On Friday, President Obama released a statement about the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. It comes from the Office of the Press Secretary, and to put it mildly it is not one of the White House’s best efforts.
The three-paragraph statement begins by reminding everyone that President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, notes that the award has been “claimed by giants of history and courageous advocates who have sacrificed for freedom and justice,” and then modestly states that Liu Xiaobo is “far more deserving of this award” than the President was. The statement notes, in its last paragraph, that “Mr. Liu reminds us that human dignity also depends upon the advance of democracy, open society, and the rule of law” and that the “values he espouses are universal, his struggle is peaceful, and he should be released as soon as possible.”
I don’t for a minute believe that President Obama had anything to do with crafting this statement or even saw it before it was released. He is much too savvy a politician to write a statement that plays directly into a persistent theme of his opponents — namely, that the President is arrogant, egotistical, and mostly interested in himself. There was no need for the President to remind people that he won the Nobel Peace Prize last year; that context could be provided by the news media in case anyone has forgotten. Nor should the President unthinkingly be placing himself among purported “giants of history and courageous advocates who have sacrificed for freedom and justice.”
This is a situation where the President needs to rely on his staff. In this instance his staff clearly let him down, and he has sustained a self-inflicted wound as a result. I would guess that the statement was written by some junior speechwriter who thought, wrongly, that it would be a good idea to give a currently embattled President some props for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. But wasn’t this statement read by Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, or some other more senior White House aide? Or do they think the American people want a President who reminds them of his receipt of an award that many thought was awarded as a political statement rather than on merit, when he should, instead, be focusing exclusively on the specific activities of the courageous activist who has been awarded the Peace Prize this year for work that has nothing whatsoever to do with President Obama?