For 1998 a silly comedy, Shakespeare in Love, won the Academy Award for Best Picture over the greatest movie ever made, Saving Private Ryan. Yes, yes, I know all about dat ol’ debbil Steven Spielberg — liberal Democrat, FOB, committed to all the trendy causes, and a man possessed of not a single opinion that would offend Chris Matthews. But whenever anyone utters an unkind word about him in my presence I respond with six words: Schindler’s List, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan. Since then I have conducted a one-man boycott of the Academy Awards. I cannot tell you who won for 1999, or 2008, or who’s in the running this year.
My boycott of the Nobels for Peace has a lengthier pedigree. During my lifetime the awards to Linus Pauling and Martin Luther King, Jr., irritated me, but naming the blood-soaked Communist General Le Duc Tho as co-winner with Henry Kissinger in 1973 for the Paris Peace Accords made me gag. The General at least had the integrity to refuse his. He knew better than most that he had negotiated “a decent interval,” not peace.
Since then it’s been pretty much downhill: anti-Semites, murderous and otherwise, like Yasser Arafat and Jimmy Carter. Gorbachev, Mandela, Koffi Anan, Al “Chicken Little” Gore. The “corporate” awards are risible. The International Atomic Energy Agency has done yeoman labor in fulfilling its mandate: to inhibit the use of nuclear energy for military purposes (except in Iran).
The list is long and growing. But some mathematicians tell us that given an infinite number of monkeys, an infinite number of typewriters, and an infinite amount of time, one of those monkeys will eventually produce a letter-perfect edition of the complete works of Shakespeare. So the law of averages being what it is, the Nobel Committee now and then gets one right. Anwar Sadat paid with his life for the treaty he hammered out with his co-winner, Menachem Begin. Andrei Sakharov survived harassment, oppression, and banishment in the USSR but ultimately triumphed and lived long enough to be elected to the Duma. The day I watched him shake his forefinger in Gorbachev’s face while Gorby tried to pretend that he was looking elsewhere was my idea of a teachable moment. Rabin, Peres, Lech Walesa.
Barack Obama was inaugurated only an incredible 10 days before the February 1st deadline for Nobel nominations. There were 205 nominees, the highest total ever. He was inaugurated 261 days before his Nobel was announced. That’s not quite the duration of a normal full-term pregnancy.
What has he delivered? A lot of speeches, to be sure, so many of them on prime time TV that even his handlers have begun to worry about overexposure. During his globe-trotting apology tours he referred to Jesus as only a Muslim would (“peace be upon him”), distributed some embarrassingly cheesy gifts, Dutch-uncled our few true allies, sucked up to the likes of Hugo Chavez and, finally back home, snubbed one of the noblest men alive, the Dalai Lama, leaving him to the tender mercies of Nancy Pelosi — a move at least not calculated to make him rue his commitment to a celibate life. It is certain that Obama was told about Iran’s second “secret” reactor during his post-election in-briefings. He sat on his hands during the protest demonstrations there in June when a little encouragement to the overwhelmingly disaffected populace might have helped precipitate regime change. What then are we to make of his ululations and maneuvers since he became President? Naivete is a possibility, although its implications are more than a little scary; i.e., he just doesn’t get it. I think narcissism and hubris are more likely.
Civil War scholars have opined that Robert E. Lee’s disastrous decision to order Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, had its roots in those character flaws. The Army of Northern Virginia had done everything he asked of it, and more, for over two years, winning victory upon victory with only minor setbacks. He had begun to think of his Army, and himself, as invincible. Obama was elected to the Senate at age 43 by clobbering the hapless Alan Keyes. He was then vaulted from relative obscurity into what still is, at least for now, the most powerful elective office in the world barely four years later. Under these circumstances it should come as no surprise that a glib amateur would conclude that yes, he can.
But what are we to make of the standards of the five men behind the curtain in Oslo?
Alfred Nobel’s bequest was intended to honor “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses” [emphasis added]. “Done,” not “said.” No one can doubt that Obama’s first 10 days in office were busy, but Nobel-worthy? Even Slate observes that his award is for his speechmaking ability and the Nobel Committee, in its announcement, stated that he “had captured the world’s attention.” Huh? So did Charles Manson. Nobel did not establish a prize for rhetoric. If he had, I’d be a more deserving winner.
This is a feel-good award for a feel-good age. The President is charming, urbane, intelligent, and witty. He projects an “Aw, shucks” air of relaxation and curiosity without seeming to have just fallen off a turnip truck. But he has accomplished nothing. To elevate him to the ranks of Elie Wiesel, Mother Theresa, George Marshall, Albert Schweitzer, and the Dalai Lama himself would be a travesty if the modern Prize had any meaning beyond the publicity and the cash.
In an age with no standards other than the most superficial, a letter Whittaker Chambers wrote to William F. Buckley, Jr., almost 50 years ago comes to mind:
“That is why it is idle to talk about preventing the wreck of Western civilization. It is already a wreck from within. That is why we can hope to do little more than snatch a fingernail of a saint from the rack or a handful of ashes from the faggots, and bury them secretly in a flowerpot against the day, ages hence, when a few men begin again to dare to believe that there was once something else, that something else is thinkable, and need some evidence of what it was, and the fortifying knowledge that there were those who, at the great nightfall, took loving thought to preserve the tokens of hope and truth.”
Of course, other momentous issues plague us. For instance, are there teleprompters in Oslo?