Tag Archives | Nobel Peace Prize

Can Obama accept the Nobel Prize without congressional consent?

Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, Rep. Cliff Stearns, and Rep. Ron Paul say “no,” and have sent a letter to the President asking him to request congressional consent, which they expect would be speedily given. They point to the example of President Theodore Roosevelt, who created  a committee, including the Chief Justice, to hold Roosevelt’s Nobel Peace Prize money in trust until he left office. After leaving office, Roosevelt asked for congressional consent to disburse the money to particular charities.

Article I, § 9, clause 8, of the Constitution states that “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

When Roosevelt won the Peace Prize, there was apparently no controlling statute. Today there is: 5 USC § 7342 (titled “Receipt and disposition of foreign gifts and decorations”) sets out the conditions under which foreign gifts can be accepted without a separate action of Congress. The statute applies to an “employee,” which includes “the President and the Vice President.”

A “foreign government” includes ” any agent or representative of any such [foreign] unit or such organization, while acting as such.” Since the Nobel Peace Prize committee is, as the Representatives note, appointed by the Norwegian Storting (the legislature), it would seem to be within the scope of the statute.

A “gift”  is “a tangible or intangible present (other than a decoration) .” A “decoration” includes a ” medal, badge, insignia, emblem, or award.”

By the statute, Congress explicitly consents to employee receipt of gifts of  “minimal value,” which is “means a retail value in the United States at the time of acceptance of $100 or less.” The statute authorizes the Administrator of General Services [...]

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The psychology of prizes

Obama’s Nobel Prize brought to mind a vaguely remembered line in a novel by Thomas Bernhard (I think it was Wittgenstein’s Nephew but only because that is the only novel of his I remember reading) to the effect that nothing is as humiliating as being given a prize.  Bernhard was famously splenetic, as were the anti-heroes of his novels, but that line stuck in my head because it had the ring of truth.  Virtually everyone with any sense recognizes that Obama’s prize was an embarrassment, including Obama himself:

I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have been honored by this prize, men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

It’s one thing to be modest about one’s accomplishments, but few people who win prizes actually say they don’t deserve them.  In doing so, one casts doubt on the judgment of the prize committee and hence the merits of the other prize winners—which can only come across as a monstrous act of ingratitude—and diminishes oneself as well.  But Obama had no alternative; he could not claim that he deserved the prize because no one outside the prize committee believes that his accomplishments compare with those who have won it.  To accept the prize without qualification would come across as megalomania of the first order.  (Just imagine the ridicule and incomprehension that would have greeted any suggestion that Obama deserved the prize if it had been made by anyone prior to the announcement of the award.)

Obama did not reject the prize, of course.  His equivocal response—accepting the prize but declaring that he does not deserve to be in the company of the people who did deserve it, and treating [...]

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Would an Act of Congress Be Required to Allow President Obama To Accept the Nobel Peace Prize?

[Note FURTHER UPDATE below.]

J.P. Freire (Washington Examiner) asks this, in relation to the constitutional provision that reads (emphasis added),

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

The Prize is apparently awarded by a Committee selected by the Norwegian Parliament; does it qualify as a present given by a “foreign State,” or does the Committee’s speaking for itself rather than for Norway suggest that the present does not come from a foreign State?

[UPDATE: I should note that the question isn’t about the money; I suspect the President could use the statutory authorization to accept the money on behalf of the U.S. on the grounds that “it appears that to refuse the gift would likely cause offense or embarrassment or otherwise adversely affect the foreign relations of the United States.” Rather, the question is about the Prize itself, which I take it is personal and can’t be sensibly accepted on behalf of the nation as a whole — though perhaps that need not be so, given the statute’s position that even military decorations can be accepted on behalf of the United States.]

Some law professors to whom I posed the question noted that when Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson got the Prizes while sitting Presidents, no Congressional Act was passed to authorize the acceptance of the awards. (I don’t know what happened when Henry Kissinger received an award while he was still in the Nixon Administration.) But while longstanding tradition may carry a good deal of weight in such situations, I would think [...]

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On Obama’s Nobel

Unlike some, I don’t think the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama during his first year in office is all that shocking. For many years the Nobel Peace Prize has been given as much if not more for what the committee hopes recipients will accomplish as for what they’ve already done.  Just look at the list of past laureates, and note the years in which particular folks won.  The idea is that the prize will enhance the profile and prestige of the recipient, thereby boosting their efforts.  So it only makes sense that the Committee would award the prize to a President who has adopted a more conciliatory foreign policy, is seeking to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles, is pursuing more aggressive action on climate change, etc.  These are policies the committee supports, and awarding the prize to Obama could, in their view, help ensure these policies are adopted and eventually succeed.

UPDATE: See also “Peace, dude,” by Maria Farrell at Crooked Timber. [...]

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Top Ten Reasons Obama Won the Nobel Peace Prize

With David Letterman somewhat distracted, I thought I’d solicit nominations for a top 10 list.  Here’s a few to start off:

Consolation prize for losing the Olympics

Who gives a rat’s you-know-what about Afghanistan, anyway

The Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, and Biology were already taken

“We couldn’t give an ‘un-prize’ to George W. Bush, and this was the next best thing”

For extraordinary diplomacy at the Gates-Crowley “Beer Summit”

UPDATE: “Obama?  I thought we were giving it to Osama

The Norwegians wanted to honor one of their own, and the committee discovered that Obama was born in Oslo, Norway, the son of a Volvo factory worker.

ONE MORE: Norway needed to stimulate its prize industry, and Obama was willing to trade in an older, less efficient prize.

AND FROM THE COMMENTS: He was the 10th caller. [...]

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