President Obama's selection for the Nobel Prize, announced this morning, caught many by surprise, but can he live up to it?
Think back. Of all the presidential candidates ever to rise on the world stage, few appeared more attuned to our highest spiritual values than Barack Hussein Obama, at least on the surface.
So many acts his first ten months in office appear to bolster that sensibility. Appointing proven peace envoys to trouble spots. Ending misguided efforts to place missiles in Central Europe, publicly deploring, if not quite closing Guantanamo, meeting and amiably greeting potential foes in public forums, renewing dialogues with Iran and North Korea, bolstering the Freedom of Information Act, allowing healthcare clinics to re-open around the world, declaring that human rights of Palestinians must be honored, that a nuke-free Korean peninsula is optimum, that findings of science must be respected, that the world must begin eliminating nukes, acknowledging the reality of global warming and taking sane, if modest, steps to do something about it. He pushed bills to bail out Main Street and your street.
Still, critics point out, aerial drone attacks continue in Pakistan, and the principle if not the act of sending terror suspects to black box prisons through the practice of "special renditions" remains in place. Guantanamo isn't going to be shut down soon.
So… is this peace prize premature? Perhaps. But in a world whose existence has been put at risk by the darkness inside our own hearts, Obama had better be prepared to live up to it.
False prophets led us to the abyss we find ourselves trying to crawl out of, mostly by pointing fingers at alleged shortcomings of others as the source of all our troubles. The result was ill-advised invasions, torture, deregulation, military budgets that grew insanely, politics of personal destruction, waste, corruption, assaults on personal liberties, the Constitution, economic disarray, undermined treaties and a net increase in greenhouse gasses.
To acknowledge we'd lost our way under Cheney-Bush, marching off in every direction with drums pounding, violins skirling and banners flying, is to acknowledge the need we had and still have for salvation. Civilization hangs by a thread. One false move and we risk unimaginable destruction. Business as usual, politics as usual, will not save us. Pandering, blaming others, drawing down dwindling resources, building fierce new weapons and marching off against imagined enemies are luxuries we can no longer afford.
Of all the presidential candidates I'd ever witnessed, candidate Obama's message was the most hopeful so far.
It was about healing. Reaching out. Uniting tribes.
Accused of hatemongering by association with the Rev. Wright, he elevated the conversation. Accused of radicalism by association with William Ayers, he turned the other cheek, refusing to make much of McCain's own radical associations.
Such signs long back prompted many, myself included, to gush: "Please, embrace this sane, rational and decent man."
Looking back across the landscape of his sojourn, Obama's made a history of pouring oil on troubled waters.
As teachers from Jesus to Machiavelli noted, there's wisdom in hugging opponents close by.
A dinner for his biggest opponent, John McCain, on the eve of the inauguration? Unprecdented.
A place in the administration for chief rivals Hillary, Biden and others? Outside the political norm.
Gathering both a fundamentalist minister and a gay bishop into inauguration festivities? Unheard of.
It's undeniable that Obama's made progress in his first nine months in office. Unnecessary new wars, the deliberate cruelty of torture, unbridled greed, destruction of communities, prejudice against gays and immigrants, the urge so prevalent within the human heart to scapegoat and demonize.
All these have been lessened.
And he's opposed nuclear proliferation and other forces that endanger the whole earth.
I'm aligned with those who hope and believe that because Obama's of the Whole Earth generation that he's attuned to this existential moment. Obama grew up with the Earth as ubiquitous icon. He grew up electronically connected and therefore exposed to the promise of a more inter-connected world. He spent time at elite universities but also on the streets driving broken down cars. He took a magical mystery tour as he sought to understand his own mythic family, his own identity. Along the way, he forged a new politics.
His message of peace, hope and community springs from this journey, this seeking, this essence that is Barack Hussein Obama. At last he can proclaim his full name. It's part of a message that recognizes the dignity of others and a world community we must work to save, lest it fall into the abyss that yawns inside each human heart.
His challenges are legion, and the jury is out as his first year in office winds down. The Noble committee just raised the stakes.
Obama as peacemaker? He'd better be. Else we are lost.