A Prize Too Far

The Daily Beast's award-winning columnist delivers a message from President Obama to the Nobel committee: Thanks, but no thanks.

12 PM October 10, 2009



I have just notified the Nobel Peace Prize Committee that upon due consideration, I have decided to decline the great honor they have presented me and therefore will not be going to Oslo in December.

I explained to them, I hope convincingly, that I should have done this yesterday, after the award was announced. But to be honest, I was in a state of shock and not thinking clearly. A president of the United States must be prepared for any news, any time someone walks through the door. But being told that I had won the Nobel Peace Prize was simply not on what the national-security folks call “the Threat Board,” a mere eight months into my term of office. In retrospect, it was a very “teachable moment,” and one I hope to have learned from.

I don’t know the Norwegian words for “Let’s get real,” but I tried earnestly to convey in plain English that awarding me the Nobel Peace Prize opens the committee itself to the charge that it dispenses its gold promiscuously.

I don’t know the Norwegian words for “Let’s get real,” but I tried earnestly to convey in plain English that awarding me the Nobel Peace Prize, at this stage of my presidency, opens the committee itself to the charge that it dispenses its gold promiscuously, without regard to actual accomplishment. To give the award to Albert Schweitzer, or Nelson Mandela or Desmond Tutu or Lech Walesa or Andrei Sakharov is one thing. To give it to me is, well, another. To put it in very blunt terms, it is hard for me to believe otherwise than that I have been presented this award for not being my predecessor.

Someone yesterday commented that it’s as if the actual intended recipient of the award is those American voters who elected me last November. I have the audacity to hope that those voters would feel, as I do, that they do not need to be thanked, much less awarded by a committee of five somewhat faceless Norwegians for simply voting their convictions. That said, I know that all Americans have the warmest feeling toward our Norwegian friends. Keep that salmon coming!

Obama Won What?!: Daily Beast Contributors Weigh In Tom Lehrer, a great American satirist, mischievously said that he was going to give up satire now that Henry Kissinger had won the Nobel Prize. He was joking of course; sort of. But I feel that were I to accept the award, it would ultimately debase the coinage of the medal.

This is no false modesty. I have tried, in my very short time in office, to act in a manner worthy of a leader of a great nation. In my inaugural address, I held out America’s hand to all the world, friend and foe, saying that the handshake was offered in good faith, but not unconditionally. I have dealt to the best of my ability with such crises and threats, both inherited and new, as have come my way. I am at this moment engaged in the humbling task of trying to devise a correct strategy in Afghanistan. I have not risen to bait tossed at me by international toads and gangsters like President Ahmadinejad and the grotesquely coiffed King Jong-Il. I have even shaken Hugo Chavez’s fat, clammy hand at the U.N. I am on the case, working for peace, as best I can.

But we are still in the first quarter of this game, and to accept this award would be to declare a kind of victory, and that, in my view, would be be inappropriate, presumptuous, and tempting karma.

So, to the Nobel committee I say, in all humility, hold the gold and check back with me in say three years.

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Meantime, takk fir mal. Or as we say in America, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Christopher Buckley's books include Supreme Courtship, The White House Mess, Thank You for Smoking, Little Green Men, and Florence of Arabia. He was chief speechwriter for Vice President George H.W. Bush, and is editor-at-large of ForbesLife magazine. His new book is Losing Mum and Pup, a memoir. Buckley's Daily Beast column is the winner of an Online News Association award in the category of Online Commentary.