A few years ago, I was selected to be on the Board of the Lehi Area Chamber of Commerce. I sat on the Board for a year, spent a year as Vice Chair, then a year as Chairman of the Board.
Along about the same time I was elected President Elect Nominee of the Lehi Rotary Club. In due time I became the President, then spent a year on the Board as the Vice-President.
Also at roughly the same time I was elected Legislative District Chair for Utah’s Legislative District 56, in which post I served two years.
At the end of this, as I was stepping down from my last of these positions, I had a conversation with my wife about the things I was proud of having done, the honors I was proud of having gotten, and I told her that of all the things I had done and been over the last few years, the one I was most proud of was not being President of This or Chairman of That, but my selection as Journalist of the Decade for the Canadian Baseball League.
This bears somewhat on President Barack Obama’s being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. For the uninitiated, the Prize is awarded by five Norwegians, three of them rather leftist, and two of them “centrist”, at least as the Europeans measure such things. Apparently the award was made unanimously. I don’t know; I wasn’t there.
But I do know something about awards. Little ones; I’m not so vain or naïve to think that my little service is anything like as important as the Presidency or the Nobel Peace Prize. Still, awards and elections come in two flavors, no matter how big they are.
No doubt – and I’m not asserting any different – being President of the Rotary Club or the Chamber of Commerce is much more important than being Journalist of the Decade for a simulated baseball league. But I wasn’t proud of being elected to be President of those organizations, because they came in flavor #1. Flavor #1 is “let’s elect him, he looks willing enough.” I was elected to those positions not because people respected me or loved me, but because there was work to do and I was willing to do it. Which meant, in turn, that the electors didn’t have to. That was what the Presidency was, once. There has to be a President, and I’m grateful I don’t have to be him. Obama wants the job, great, let him have it. Being the leader of a service club is like that, in that it is routinely more about being willing than about being popular, or even capable. I know firsthand.
But in the midst of all that work, I was given an award that was flavor #2: an acknowledgement that you did something really, really well. That meant a great deal to me. Nobody wanted anything from me when they gave me that award, I was voted by my peers and competitors and I earned it because I wrote really good stories. It was not so much an a-ward as a re-ward. And the Nobel Peace Prize used to be that kind of thing.
Last week, though, it seems to me that we completed a fascinating re-tasking of both the Presidency and the Peace Prize, in that each has now become the opposite flavor from what was the original intent. President Obama is president as a reward for being someone other than George Bush, John McCain, or Hillary Clinton. For generations, now, the presidency has morphed from a job you had to be crazy to want, to a job worth doing almost anything to get, from a job that began a journey, to a job that is a destination. You can be proud of being elected President, because it’s a reward for your willingness to endure a hellish process long enough to get the office, and you really don’t have to do anything at all once you’re installed.
And the Nobel Peace Prize? Well, by the awarders’ own admission, it is now not an acknowledgement of service rendered, but a bribe for future favors. It cannot possibly be given to President Obama based on any standard of achievement; he has no achievements of any stature. It is much like my election as President of the Rotary Club; the awarders are saying here, we’ll give you this, now go and do what we want done.
It diminishes both office and award to be bestowed so far from their original intent.
P.S. My advice to President Obama is to refuse the award (he can’t do this with nearly as great effect now, but last Friday he could have). Call a press conference and say, “I’m not going to accept an award I haven’t earned. I’ve been President less than one year, during which I’ve started a lot of things, but finished nothing. If you want to consider me for this honor, call me in 2016, and we’ll see what qualifications I have then.”
All parties, of whatever stripe, would have admired that move and it might have signaled the end of Kiddie Hour on the international stage. Alas.