Awarding Obama the Nobel peace prize seems emblematic of the triumph of celebrity over substance. I’m an Obama fan, but the reality is that his achievements lie ahead of him not behind him, and you can’t help thinking that the Nobel judges were more than a little ‘previous’ in awarding the prize to a guy who hasn’t yet been in office for a whole year. A bit like winning a ‘best picture’ academy award for a film proposal. Of course, part of the decision is just a matter of ‘thank god that dangerous idiot Bush has finally gone’. But still.
Interestingly, just before the Nobel award, Robert Reich (a Clinton secretary for labor) had a general spray about the Obama administration’s apparent paralysis on domestic policy:
My friends in the Administration and on the Hill repeatedly tell me “don’t make the perfect the enemy of the better,” or words to that effect. Politics is the art of the possible, blah blah blah. True. But in each of these areas — healthcare, financial regulation, environment, and jobs — the “better” is really not that much better. Forget perfect; anything that offered real reform would suffice for now. But in every case, what should be the centerpieces of reform are being left out.
Why? Congress is overwhelmed with corporate and Wall Street lobbyists (far too many of whom are former Democratic office holders). The White House is trying best it can to push and prod in the right direction but there’s too much going on, too many arenas where private interests are framing the debate and stifling major reform, and too many friends of friends and relations of relations who are making tons of money working for the other side. The public doesn’t know what’s going on because the national media would rather report on the sexual escapades of famous people or social trends or high finance (a recent Pew study of economic reporting shows the vast majority of stories about the Great Recession have focused on Wall Street rather than Main Street). And progressives — that is, progressive organizations in our nation’s capital — have been remarkably and consistently outgunned, outmaneuvered, or just plain ineffectual. This is largely due to the fact that they’re sitting in Washington rather than organizing and mobilizing the rest of the country.
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There’s more to government than good intentions and hope, and if Obama can’t do better on foreign policy than Reich suggests he is doing domestically than the Nobel Prize will look a bit hollow in 12 and 24 months time.