Sabato's Crystal Ball

Obama’s Nobel Price Acceptance Speech

A stirring speech, but an unearned reward

Larry J. Sabato, Director, U.Va. Center for Politics December 10th, 2009

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Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech gets an A, no questions asked. It’s an incisive, practical take on just war theory that serves President Obama and, more importantly, America well. Good for him, and good for the speechwriters, too. But I would still argue that, maybe for the first time ever, the receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize is a net negative for the winner.

Most people will only remember that Obama got an unearned award–for pleasing rhetoric and for replacing George W. Bush, not on account of real achievement. Moreover, Obama will hear echoes of the Prize for the rest of his presidency. The Left will batter him with it when he is not pacific enough, while the Right will bludgeon him when he “caters to the Nobel Committee’s sensibilities” by being too pacific. On the other hand, here’s a mild plus: Unlike other Democratic presidents, Obama won’t go panting after the Prize over the course of many years, shaping his behavior to please the Nobel Committee, since he already has the trophy in hand. Free at last, free at last…

The real problem here is not Obama but the members of the Nobel Committee. Over the years they have devalued their award by applying ideological litmus tests and making some boneheaded decisions. Imagine Mahatmas Gandhi not being chosen! Well done, President Obama, for mentioning Gandhi in your speech, perhaps as a subtle reminder to the Committee of their goof. Obama also smartly included Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in his parade-of-history salutes. Reagan properly receives some credit for the fall of Communism, but if any modern Republican deserved the Nobel Peace Prize, it was Nixon. Yes, Nixon–and this is written by someone who wasn’t exactly a Nixon fan during the Vietnam War and Watergate. But in the light of history, Nixon’s opening to China and his policy of detente with the U.S.S.R. made enormous contributions. Obama’s thin record pales by comparison.

The Nobel Committee would do itself and its Prize a great favor if they would remove the following fine print from the application form: “No modern Republicans need apply.” The Committee’s selection process is about as bipartisan as the current Congress.


This commentary piece by U.Va. Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato was first published on POLITICO.com.