The Magazine

The Nobel-Hollywood Complex Implodes

Polanski, Letterman, and the Norwegians make conservatives' day

Oct 26, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 06 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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The most talked-about party at the Democratic Convention was the one thrown by the Creative Coalition, featuring the kind of people one normally reads about at the supermarket. The most talked-about Democratic fundraiser before the convention was at Radio City Music Hall, featuring Whoopi Goldberg. .  .  . The world of celebrity and the world of the Democratic Party are now joined at the hip.

Even five years ago, this could be an embarrassment, as when Whoopi Goldberg grabbed her crotch while making a joke on the president's surname, which got her dropped as a spokesman for Slim-Fast, and let Bush mock Kerry for a statement he had issued to be read to the audience, saying that the arts community spoke for the best in the national character. Few now think that the "arts community" has any moral compass at all.

"Doing Letterman again won't help," Newsweek's Howard Fineman warned Obama on September 26, after Obama had gone on the show and failed to move poll numbers. That was the same day Polanski's arrest set off the celebrity self-immolation. Letterman--and possibly Hollywood--cannot help anyone now. "Could it be that the conservative culture warriors who portray Hollywood as a cesspool of moral bankruptcy have been right all along?" asked Eugene Robinson. If the Washington Post's most liberal columnist thinks this, so do millions of -others, and even 70 percent of the French were against Polanski. CBS has hired an investigator to look into the Letterman charges. If this and the Polanski affair lead to long, sordid -trials, matters can only get worse.

For years--even more so since 2002, when the Nobel Peace Prize committee smiled on ex-President Carter (as a slap at George Bush, it freely admitted)--conservatives have longed in vain to see the Norwegian parliamentarians exposed as a gaggle of partisans. It only got worse when the committee gave its prize in 2005 to Mohamed ElBaradei, the anti-U.S., pro-Iran U.N. arms inspector, and in 2007 to Al Gore, who had lost to Bush in 2000 in an exceedingly close and contentious election and railed against him ever since as a warmongering liar, and worse. Conservatives struggled for years but failed to gain traction with their critiques. So picture their glee on the morning of October 9 when they awoke to discover that the committee had contrived to discredit itself. In its ultimate slap at George Bush (who is no longer in office, but why should this stop them?), it had given the peace prize to Barack Obama for doing not much of anything beyond setting a new "tone."

It certainly set a new tone in the response to the Nobel committee itself. Reporters gasped when they heard the announcement. Bloggers thought they had clicked by mistake on satire sites like the Onion and Scrappleface. "This is ridiculous--embarrassing even," said Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post. "Ridiculous," echoed Mother Jones's Kevin Drum. "Folks across the spectrum are asking, 'what has he done?' " wrote Tom Bevan of Real Clear Politics, and many of the most appalled and scalding of comments would come from the left. "This is so far out of nowhere that it could be almost embarrassing," said the Guardian's Michael Tomasky. Even the Huffington Post couldn't stand it: "It is enormously premature .  .  . [and] to a certain extent cheapens the prior recipients," opined one of its contributors. Aside from the bad taste, the timing was terrible, as Obamania had started to fade in America, (his approval ratings were stuck around 50 percent), and a meme had been born that he was failing to meet expectations. The prize, as Politico noted, felt like "a breathless fan letter from the European elite."

And some in that elite weren't buying it either. "While it is OK to give school children prizes for 'effort' .  .  . statesmen should probably be held to a higher standard," wrote the Financial Times's Gideon Rachman. "It might have been wiser to hold judgment," said the Economist. At the Times of London, Michael Binyon declared that "the prize risks looking preposterous in its claims, patronizing in its intentions, and demeaning in its attempt to build up a man who has barely begun his period in office. .  .  . Rarely has an award had such an obvious political and partisan intent."

Back in America, the Los Angeles Times said that the committee's award had embarrassed Obama and diminished its own credibility. "I like Barack Obama as much as the next liberal, but this is a farce," said Peter Beinart in Tina Brown's Daily Beast. "Let's hope the Nobel Committee's decision meets with such a deafening chorus of chortles and jeers that it never does something this stupid again."

It may or may not, but it no longer matters, as it is clear that the jig is up. For decades, the peace prize committee has seemed to speak with the voice of humanity, or of the world community, or of the Almighty, but it is clear now that it speaks with the voice of five more or less insular nitwits, of great self-regard and no great distinction, too clueless and tone-deaf to sense how their choice would be seen. Like the culture elites defending Polanski and Letterman, they have no sense of irony, much less of perspective or rectitude.

If there were a Nobel Prize for shark-jumping, these people would share it: They have proved themselves more inane than their critics imagined. With friends such as these, the left hardly needs enemies. And with enemies such as these, the right may not really need friends.

Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.