Clawing Your Way to the Nobel Peace Prize

A former vice president, a Holocaust hero, and a right-wing broadcaster duke it out with 10,000 Burmese monks.

Illustration by Rob Donnelly. Click image to expand.

It was looking very good for Al Gore. Then the opposition started rioting, and the judges snatched it away. That’s the story of the 2000 presidential race, and if my hunch is correct that’s going to be the story of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

The opposition this time is those pushy Buddhist monks in Burma. They couldn’t have timed their pro-democracy demonstrations more exquisitely for the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which will name its winner Oct. 12. The sangha’s secular leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, won the Peace Prize in 1991, but the inevitable online petition for the monks themselves claims, at this writing, almost 7,500 signatures. “We realize that taking such a step would be a dramatic departure from the strict nominating procedure,” the petitioners state (the nominations were due Feb. 1):

However, we feel that if the Burmese monks could risk their lives to break the junta’s draconian laws and prove the power of peace, then the Norwegian Nobel Committee could certainly make an exception to the Nobel statutes for such an extraordinary group of peacemakers. Indeed, the Burmese Sangha would comfortably fit in with the most celebrated prior prize recipients, including Elie Wiesel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King, and, of course, Aung San Suu Kyi.

The dignified spirituality, the refusal of alms, the passive submission to torture and even death at the hands of a jackbooted military—those wily sangha are pulling every cheap stunt in the Peace Prize playbook. The smart money still says Gore will win, but what chance does a former vice president of the United States—one who, while more or less running environmental policy for President Clinton, yapped endlessly about the problem and sacrificed not a penny of political capital to help solve it—have against thousands of bald-headed guys waving empty bowls over their heads? Even on a ticket balanced with Sheila Watt-Cloutier—the Inuit global-warming activist from Canada—Gore is done for, skunked as usual by ruthless rivals with an unquenchable thirst for victory.

It hardly seems necessary to review the other bidding—135 individuals and 46 organizations are nominated this year—but here are the odds laid down by (to watch for possible updates, click here, then click on “Future/props,” then click on “Politics,” then click on “Nobel Peace Prize Winner 2007”):

Irena Sendler—9/2
Martti Ahtisaari—5/1
Al Gore—5/2
Sheila Watt-Cloutier—8/1
Stephen Lewis—10/1
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar—10/1
Shih Ming-Teh—10/1
Mahathir Mohamad—14/1
Lidia Yusupova—14/1
Thich Quang Do—14/1
Rajendra Pachauri—18/1
The Rotary Foundation—18/1
Ban Ki-Moon—25/1
Bertie Ahern—80/1
Condoleezza Rice—100/1
Bob Geldof—25/1
Tony Blair—100/1
Rush Limbaugh—100/1
Gao Zhisheng—25/1
Angela Merkel—30/1
President George Bush—100/1
Ales Bialatski—25/1
Muhammad Ali/Peter Georgi—40/1
Evo Morales—40/1
Oprah Winfrey—50/1
Sail Training International—50/1

I think overstates considerably the likelihood that Martti Ahtisaari or Irene Sendler would take home the prize. Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president and globe-trotting mediator, has been touted as a possible sleeper by Stein Tøennesson, director of Oslo’s International Peace Research Institute (described by Reuters as “a long-time Nobel Peace Prize watcher”). Sendler saved Jewish children during World War II and was promoted for the prize by high school students in rural Kansas who learned about her through a clipping in U.S. News & World Report. But Ahtisaari, who was a popular favorite to win last year (he lost to Muhammad “Microcredits” Yunus and his Grameen Bank) is most associated with peace efforts in Bosnia and Kosovo, which at this point seem a little old-hat. As for Sendler, it’s a lovely idea, but  Elie Wiesel already nabbed a Holocaust-related Peace Prize in 1986. Been there, done that!

Rush Limbaugh, meanwhile, seems yet another worthy candidate whose hard work on behalf of humanity will go unnoticed. That’s what happens when you’re born with a white face, a conservative worldview, and a discerning taste in prescription painkillers. Limbaugh, according to Mark R. Levin, president of the right-wing Landmark Legal Foundation, which nominated Limbaugh, “is the foremost advocate for freedom and democracy in the world today.” Limbaugh himself, citing his status as “an accredited nominee,” maintains that “I have done more for world peace to promote liberty and freedom than Al Gore has,” and has threatened that Landmark Legal Foundation lawyers (whom he referred to, interestingly, as “my lawyers”) might file an objection to the Norwegian Nobel Committee against what he viewed as Gore’s “unethical tampering.” Like so many moral leaders who preceded him, Rush understands that peace is something you’ve gotta fight for. But nobody fights like those pacifist monks.

[Update, Oct. 12: I guessed wrong. Gore won, along with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Sorry, Rush.]

Nobel Peacestakes Archive:
Oct. 11, 2006: “Peace Prize Campaign ‘06!
Feb. 17, 2004: “George W. Bush, Accidental Peacenik
Jan. 25, 2002: “Who Wants To Be a Nobel Peace Laureate?”
Jan. 8, 2002: “Nobel Lobby Watch 2002
Oct. 12, 2000: “So You Want To Win the Nobel Peace Prize