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Book of Matthew: Overheard in the Nobel Committee room

Published: October 16, 2009
Section: Opinions

Yo, Obama: Kanye West lets Barack Obama finish his speech in editor Bret Matthew’s imagination. <br /><i>PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

Yo, Obama: Kanye West lets Barack Obama finish his speech in editor Bret Matthew’s imagination. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY Max Shay/The Hoot

With all the commotion surrounding the decision to award President Obama with the Nobel Peace Prize, I can only imagine how that decision was made…

At a meeting of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo, Norway:

The portrait of Alfred Nobel occupied a prominent position high on the wall of the Norwegian Nobel Committee room. Not that the committee members paid it much attention, of course.

Tasked with debating the various merits of candidates for one of the world’s most prestigious awards, they had found that hopelessly staring into the eyes of its namesake—though calming—did little to help the decision process.

Despite being all but ignored by his followers, Nobel’s fixed, oil paint stare gazed out upon the room. One might say that he was watching over the committee members, as if ensuring that they treat his name—and his prize—with proper care.

If one were to look at the painting from a certain angle, one might also say that Nobel’s face looked a bit confused.

Thorbjørn Jagland, the committee chairman, sat in a straight-backed armchair directly below the painting. He wore a confused expression as well, although this was apparent from all viewing angles. He seemed to be pondering something, his mind searching for the right words.

“Barack Obama, you said?”

Sissel Rønbeck, one of the committee members, nodded. “Yes. I think it should be Barack Obama.”

Jagland’s look of confusion did not subside. He surveyed the room and saw all the other committee members nodding their heads in agreement. “Why?” he asked. “His nomination was almost a formality. It happened days after the election. He’s only had nine months to work. What could he possibly have done in that time?”

“Have you been following American television news, Thorbjørn?” asked Inger-Marie Ytterhorn.

“Yes, I have.”

“I can tell.” She barely hid her smirk. “Those Americans are like attack dogs when you put them in front of a camera. Foxes, even. No wonder you don’t know what good the man has done. They won’t tell you.”

She reached into her handbag and pulled out what appeared to be an old newspaper clipping. “But in reality, there’s a lot to be told, for those who care to read about it. For example, only a few days after taking office he banned torture. Banned it entirely, after all the controversy and debate that had surrounded the issue for so many years. And then he ordered the closure of that awful prison in Guantánamo Bay. Good first steps, no?”

“Certainly,” said Jagland. “But as you said, they are first steps. What about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? American troops still lead the occupation of both countries. How can we declare a man a great peacemaker while he wages two wars?”

Ytterhorn smiled. “You might have a point. But you forget that Mr. Obama did not start those wars. Mr. Bush did. Obama has long been a critic of war, especially the unjustified war in Iraq. In fact, if I am not mistaken, I believe he is working to draw down troop levels in Iraq as we speak. So yes, Thorbjørn, he may technically be a war leader, but he is moving in the right direction.”

“I don’t know if the ‘right direction’ is good enough,” said Jagland.

“Oh, but he’s done more,” said Kaci Kullman Five. “Just last month he ended the Eastern European missile shield program, which served no purpose other than to needlessly provoke Russia. Instead, he plans to build a smaller system that will actually protect people against real threats from Iran, not imagined ones. I think Obama is a pragmatic man who actually cares about keeping the world free of war.”

Jagland did not respond this time. He looked from one committee member to the next, as if replaying their arguments in his mind one by one.

Then Agot Valle, who had remained silent throughout the meeting, stood up. All eyes turned to her.

“Friends,” she said. “If we are to continue debating we must remember one important, simple fact. Mr. Obama is not Mr. Bush. It is an obvious fact, yes. But it is also the crux of this decision.”

She began to pace around the room, circling the table where the others sat. “I wonder, how many of you expected Mr. Obama to be elected? After eight years of Bush, how many of you thought that the Americans would simply choose another one of their cowboys to lead the world to ruin? And yet, they did not. They chose not the man who pledged to dominate the world, but the one who promised to work with it; not the man who sought to invade his neighbors, but the one who wished to speak with them.”

She reached her own seat and stopped pacing. “The people who truly deserve this prize are the Americans who decided that they were tired of having saber-rattling princes at the helm. But since we cannot give all of them the award…” She let her words hang in the air.

Jagland, who had been listening intently, looked pensive.


At the Executive Residence of the White House, Washington, D.C.:

The shrill ring of the telephone awoke President Obama with a start.

“It can’t still be 3 a.m.,” he muttered to himself. He looked up at the clock and saw a six and two zeros slowly swim into focus. He sat up and picked up the phone.


The aide on the other end sounded like he was out of breath. “Mr. President!” he shouted. “You’ve just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize!”

“Very funny.”

“This isn’t a joke, Mr. President. The call just came in from Oslo.”

“Wait…Are you sure?”

“Yes, Mr. President.”

Obama sat for a moment with his mouth slightly ajar. “I…I don’t know what to say.”

“Well sir, the press is likely going to be here soon. You may want to prepare a few remarks. Oh, by the way, there’s someone on the line who would like to speak with you. Should I put him on?”

“Go ahead.”

There was a click, and the aide’s voice was immediately replaced by the sound of thousands of screaming people. Amid the commotion, Obama could hear a voice shouting to be heard.

“Yo, President Obama,” the voice said. “I know you’re busy runnin’ the country, and Ima let you finish, but Al Gore had one of the best Nobel Peace Prize wins of all time. ONE OF THE BEST WINS OF ALL TIME!”

Obama hung up the phone.

There was no point in replying. It was going to be a long day anyway, and he didn’t need to give the press any more bait.