In a stunning turn of events, the world awakened Friday morning to the news that President Barack Obama has won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. Just nine months in office and only the third sitting U.S. president to win the award, he was nominated within days after the inauguration.
It’s an extraordinary feat for a number of reasons, but what stands out the most is the way in which it has united the American public—friends of the president and foes, alike—in their standard reaction: Why?
According to a release issued by the Nobel Committee, Obama was chosen for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” It also cited his “vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.”
In brief remarks delivered from the Rose Garden, the president expressed both surprise and acknowledgement that the committee is in essence recognizing aspiration over achievement.
“Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations,” he said. Obama also said he doesn’t deserve to join the transformative men and women “who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.”
Yet, his own ability to inspire a nation to elect its first black president and choose change last November, as well as what critics have disparagingly called his “star power,” contributed to the win. The committee said it’s very rare that a person can capture the world’s attention and give people hope for a better future as Obama has. Is that enough?