Letter From New York, October 12, 2009

Or, as it seems to me…

Last Friday, as on most days, I was awakened by the sound of NPR. I had been in a heavy sleep, deeply tired from having awakened at oh dark hundred the day before to catch the early train into the city. The announcer was telling the world that the Nobel Peace Prize had gone to President Barak Obama. I rolled over and buried my head under a pillow, not wanting to get up and wondering how Barak Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize had worked itself into my dream state, as I was sure that Obama and the Peace Prize were part of a very confused dream I was having.

However, it wasn’t a dream – Barak Obama had, indeed, been awarded the Nobel Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons. Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics.” [Announcement of the Norwegian Nobel Committee] I was stunned as I sipped my first cup of coffee of the day, wondering what had caused the Nobel Committee to make this choice? It didn’t seem like he had done anything to deserve this award at this time, even taking in the words of the Committee. Everyone I spoke with seemed perplexed, including friends who are ardent Obama supporters.

Even Obama himself seemed puzzled.

As the weekend progressed, it seemed to me that Obama was awarded both for his aspirations and his attitudes while at the same time the Norwegian Nobel Committee was also rewarding the United States for electing someone who had changed the American dialogue with the world from the bumptious, fractious tone of the Bush era to something more… and here I get stuck for words. Under Obama the tone of American diplomacy has been, well, diplomatic. It has also left doors open as opposed to unilaterally closing them. Whether diplomacy will accomplish something is still to be seen. However, we, at least, aren’t alienating most of the world and most of our allies simply by opening our mouth.

The Nobel Prize to Obama has set off a maelstrom among political pundits giving conservatives an opening to ridicule the President. Senator McCain was thankfully muted, simply proffering congratulations. As puzzling as the award may be, the vitriol with which it has been greeted on the right is, unfortunately, not unexpected. Deeply saddening was an article this week reporting that threats against Obama’s life are occurring thirty times more frequently than they did for his predecessor. This fact reflects badly upon us, a counterpoint to what the Norwegian Nobel Committee seemed to be praising us for – the election of a man of color with diplomatic tendencies who chooses words designed to bridge rather than divide, someone who has reflected hope on many levels on the world stage upon which he acts.

Also happening this weekend was a march on Washington by Gays and Lesbians, a National Equality March, highlighting the desires of the LGBT [Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgendered] Community to have full “full Federal equality” including the right to marry and to serve openly in the military. On Saturday night, Obama pledged to end the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy to thunderous approval of the crowds at a Human Rights Campaign even though the President took it on the chin on Sunday morning from some gay activists for not having set a timetable. Within the gay community there has been division over whether energy should have been spent on such a march when so much is happening and needs attending in states like Maine and Washington where important issues will be faced at the ballot box next month.

I am not sure whether energy should be focused at the state or federal level. However, what remains amazing to me is that energy is being focused on both those levels on issues I did not think I would see addressed in my lifetime any more than I thought I would live to see an African–American President.

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