Even a blind chipmunk finds an acorn every once in a while, just by chance.
Similarly, the blind Obama-hatred of some of the usual wingnut suspects seems to have turned up a genuine issue.
I was an early member of the chorus urging the President to give the Nobel Prize money to charity, as he reportedly intends to do. But on reflection that’s not the right answer. For the President to give the money away, to no matter how worthy a cause, would suggest that it’s rightfully his money to dispose of. But it’s not. He was given the prize in his role as President; as someone pointed out, the prize was really to the American voters (or 53% of them, anyway) for electing him.
The legal principle that no one may supplement a Federal salary has a solid basis in policy; we don’t want public servants to shape their public actions with anything in mind save the public good.
Imagine that the pesticide manufacturers instituted a Regulator of the Year Award, to be given to the public official who had done the most to advance the cause of efficient environmental management. On the surface, that’s a good cause; surely no one favors inefficient environmental management. But it’s not hard to guess that in mind of whatever panel the pesticide makers chose to make the award, “efficient” would turn out to mean “lax.”
Surely, no official should be allowed to accept such an award, for fear that every official might think about shading his decisions in industry’s favor in hopes of winning the prize. But how is the Peace Prize different? No doubt one of the goals of its establishment was to encourage actions that might earn an award.
If that’s the problem, giving the money away is not a complete solution. The right to give away a large chunk of money is itself valuable; at minimum, it earns gratitude from the recipients. When a U.S. Attorney waives the prosecution of a corporation on condition that the corporation make a donation to the U.S. Attorney’s alma mater, which in turn gives the U.S. Attorney a medal, I claim that the U.S. Attorney has either taken a bribe or committed extortion, depending on who made the suggestion in the first place. But that’s not true if having the money go to a charity is sufficient to take the curse off.
I’m not suggesting that either the committee that awards the Peace Prize or the President has committed or will commit any comparable impropriety; there’s no hint of an explicit quid pro quo. But the principle that says that officials have to be satisfied with their salaries and can’t collect from outside sources for official actions applies equally to the two cases.
Therefore Barack Obama should accept the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the nation and turn the funds over to the Treasury. He can, at the same time, ask the Congress to appropriate an equal sum to some good cause or causes, such as education for the children of servicemembers killed or wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he shouldn’t give the money away, because it wasn’t his in the first place.