The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the European Union, for six decades of work in advancing peace in Europe.

The New York Times was not impressed. They called the award “a gift” rather than a deserved prize, and criticized the EU for “inept management of the Euro zone crisis.”

The American press was also not impressed when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to President Obama. Apparently pundits felt that he had not really done anything significant to deserve it…

What is the Nobel Prize Committee trying to tell the world when they awarded these prizes on these two instances? That diplomacy is important and should be praised. That peace in the world involves acting for peace in the US (the President of the most powerful military force in the world) and in Europe (the largest economy in the world). That such initiatives should be cherished rather than taken for granted.

So why were many pundits so irritated by these awards?

Because they hate compromise. They dislike the notion of ceding, rather than overpowering another. And both prizes were in praise of diplomacy and the art of reaching compromise and ceding something, rather than overpowering your opponents by force.

Is Obama Too Good For America?

I’m fascinated by the reactions to the first presidential candidates’ debate on TV. Pundits say that Romney “won” the debate: he was more forceful, assertive, confident. Obama “lost” the debate because he seemed hesitant, shy. They called him “no drama Obama”. And polls showed that more people intend to vote for Romney, after the debate.

But, does being more assertive make Romney “right” and Obama “wrong”? Are Americans picking the best debater or the best President?

Suppose there was a debate between Adolf Hitler and Franklin D. Roosevelt in the late 30’s. Hitler would “win” such an imaginary debate easily, with a hand tied behind his back! He was a charismatic speaker, accustomed to enthralling thousands of people at rallies; he studied acting when he became a political candidate, in order to bring more emotion and drama to his speeches. Roosevelt, on the other hand, was boring… But these different styles of communicating did not make Hitler “right” and Roosevelt “wrong”.

You may think that comparing Hitler and Roosevelt is totally different from comparing Romney and Obama; my point is simply that people are putting more weight on a performance on TV to make their decision, rather than looking at the political programs that are being proposed. People are looking at the men on TV rather than at the ideas they represent. It’s like we are back to primitive days when two warriors should fight it out in the arena and “the gods will be with he who tells the truth”…

That is a nice notion for an action movie, but it’s a very poor notion to pick a President. In real life, good guys do not always win. Bad guys often do. Will Americans pick the candidate who is the best for the country or will they pick the one who looks better on TV?

Unfortunately, I know that there are candidates out there who might be better than Romney and Obama combined… but they did not even make it to “the final” because they don’t look that good in front of an audience. It’s no wonder that real-life actors like Reagan and Schwarzenegger had successful political careers. A lot of voters out there are very superficial in choosing who to vote for. And the majority wins, no matter how misinformed or misguided.

As the song goes: “war is stupid, and people are stupid, and love has no value in some strange quarters”. So a people may choose a leader who will take them to war, rather than a Nobel Peace Prize winner who doesn’t seem assertive enough… In the American culture, the ideal candidate has to look like George Clooney and punch like Mike Tyson. It doesn’t matter if he is a religious fundamentalist, if he has bad ethical standards or if he is a war advocate.

Peace and Personality

By definition, peace advocates tend to be more… peaceful. War mongers tend to be more assertive and dramatic. This can be observed in Europe as well as in America. Look at Geert Wilders, the dramatic far-right politician (or should I say “far-wrong”?) and compare him to Herman Van Rompuy, the bland EU President. If a debate between the two were to decide European elections, Wilders would win by a landslide.

Yet, choosing who you will vote for should be based on more than just looking at how the guy looks on a TV debate. The choice should be based on the ideas that candidates are proposing.

No candidate governs alone, whether in the US or in Europe, despite the cult of personality promoted by the press. Reagan, by the way, was little more than a front man for a group of Republicans who were really running the country. On the Democrat’s side you could say similar things about Bill Clinton: a charming man who looks great in front of the cameras, but who was not calling the shots while he was in office.

In Europe, it is also quite clear that the real EU leaders are not Van Rompuy, Catherine Ashton or José Manuel Barroso. People like Merkel, Hollande and Cameron have more influence in the process, and so do others who are not even in the headlines. The press mistakenly revolves around the more dramatic characters rather than on discussing the ideas behind the personalities.

The idea of peace needs to be promoted with more flair. Give peace a chance, said John Lennon. Do you have to be a rock star to get some attention? We should all be wiser than that. Yes, war is stupid. We should not need Boy George to remind us of that. We should understand this idea and defend it against proponents of war. Especially when the proponents of war look handsome and confident. That is when the idea of war becomes most dangerous and we need to stand against it.