The announcement from Oslo last week that Barack Obama had won this year's Nobel Peace Prize generated lots of gasps and -- on the part of some -- lots of fury. No one seemed more surprised than the man who currently occupies the White House. Moreover, his daughters helped him keep things in perspective. "After I received the news," Obama said, "Malia walked in and said, 'Daddy, you won the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is Bo's birthday.' And then Sasha added, 'Plus, we have a three day weekend coming up.'" The award has not gone to the man's head.
But it certainly touched something sensitive in some right wing neighbourhoods. William Kristol, whose judgment is open to question -- after cheerleading for the Iraq War and Sarah Palin -- compared Obama to Mikhail Gorbachev: "But let's hope the parallel extends this far: that a year from now the Democrats suffer a major electoral repudiation, and that the New Liberalism goes the way of Reform Communism. And that, beginning in 2013, Obama will have lots of free time to spend hobnobbing with Gorbachev on the international celebrity circuit."
And David Frum, in The National Post, wrote: "From the age of 20, Barack Obama has collected acclaim, awards and prizes, not for his accomplishments (which have always been rather scanty) but for his potential. You would think with the guy nearing 50 and elected President of the United States that the prizes for 'the most promising young man' would cease." But, much to Frum's chagrin, they keep coming. "Waiting in the wings: the Vatican," he wrote. "Why wait until the guy has performed his posthumous miracles to confer sainthood upon him? Think of the amazing miracles he could perform in the future."
Obama himself recognized that the award was "aspirational" and that the challenges this generation faces "can't be met by any one leader or any one nation." And, he added, "To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honoured by this prize, men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace."
The award was clearly a statement of expectations. The committee expects Obama to accomplish great things. It is another burden which has been placed on his shoulders. One wonders how many burdens his shoulders can carry. He faces a long and difficult journey; and success is far from certain. But this much is certain: Obama's countrymen elected him, not just because they felt he had the intellectual equipment to face a world of Brobdingnagian problems, but because he also had the temperment to deal with those problems. The Nobel committee obviously agreed with the electorate. Mr. Kristol and Mr. Frum are not of that party.