Acknowledging Obama & the Next Generations

Obama NobelPassing some sort of metaphorical baton to the next generation (along with the key to the closet full of skeletons) is never easy. Surrendering that baton, particularly in a cultural tradition steeped with 5000 years of patriarchal pecking-order thinking can feel very uncomfortable. In many of those old stories, still hanging around somehow in the cultural zeitgeist, the “old man” only surrenders power to his son on his death bed. And then there are all those embarrassing skeletons.

So on the occasion of the announcement of his Nobel Peace Prize, I would like to acknowledge Barak Obama, America’s first Generation X president, and all the other members of that generation and Generation Y (including my own kids) behind it. Obama mobilized his peers and my own kids’ peers (their friend Justin worked as an organizer for Obama during the campaign) to earn a spot at the table of world leaders as they collectively face the challenges of this new century and perhaps an entirely new era (given of course that these things are invented abstractions) in world history.

During the 2008 U.S. presidential primary campaign, I was a big Hillary Clinton supporter, given my feminist pedigree and channeling my mom (who died in 2006 and did not live to see Hillary run) and my “Feminist Aunts”. I remember sitting around our kitchen table during the campaign (which was where, just like in my own adolescence, most of the family philosophical, religious and political discussions happened) discussing with our son Eric about Clinton and Obama.

Eric, ever diplomatic but also always the advocate for his own considered position, acknowledged the feminist trajectory that Clinton personified, launched in the seeds of the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1982 and the effort by Eleanor Smeal and others to get women to run for public office in large numbers. But then, with great eloquence not unlike what Obama can muster in one of his speeches, Eric went on to explain that he was supporting Obama because he represented what Eric saw as a needed shift from the Baby Boomers (my generation) sucking all the oxygen out of the national and world dialogue. It was not the patriarchal passing the baton thing (that I started with at the top of this piece), but the more pressing need, in a more partnership paradigm, for us Boomers to share the table with the younger generations. Eric also threw in, that if Hillary won it would be Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton, and that was way too dynastic for him.

So Obama went on to win the nomination and later the presidency, not only because of the energy of a new generation and his Kennedyesque appeal, but because of the legacy of those skeletons that the previous (and prior) administration had been associated with. The collapse of a house of cards economy dependent on people buying things they did not need and featuring a financial industry ginning up investments to take their cut without adding much if any value. The ongoing no-win wars in not one but two countries poisoning many of our relationships around the world. A country caught up in “I win, you lose” politics that would make it that much more difficult to come to a political consensus on un-dealt-with national issues like healthcare reform.

There has been a fair amount of negative reaction to giving Obama the award, some believing it premature and yet undeserved. I understand that concern, but I think the award is appropriate based on what Alfred Nobel had intended in his will in making the endowment for these ongoing acknowledgments.

Nobel was a chemist, an armaments maker, and the inventor of dynamite, which was a boon to construction and mining. But his efforts and inventions also led to the creation of highly effective (that is killing more people) naval mines in his day and led to new generations of deadly anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons, after his death, used by both sides in World War II. So perhaps like Carnegie and others in the U.S., trying to assuage posterity from some of the carnage associated with his efforts, Nobel created an endowment which according to his will (from Wikipedia)…

…shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.

The five annual prizes, which have become perhaps the most prestigious in the world, included a “Peace Prize”…

…to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.

The prize award is decided by a five-member committee elected by the Norwegian parliament and their agenda based on Nobel’s will is to acknowledge current work (within the past year) for peace and, based on past winners, to hopefully enhance and encourage that process. I think that latter agenda is an important part of giving the award to Obama.

Critics argue that Obama doesn’t deserve to “win”, he has not done enough, but again I think we need to get away from this framing of so much of our political landscape as contests with winners and losers. We need to reframe our politics as a process of working out a “consensus of the possible”, and the Nobel Peace Prize award to Obama should be seen in that light. Obama and his supporters, in their successful campaign for the U.S. presidency, and the rhetoric of conciliation it included, have already made a paradigm shift in world dialogue from the antagonistic framing of “us and them” of the Bush administration and its Neo-Con backers.

Despite the new century, the mostly Baby Boomer world leaders seemed incapable of breaking through that “us and them” framing legacy of the Cold War rekindled by the events of 9/11/2001 and the subsequent “War on Terror”. Obama’s campaign challenged that framing, and the Nobel award is an attempt to help keep that effort from losing steam.

I have just spoken briefly to my son Eric, and he indicated that he wanted to sit down with me later today (most likely at our kitchen table) because he has a lot of thoughts he wants to share with me about the ramifications of the Nobel award. I look forward to that discussion, and feel blessed that my kids have that kind of relationship with me that they would want to share their thoughts on the great issues of the day.

2 replies on “Acknowledging Obama & the Next Generations”

  1. Come on….you think that a man that just become to be the president of the US, and didn’t do anything physical to move things, don’t have anything on this resume about peace…he need to get nobel???

  2. Emma… To be honest I was shocked that he got the award and would have never have thought, if asked, that he was even a top candidate this year. I think maybe his award reflects on the few efforts going on anywhere right now towards world peace. None of their other top candidates were people I had even heard of and I follow the news pretty closely.

    It was a unanimous vote by the five-member committee, made up I am told of one left, two center-left, one center-right and one right member. Maybe it would have been a more accepted choice if they had waited a couple years for this new tone that Obama is trying to bring to the world stage to play out some.

    But from some of the other recent Nobel Peace Prize picks, the current committee seems to be using the award to jump start an emerging effort or trend to help it get going rather than acknowledge a done deal.

    Maybe also, we Americans do not see how negatively the presidency of George W. Bush impacted the world, particularly Europe and what a complete breath of fresh air and paradigm shift that Obama represents or at least seems to represent. There is no other leader on the world stage that is coming close to his vision for changing the dynamic from conflict and confrontation to negotiation and compromise.

    Your thoughts? Maybe your pick for who should have gotten it instead?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *