When President Barack Obama woke up on Friday to the stunning news that he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (or the No Bush Peace Prize, as many interpreted it), he probably knew, with a sinking feeling, that it would quickly become a liability at home. Not just because it's way too early in his presidency for such an honour, and he hasn't done enough to merit it, but because people outside his own country currently like him more than many people in it.
He's gone “from Miss America to Miss Universe,” wrote New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, comically channelling a pissed-off George W. Bush talking to an even more pissed-off Bill Clinton.
To Mr. Obama's credit, he doesn't seem fazed by his dip in popularity. But he did seem flummoxed by his Nobel nod. The last thing he needed right now was to win an international popularity award. In an e-mail he subsequently sent out to his supporters, the President sought to turn the award into a group hug: “This award – and the call to action that comes with it – does not belong simply to me or my administration; it belongs to all people around the world who have fought for justice and for peace. And most of all, it belongs to you, the men and women of America, who have dared to hope and have worked so hard to make our world a little better.”
His words – thankfully a little more resonant than Homer Simpson's – cannily accept the paradox of popularity: Part of our desperation to like our leaders is really a search to like ourselves, to be proud of ourselves for having chosen them. Just about a year ago, Americans elected a man who not only dazzled the world, but who made them like themselves more than they had in a long time.