What Obama's Nobel Prize May Mean (Or Not)

By Jason Horowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 9, 2009; 8:55 PM

Other than to say that President Obama was "surprised," the White House has declined to discuss the details of the early Friday morning phone call during which press secretary Robert Gibbs informed Obama that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize.

The official line from Obama is that he was "surprised and deeply humbled" by the news, and that a visit from one of his daughters, who equated in momentousness the awarding of the lofty prize and her puppy's birthday, helped him put things in perspective. The immediate blowback from the Republicans, and the history of attacks calling him an undeserved celebrity -- a political Paris Hilton -- probably provided all the perspective he needed.

"Well, this is not how I expected to wake up this morning," Obama said during a morning press conference in the Rose Garden.

The president didn't demonstrate much bounce in his step on his way to the podium (Gibbs did call early, after all) and when he was done speaking about how "the elimination of nuclear weapons may not be completed in my lifetime," he turned without answering any questions.

"What did your wife say?" one reporter shouted as he walked away.

"What will you do with the money, Mr. President?" another yelled.

"If I were sitting in that White House, this is not something I would have asked for today," said one former adviser to former President Bill Clinton, who did not want to be named addressing the awkward position of the White House. "It feeds into an image that his detractors want to portray of him."

Obama, of course, is expert at capitalizing on moments of apparent awkwardness -- the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, come on down! -- and in his remarks Friday, he said, "I do not feel I deserve" to be in the company of previous winners. (That crowd includes Presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter; internationally acknowledged modern saints Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King; and in the make-of-it-what-you-will department, Yasser Arafat.) He also used the award, as its bestowers no doubt hoped, to boost the platform upon which he could advocate his agenda.

"I will accept this award as a call to action," he said.

To be sure, winning a Nobel Peace Prize is never a bad thing, though Republicans treated it as a pox brought down on the national house.

"It is unfortunate that the president's star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working toward peace and human rights," said Republican National Chairman Michael Steele. Ever since he announced his candidacy in 2007, Obama's critics, starting with then-candidates Hillary Clinton and John McCain, accused him of being an empty, if uniquely eloquent, suit.

Not everyone in the party thinks that's the way to go.

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