Congratulations to President Barack Obama, recipient of the 89th Nobel Prize for Peace, as well as the fourth Nobel Prize for Not Being George W. Bush.
The NPFNBGWB was first established in 2002, when the Nobel Committee awarded its Peace Prize to former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, ostensibly for monitoring elections in far-flung hellholes, but really for being the most prominent American critic of then President Bush's buildup to a war in Iraq. The NPFNBGWB returned after a short hiatus in 2005, when the prize went to the International Atomic Energy Agency and Mohamed ElBaradei for refusing to confirm the existence of Saddam Hussein's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction before the war in Iraq in other words, for standing up to Bush. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change probably deserved the Nobel in 2007 for spreading the word about global warming, but the committee wouldn't have dreamed of adding former Democratic Vice President (and almost President) Al Gore if it hadn't wanted to contrast his advocacy with Bush's climate denial.
Apparently, it wasn't enough for the Nobel Committee to swerve off the road to run over Bush once, then back up to run him over twice more. Even though the official representative of Ugly American culture and cowboy diplomacy has remained graciously silent in retirement, the committee decided to stick it to him one more time by choosing his newly minted successor, who has been in office for only nine months but has made some of the right noises about rejecting some of his global policies. There will of course be some bogus cover story about Obama's vision for nuclear disarmament and Middle East peace and climate change, but the anti-Bush message couldn't have been clearer if the Nobel had gone to Keith Olbermann.
This ill-concealed crusade is clearly damaging the prestige of the Nobel; the winners are supposed to be honored for their achievements, not for symbolizing the committee's grudges. And it probably won't do Obama any favors; he wants to be a leader, not a symbol, and honoring him for his rhetoric about a new American approach to diplomacy only reinforces the meme of his critics that he's merely a man of rhetoric.
It's possible, though, that the committee may have done Obama one favor: the prize may remind him that the person most responsible for his employment status today is George W. Bush. Obama ran a good campaign, sure, but he resonated with Democrats and then with other Americans because he looked and sounded and acted like change. And while the Nobel crowd's fury over Bush may be over the top, it's a reminder that he was a uniquely unpopular leader who left the U.S. in a uniquely lousy situation. Obama was never more popular than he was when he was running against Bush.
Now that he is President, Obama is forced to defend massive deficits, a big-government stimulus, onerous financial regulations, a mess in Afghanistan. He's been increasingly reluctant to play the Bush card, the we-got-left-a-mess card, the things-would-be-a-lot-worse-if-we-hadn't-acted card. But it's a good card! And it's true. In foreign affairs, the U.S. doesn't need to be loved, but it is nice to be less hated for a change, and Republican leaders have attacked Obama for every deviation (however slight) from the Bush approach on torture, on Guantánamo, on Iraq, on talking to thugs and even shaking their hands.
It's a point Obama should make more often. And he might want to add that a return to the Republican approach could win Daily Kos a Nobel Prize.