Yesterday, President Barack Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. We turned for comment on the President's lecture to Mary Frances Berry, the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania and the former chairwoman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Berry is the co-editor (with former Clinton speechwriter Josh Gottheimer) of a forthcoming Beacon Press book about the speeches of Barack Obama.
The Nobel Lecture was an admixture of persuasive rhetoric and soaring phrases, reminiscent of the campaign, and the more staid, measured cadences of his speeches during the presidency. At the beginning, he gave the usual nod to New England antislavery minister Theodore Parker, as quoted by Martin Luther King, to bending history toward justice. As befits a war President, about half the speech was about war. Even more space was devoted to war, if one counts the peace discussion, which was mostly about avoiding the need for war.
The president, further rid himself of any need to apologize for accepting the Peace prize while accelerating War, by noting that Norway is one of the nations engaged in Afghanistan.
There were many obvious shadings and omissions. He directly embraced the protestors in Iran and fighters for human rights around the world. Darfur and Congo received a mention but the humanitarian crises proceed as severely there or more than when he was inaugurated. Also, his praise for political participation ignored the United States support for the coup and ejection of a democratically elected president in Honduras, which makes one wonder whether to expect coups elsewhere in Latin America.
Obama's Nobel Peace Prize Speech December 10, 2009 (Part 1 of 4)