I’ve made it clear that I believe Obama deserved this award. He’s dramatically altered the image of America’s global influence abroad, profoundly and for the better. But his best days remind ahead of him.
Obama seems to understand that. His Rose Garden remarks made clear that he views the award as a challenge to live up to, rather than a legacy to rest on:
Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.
The question remains whether he could’ve better sent that message by declining the award. American leaders have a long history of declining awards and honors, domestic and foreign, and Obama may have been able to better signify the depth of his commitment to change. That ship has sailed, but it might’ve sent a better message, especially domestically.
Even now that he’s accepted the award, there’s a chance to translate it directly into action and a symbolic commitment to world peace. Obama should use the $1.2M Nobel award as “seed money” to endow a White House Nobel Fellowship, with matching federal funds, to be given annually to an American who best embodies the values of the Nobel Peace Prize. That citizen would, on a yearly basis, work closely with the State Department and the Executive Office of the President to explore novel solutions (like, e.g., microfinancing) to global problems.
Receiving the Nobel Prize this early in his term has raised the stakes for Obama’s presidency. He came to office with the hopes of the nation at his back; now, add to those, the hopes and expectations of the world. He must not fail to satisfy all. Thankfully, Obama seems to understand as much.