We recently got an email from Barack Obama. We had to dig it out of the spam filter, but we did get it. “Dear Nassau Weekly,” it read. “This morning, Michelle and I awoke to some surprising and humbling news. At 6 a.m., we received word that I’d been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and that, unfortunately, I will have to return to Scandinavia.” While it’s a bit rich that the descendants of Sweyn Forkbeard and Eric the Red are now in the business of awarding peace prizes, this year’s intrigue runs a little deeper than usual.
Many have claimed that Obama’s accomplishments thus far as President pale in comparison to the lifetime achievements of those who have received the prize in recognition of long, historic careers. Well obviously. But so what? This myopic line of thinking—to muddle our psycho-physiological metaphors—ignores the extraordinary achievement that Obama’s very election represents. All around the world, people of every nationality, religion, and race gathered around televisions and radios in schoolrooms and in cafes. They saw a victorious citizen of the world achieve what many had reasonably considered to be impossible. In Africa, South East Asia, and even in the ghettos of Chicago’s south side, children looked into Obama’s eyes as if into a mirror. Even while segments of the American now resent the fact, Obama reminds us and the world of our shared humanity, shared struggles, and shared stake in the promise that all men are created equal.
We still expect great things from Obama, but this hope should cast a shadow of doubt over the miles he has already come.