October 13, 2009

Gauging politicians and pundits’ various reactions to President Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize last week was amusing. Even more amusing was the reaction from American conservatives.

Wrote Rush Limbaugh in an e-mail to the Politico:

This fully exposes the illusion that is Barack Obama … And with this ‘award’ the elites of the world are urging Obama, THE MAN OF PEACE, to not do the surge in Afghanistan, not take action against Iran and its nuclear program and to basically continue his intentions to emasculate the United States… They love a weakened, neutered U.S and this is their way of promoting that concept.

Said Texas Congressman Ron Paul:

His policy is not exactly pro-peace. Right now it looks like the war will continue over there, Obama wants more troops into Afghanistan and more bombing in Pakistan, it looks like Pakistan is going to be the front of the war, there’s been no significant troop reduction in Iraq.

Limbaugh and Paul’s reactions represent two, polar-opposite views on the same subject, and yet both men are generally perceived as right-wing conservatives, completely opposed to President Obama’s agenda. But on foreign policy, only Paul truly opposes this president. Limbaugh might rail against Obama all day, every day, but once you get past the rhetoric, both Rush and Barack essentially agree that it is the United States’ mission to be the world’s policeman. As officer Obama continues to patrol Bush’s old beat, even expanding into new neighborhoods, it is Paul who’s demanding the U.S. fully and finally turn in its world’s police badge—while Rush would simply prefer a different sheriff.

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If perception is indeed reality, the reality that Obama’s foreign policy is closer to Bush’s than not, is something not only lost on conservatives like Limbaugh, but the Nobel Committee. It is true this president has more international admirers than his predecessor, and Obama’s award seems to be more for his different, more diplomatic style than any substantive policy breaks from the old guard.

Psychologist and Huffington Post columnist Robert Epstein has called Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize the “Thank-God-You’re-Not-Bush” prize, and he makes a sound point—it is hard to imagine such an award being bestowed on Obama, who has basically done nothing, if he had instead followed Bill Clinton or George H.W. Bush rather than the disastrous Dubya. Epstein explains:

The basic idea is simple: a prolonged experience with a stimulus that has strong negative or strong positive value distorts the way we view new stimuli of the same sort. If we’ve had prolonged experience with a strong positive stimulus, we’ll tend to view new related stimuli negatively. And if we’ve had prolonged experience with a strong negative stimulus, we’ll tend to view related new stimuli positively… The contrast effect works in many domains, including the political. And yes, it can even cause intelligent, well meaning people to confuse bringing peace to people with giving inspirational speeches about bringing peace to people.

In Epstein’s view, the prejudice abroad or “negative stimuli” of George W. Bush is what primarily led the Nobel committee to award Obama its prestigious Peace Prize, though the president continues with policies similar to Bush. It also follows that staunch supporters of Bush’s foreign policy in the U.S., like Limbaugh, had a more positive impression of the last president and therefore react negatively to Obama for the same reason the Nobel committee reacted positively. This emotional, illogical phenomenon could be seen even more clearly recently in the gleeful response of Limbaugh, the Weekly Standard office and others on the Right, to the news that despite Obama’s efforts overseas, Chicago had been denied the 2016 Summer Olympics.

But one need not be a shrink to see that despite their more serious differences on domestic policy, Obama and Limbaugh essentially agree on foreign policy. They differ only in degree; not their basic philosophies. Paul notes the confusion:

There should be debate on ‘should we be there?’ And ‘why are we there?‘And ‘should we win the war?’ vs. ‘we shouldn’t be there.’ No, the debate is ‘how many troops should we send,’ ‘should the front lines be in Afghanistan or should the front lines be in Pakistan,’ ‘and how many contractors should replace the soldiers that we’re removing from Iraq,’ it’s the wrong, wrong debate.

Paul is right. That Limbaugh believes Obama winning the Nobel Prize “fully exposes the illusion that is Barack Obama,” more accurately exposes the illusion of Rush and the mainstream conservative movement, who would have had far more disagreements on foreign policy with a strict constitutionalist president like Paul than a big spending liberal like Obama. And though neither Limbaugh nor Obama would ever say forthright, they believe America should police the world – in fact both would insist they reject the very notion – it never seems to stop mainstream conservatives and liberals from always defending the most ambitious military overstretch in history, in the name of “national security,” “world stability” and any other excuse to promote permanent American global hegemony.


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