Thursday, December 10, 2009

Difficult Words, Troubling In Their Implications...Obama's Nobel Speech......

I just read the transcript of President Obama's Nobel Prize acceptance speech in the New York Times. 

It was a difficult speech, and Mr. Obama acknowledged his controversial position, having just opened up the war in Afghanistan.  I have been a supporter of the Nobel's selection of the President for the Prize, and rallied to his support in my post on October 9. 

I felt that, based on their own criteria, the Nobel Committee members made a reasonable choice. That, and the fact that there is no one else with as high a profile as Mr. Obama with  the daunting task of improving the opinion of America abroad, and unraveling tensions among impossibly unstable world situations.  Millions have made him the caretaker of their hopes for a more reasonable and inclusive world.

But I bristled at the text of the speech; before I read the text, I heard only sound bites on TV and radio, so I did not have the benefit of the delivery or the music of his language as vehicles of meaning.  Some words and ideas, though, ran counter to what I had come to expect from Obama, even as I struggle with my own confusion in my support of him.

Consider some of the words that were used, words which carry their own emotional connections in or out of context of the speech:  "evil"; "Crusades"; "morality"; "peacekeeping"; "wagers of peace"; "purpose of faith"; "moral compass"; "the spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls".  These read like code, fraught with meaning.

I noticed his glorification of  Nixon in China, Pope John Paul and the Catholic Church in Poland, and Ronald Reagan in the Soviet Union, all held up as paragons of world peace, despite their involvements in Vietnam, social oppression, and Iran-Contra, respectively.  It all began to appear as a re-payment for some mysterious bargain struck with Conservatives to whom Mr. Obama seems to have sold a bit of his liberal soul.  Conservatives even nodded in approval afterward, while those on the other side of the aisle were guarded, even muted, in their praise.

It was a strong speech, but I missed the humble and likeable Obama who gave me hope last November, the man who I believed (and still do) could win over skeptics with the sheer force of his inspiration and respectful regard for world peoples and leaders.  A few times he appeared though he were absent from his own words:

"Only a just peace based on the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.....
It was this insight that drove drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the Second World War. In the wake of devastation, they recognized that if human rights are not protected, peace is a hollow promise........a just peace includes not only civil and political rights -- it must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want.

It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without security; it is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine and shelter they need to survive. It does not exist where children can't aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within."

I wondered what an American parent who has lost a job, living on the brink of poverty; or another parent  with a sick child without health insurance; or the brother of a child killed in American gang conflict; or any number of Americans trying hard to secure their rights to job security, marriage equality, or affordable health care, would think of these words. 

Are we at peace here at home? or more to the point, is it a just peace?

I want Mr. Obama to succeed.   I still applaud the Nobel Committee for awarding him the Peace Prize, and I congratulate the President on this honor.  I originally supported his candidacy because his words were a strong assurance that he cared about the things I cared about.  I want to hold on to the hope that he still cares about them in his own way, and in his own back yard.


  1. RE; "These read like code" I totally agree. There is [code speak] in all of their speeches. Just like when the Shrubster would speak of Iraq, and use the words [freedom], and [democracy]. What he meant by that was Chritianity, and Western Colonialism. Of course the Neocons have influenced this regime. He kept Gates, an old Papa Bush crony, with a very shady past. This regime is filled with Neolibs, Different suit, same agenda.

  2. You ask some good questions, Tom. Of course it's important to remember that Obama didn't start the wars, and didn't cause the economic crisis and massive unemployment. It was his monkeybrained precedecessor and his criminal cohorts who ran this country into the ground and started an imperial, "eternal" war based on nothing but lies and deceit.

    And we are seeing every day on the news that it's the reactionary Republicans who are doing their damndest to block every piece of progressive legislation by hook or crook.

    So Obama can't simply wave his hands and bring peace, plenty, and prosperity; he's like a star batter brought in at the bottom of the 7th with the score 10-3, and God help with all that.

    Nevertheless, I too am more and more disappointed with this guy who parachuted in from nowhere, it seemed, and gave every indication of being a liberal, progressive candidate - or was that just what we wanted to believe after the 8 dark, dismal years of Bush? And don't even get me started on the gay thing. Obama is not a liberal; he's a dead-center moderate if anything.

    A huge improvement over the fascist thugs who preceded him, but not what I thought I was voting for. But your comments have piqued my interest in this speech, which I'll find and read this weekend, and see how it sounds to my ears.

  3. Interesting post, Tom!

    I read with interest the text of the speech also and had to agree with your premise that there was more to what he was saying than what was being said. I know that Obama has a really arduous task ahead, what with our country and the world in shambles in one way or another and with so many looking to him for salvation.

    To make matters worse, he has the opposing party (and indeed, some members of his own party) doing all they can to block his attempts to live up to the promises that got him elected.

    His war at home is keeping these forces from destroying this opportunity for change, the basis for his election. The opposition would prefer to continue with the status quo and let the world spiral out of control. Even obvious corrective measures to clean up the mess left him by the Bush administration are being fought in Congress for no other reason but to make him fail.

    Not surprising, then, that in his speech he panders to the right in an effort to try to win some support for his initiatives. His efforts on the world stage will, I'm sure, meet with the same resistance he is battling with at home, and most likely with the same lackluster results.

    I feel somewhat betrayed that the future of hope and prosperity that Obama had envisioned has been hijacked by people whose lives are so far removed from the struggling masses that they are blind and uncaring to their suffering. The eventual watered-down reality for us will be less than inspiring and will continue to leave most wanting.

    Obama is a wonderful orator and I felt that when he said change was possible I believed him. But now I'm not so sure. It's hard to effect change when your own people tie your hands and bind your feet because of their petty prejudices and fears.

  4. Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. I have read and re-read the speech several times and have looked at it from many angles. It is perhaps true that my initial reaction came from my gut. And Obama does have a daunting task and what i would call childishly insidious and irrational opposition. But my instincts are still calling on me to resist a bit...because to me it was clear very early that an appeal to bipartisanship was counterproductive. That continued appeal seemed out of place on this particular occasion...I welcome your feedback to help clarify my thinking on what I consider to be an unusual and troubling series of events.