On Friday October 9, president Barack Obama received an early morning call telling him he had won the Nobel Peace Prize. He won in the judgment of the Nobel Committee in Norway for "{capturing} the world's attention and giving its people hope for a better future." (NY Times)

That was at 6:00 a.m. Before noon an unlikely group including the Republican National Committee, Hamas, the Taliban, Rush Limbaugh, Iran's foreign minister, and a member of the Afghanistan parliament joined in denouncing the committee's choice. These grumblers and second guessers made the choice seem even more like the right one. The world in fact reacted as people in the time zones woke to the news of the name of the person who had won the prize. Everyone had an opinion. People in countries worldwide stepped up to microphones and expressed their congratulations. There was criticism too. Nowhere, it seemed, was the criticism greater than in the United States. Opinions ranged from saying he hasn't done enough to deserve this, to the more scurrilous. However, here  in Minnesota, Governor Tim Pawlenty said, "...the appropriate response is to say congratulations," 

The president himself was deeply moved and even echoed the sentiment that he did not deserve to "be in the company of so many transformative figures who have been honored by this prize."

Yet president Obama is a transformative figure. His presidential campaign and promise to change the way the U.S. does its business was immediately challenged by a wall of economic failure when he stepped into office. Such redoubtable giants as Alan Greenspan did not see, or said he did not see the tidal wave of pain imposed on Americans - nothing but the Great Depression had inflicted such financial hurt. The young president assessed the depth of the awfulness and set a course to prevent outright failure of the financial sector, one that would certainly affect most other countries of the world. A mortgage debacle built on a mathematical model that showed itself to be unworkable left much blood on the floor. Around the world, reverberations and echoes of the economic losses shook one economy after another.

The Nobel Committee said, "the question we have to ask is: who has done the most in the previous year to enhance peace in the world?" (NY Times). Well, in the previous year, Mr. Obama was running for president. As he crisscrossed the U.S. new voices came forward. People from all backgrounds stepped forward to help the campaign and later many voted for the first time in a presidential election. An emotional song, written for the Texas primary told of Mr. Obama's humble beginnings, his work in Chicago, his understanding of labor and those who do physical work. Although in Spanish, the song soon captured Latino and hundreds of thousands of other voters with its charm and open-eyed fervor. 

Around the globe, echoes of the song were expressed by people who would never vote for an American president. What was the difference? What elusive moment was being captured? It was trust and hope that the future was going to change for the better. That's a heavy load for young shoulders. It's a heavy load for the United States that had gotten used to cowboy diplomacy and slapping the United Nations around in an all too familiar pattern of abuse. 

Taking the route of diplomacy, cooperation, and the path to peace is un-cowboy like but it isn't leading with the chin, either. A lot of muscle has to go into a peace effort  as it strains to prevent chaos. Congratulations, Mr. President. You have joined that good company of transformative figures.


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