Reactions to Obama’s Nobel speech yesterday were remarkably consistent across the political spectrum, and there were two points on which virtually everyone seemed to agree: (1) it was the most explicitly pro-war speech ever delivered by anyone while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize; and (2) it was the most comprehensive expression of Obama’s foreign policy principles since he became President. I don’t think he can be blamed for the first fact; when the Nobel Committee chose him despite his waging two wars and escalating one, it essentially forced on him the bizarre circumstance of using his acceptance speech to defend the wars he’s fighting. What else could he do? Ignore the wars? Repent?
Much of the liberal praise for Obama’s speech yesterday focused on how eloquent, sophisticated, nuanced, complex, philosophical, contemplative and intellectual it was. And, looked at a certain way, it was all of those things — like so many Obama speeches are. After eight years of enduring a President who spoke in simplistic Manichean imperatives and bullying decrees, many liberals are understandably joyous over having a President who uses their language and the rhetorical approach that resonates with them.
But that’s the real danger. Obama puts a pretty, intellectual, liberal face on some ugly and decidedly illiberal polices. Just as George Bush’s Christian-based moralizing let conservatives feel good about America regardless of what it does, Obama’s complex and elegiac rhetoric lets many liberals do the same. To red state Republicans, war and its accompanying instruments (secrecy, executive power, indefinite detention) felt so good and right when justified by swaggering, unapologetic toughness and divinely-mandated purpose; to blue state Democrats, all of that feels just as good when justified by academic meditations on “just war” doctrine and when accompanied by poetic expressions of sorrow and reluctance. When you combine the two rhetorical approaches, what you get is what you saw yesterday: a bipartisan embrace of the same policies and ideologies among people with supposedly irreconcilable views of the world. [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — “I don’t think he can be blamed for the first fact; when the Nobel Committee chose him despite his waging two wars and escalating one, it essentially forced on him the bizarre circumstance of using his acceptance speech to defend the wars he’s fighting. What else could he do? Ignore the wars? Repent?”
Obama wasn’t forced into this situation. He could with dignity and humility have said that he was deeply honored to have been selected but that he must decline the award. That would have earned him far more respect.