Monday, October 12, 2009


Nobel Pile-On

The old conventional wisdom: Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it.

The new conventional wisdom: Be careful of what you never-in-a-million-years-thought-you-might-get; it just might cause you unending headaches.

Last week's awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama had the unusual effect of uniting the American political class in universally declaring that the award was premature -- at best. While conservatives largely unleashed mockery and venom, the left hardly rose up in defense of the award. On the contrary, some were so puzzled that they were forced to try to explain the award giving process; but with the notable exception of Democratic elected leaders, the awarding gave the left the opportunity to note the aspects of its agenda that had yet to be completed. Like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, for example. While not specifically attached to issues of global peace, Obama nonetheless was also forced to play defense over the weekend on another level: At the Human Rights Campaign Fund annual dinner, Obama renewed his promise to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy governing gays in the military -- an issue along with gay marriage that was the point of a march on Washington this Sunday.

Meanwhile, one week after it's "Not Done" skit went immediately viral, "Saturday Night Live" was back at it again this weekend with another skit that mocked Obama -- this time with Fred Armisen-as-Obama declaring that he won it because, "I'm not George Bush." SNL also likened Obama getting the award as comparable to winning the Powerball lottery. The opening skit also got in a dig at Obama's economic advisers, who he was going to ask how he should invest his winnings. After all, "Obama" said, "Those guys do not make mistakes." Ouch.

Of course, when Obama does make a final decision on Afghanistan, the Nobel will continue to haunt him, one way or another: If he increases troops, those on the left will say that he has betrayed the hopes and optimism that the Nobel Committee had invested in him. On the other hand, a failure to increase troops -- i.e., ignore the suggestions of Stanley McChrystal, his commander in the field -- will give the right a talking point that will be used well into the 2010 mid-terms: Barack Obama loves basking in the love and adulation of the global elite -- to the detriment of U.S. national interests. Politically, it becomes a no-win for the prize winner.

Ironically, however, there is one way that the Nobe farce may be used to the White House's advantage on the domestic front. Watch the pivot: While the focus remains on things the president hasn't done and an Afghanistan decision not yet made, at some point during this week, the political class will wake to the fact that the Baucus bill is going to be voted out of the Senate Finance Committee (possibly as soon as Tuesday). That means that the reports of the death of the president's primary domestic agenda item -- a health care bill -- may just have been exaggerated.

Like it or not, individuals of all ideological backgrounds will soon be forced to concede that this president is right now far closer to passing a near-universal health care reform bill than anyone of his predecessors. Despite all the heat and fury of the past summer (town hall meetings and so forth), an issue that has bedeviled Democratic presidents since at least Harry Truman is going to be closer to reality. A president that is currently roundly criticized as being unduly praised and flattered for little accomplishment will suddenly have a rather significant political and policy success to display.

That will be far more significant and long-lasting than the weekend headaches brought on by an unrequested Nobel Peace Prize.

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