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Despite Contentious Peace Prize, What Obama Has Achieved Deserves Respect

Like everyone else in the world, I was shocked to learn our president was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The news reached me relatively late in the day, when Facebook statuses began to bemoan or praise the announcement. I jumped from the Yahoo! homepage to the New York Times to Slate.com, and the news was real.

I was overjoyed, then confused, then worried, as every pundit and human with Internet access asked the inevitable question: Does Barack Obama deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?

Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t—regardless, he has already won it.

Most seem to agree that the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Obama as an unsubtle jab to the Bush administration. The prize isn’t really for him, but the United States as a whole; it’s a symbolic gesture, a welcome back to the world stage after eight years of buffoonery.

However, the actual reasoning behind his win was for fostering an encouraging atmosphere of respect and global dialogue, or, as the Nobel Peace Prize Committee announced, “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

The consensus among many—even those who support Obama—believe the honor was immature, that he has barely been in office a year and hasn’t achieved anything of merit. Even the president was shocked and humbled, and he accepts the award as a call to action.

Naysayers would say: sure, he’s made pretty speeches and plenty of promises, but he still has to resolve the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, repair a still rocky economy and fix the health care system among other issues his administration must address.

Unfortunately, people love (and hate) the idea of Obama, the idealized figure that everyone hopes will save the world, instead of the politician maintaining a government whose credibility was tarnished, seemingly, beyond repair—in other words, the human being.

When he won the election a year ago, my biggest fear was everyone would look to him as a miracle worker who would solve all the world’s problems. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who bought into that idea. He’s not going to fix everything in a year or four; he’ll be lucky if he tackles a handful of these issues in his first term.

When people think change, they think ending wars and reviving the economy. Both are major, complicated obstacles and the road will not be smooth. People expect him to restore stability, to take care of the global issues, to the point they underestimate what he has done in his short time in office.

In many countries, he’s resuscitated this nation’s reputation. He’s restored dignity and grace to an office and country that was perceived as self-righteous and self-absorbed for the past eight years, which is partially the reason I voted for him.

He’s shifted focus to global dialogue rather than war. Simply being open to diplomacy is a commendable gesture. His openness is part of his reconciliatory approach of bridging divides rather than agitating them.

In March, he overturned a Bush policy limiting federal funding for stem cell research in the hopes of exploring their medical potential. The federal government’s presence on the Internet has increased, bringing the government closer to the people.

He’s a champion for racial harmony and, despite growing frustration within the gay and lesbian community; I feel that he supports gay rights and the LGBT community. At least, under this administration I feel less like a creature to be ignored or a political scapegoat.

He may not have solved the issue of nuclear proliferation or stabilized the Middle East, but his achievements thus far shouldn’t be ignored. They may not be enough in the eyes of many to earn a Nobel Peace Prize, but only time will tell whether or not he truly earned the prize.

Derrick Austin can be reached at daustin@ut.edu.

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