Ask most Texans the meaning of the word potential and they will say, “It means you ain’t done nothing yet.” It may not be eloquent but what it lacks in eloquence it makes up for in accuracy. Merriam-Webster may have said it better defining potential as, “existing in possibility or capable of development into actuality,” but the meaning is the same.
For 2009, the Nobel Peace Prize has become the Nobel Prize for Potential. The Norwegian Nobel Committee admitted their choice had more to do with what will be done than what has been done when they said in announcing the award, “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future.” They applauded President Obama’s “vision for a world free from nuclear arms” and his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy.” Is the world actually moving in the direction of being free from nuclear arms? Let’s ask the governments of Iran and North Korea. Have President Obama’s “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy” born fruit? I suppose we could ask the governments of Poland and the Czech Republic how diplomacy looks when the United States decides to leave its allies twisting in the wind in favor of the “potential” of Russian help on Iran.
On the other hand, maybe the Norwegian Nobel Committee is on to something. Just think of the potential of handing out awards based on potential. Ballots for the Heisman trophy could be mailed out in the same envelope with the name of the recipient. Oscar nominations could be announced and the prize awarded at the same time, sparing us the torture of a four-hour left-wing variety show.
That must have been close to what the Norwegian Committee was thinking when you consider the timeline for Nobel Peace Prize nominations. Nominations for the prize had to be postmarked by February 1, 2009. Some simple math reveals that is just twelve days after Obama took office. Invitations for nominations were mailed last September, two full months before Obama was elected president. It seems Obama’s “we can’t wait” mantra, which was used to pass the stimulus package, take over General Motors, and push the nationalization of healthcare to the brink of passage, was adopted and amplified by the Norwegian Committee. Waiting to see if President Obama’s vision of hope and change would blossom into the development of a definable set of actual results was obviously out of the question. The truth is, when you read the whole statement of the Committee it becomes clear Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace was right when he said, “The Committee gave this award to President Obama for not being President Bush.”
In 1990, the same Committee gave the award to Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev for “helping bring the cold war to an end.” He won the award for not being President Ronald Reagan. It was Reagan who forced Gorbachev’s hand by demanding he tear down the Berlin Wall and by walking out of the negotiations at Reykjavik without giving away America’s missile defense system. Reagan knew the Soviet economy would not survive a direct assault by a nation that was both determined and capable of matching their military might. Reagan knew his designation of the Soviet Union as “an evil empire,” would send the political left into hysterics but he knew it would inspire millions of people who longed to break the chains of communist oppression and trade them for the promise of self-governance.
While President Reagan was busy destroying the political and military might of the Soviet Union, Pope John Paul II was busy building up the moral courage of the people of Poland (his homeland) and inspiring the leadership of Lech Walesa (a legitimate Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1983). Their combined efforts led to the fall of Communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union. The casual bystander in this international drama was Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize and Reagan and Pope John Paul II won freedom for millions of people from the terrors of Communist rule.
There have been other dubious winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Al Gore shared the award with the IPCC in 2007. Former President Carter won the award in 2002 and in what may be the most bizarre award of all time, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat shared the “honor” with Shimon Peres (Israeli Foreign Minister) and Yitzhak Rabin (Israeli Prime Minister) for working together toward creating peace in the Middle East. To understand the contrast, that would be like giving Elliot Ness and Al Capone the award for working together to end prohibition.
The distinguished scholars from Norway haven’t always gotten it wrong. In 1979 Mother Teresa was honored for her work as the Leader of the Order of the Missionaries of Charity. Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov won in 1975 for his campaign for human rights in the Soviet Union and Martin Luther King Jr. won in 1964 in recognition of his campaign for civil rights.
Earlier this year, President Obama delivered the commencement address at Arizona State University. The University declined to give the president the usual accompanying honorary doctorate saying his “body of work is yet to come.”
Well said…. or, as they say in Texas, “He ain’t done it yet.
Dr. Tony Beam is Vice-President for Student Services and Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.