to break with the status quo when it comes to economic reform. Taibbi’s clear-eyed assessment is chilling.
But about the President and the Nobel Prize: he won the thing; he sheepishly accepted it. He knows that it’s more an albatross around his neck than a well-deserved medal. So let’s bridle our tongues and seek to be peaceable ourselves, gentle with each other (and our President), willing to yield.