Well, Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. Ten days into his administration, he was nominated. Not even months later, he wins. And for… what, precisely?
That’s what it all boils down to. He won it not for anything he did — because that list is humiliatingly short — but because of what he has said.
Oh, and a bit for who and what he is, too.
As astonishing as it was to most everyone (even his most ardent supporters), it is of a piece with so much of his life. I don’t recall ever knowing of anyone with such an extensive list of achievements, and such a slender record of accomplishments.
The distinction is tremendous. Obama had a remarkable rise in politics, only losing one election in his entire life, and overcoming tremendous odds all along the way. He has achieved so much, so quickly.
But what has he accomplished? What has each of those victories done, besides set the stage for his next victory? What great deeds can he point to and say “that is where I left my mark, that is the place where I made a difference, these are the people whose lives I bettered?”
As troubling as this is, it bodes even worse for the future.
What will be Obama’s legacy? What will he leave behind to future generations? Or will he be content to be known not for what he did, but who and what he was?
For example, Jack Kennedy was the first Catholic to become president, and Ronald Reagan the first divorced man. But those are hardly the things for which they are remembered for their turns in the Oval Office. Indeed, they are usually far down the list in discussions of their presidencies.
What will history say about Obama, apart from “the first black man elected president?” I suspect that the elaboration of that will be as empty as the justifications given by the Nobel Prize Committee for giving him the Peace Prize.
Back when he and the First Lady were lobbying for the Olympics, I was struck by one element of Obama’s appeal: he spoke of how proud he would be to attend the games in the waning days of his second term.
We are still well short of the first year of his current four-year term. But here he was, speaking in a matter-of-fact way that he would serve out a complete term, be re-elected in 2012, and serve out the majority of that second term to see the 2016 Games.
And from there, it’s just a short step to consider January 21, 2017 — the day that we can be certain that Barack Obama will no longer be our president.
When that date occurs, Obama will be 55 years old. And while I’m no actuarial expert, I feel comfortable predicting that he will, in all likelihood, have another 30 years of life ahead of him — ex-presidents seem to have a remarkable lifespan. Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan lived to 93, Richard Nixon to 81. Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush are both 85, and neither seems to be in any rush to pass on.
What the hell will he do then?
For most of our history, former presidents were content to quietly fade into the woodwork. Oh, there were a couple of examples — John Quincy Adams becoming a firebrand in the US House of Representatives, William Taft becoming the only man to ever head both the Executive and Judiciary branches of the government by serving as Supreme Court Chief Justice — but for the most part, ex-presidents just strolled off into the sunset.
Jimmy Carter followed that model at first, but later became quite active in various causes — and became a minor pain in the ass to two of his successors. Bill Clinton, who also was relatively young when he left office (54), quickly discovered he missed the limelight and started getting his name back in the headlines again.
What will Former President Obama do in his retirement?
I suspect that he’ll continue to do pretty much what he’s done all his life: talk a lot, do very little.
Oh, and continue to collect awards and honors and praises for his policy of being “all talk and no action.”