As President Obama stood in the White House Rose Garden and told the world he doesn’t view his Nobel Peace Prize “as a recognition of my own accomplishments,” observers in the Bay Area shared his sense that the award is a statement about what could be achieved, rather than what has already been done.

Obama was awarded the prestigious prize this morning “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” according to the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

The official congratulations from U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., noted that “the president was right in his humble response.” In a statement, Boxer called the award “an affirmation of America’s leadership and a call to action to address the major challenges of our time.”

The announcement is “one more log on the fire for partisan politics,” according to Bill Whalen, a research fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

The prize is cheered by “the 40 percent of the country that thinks Obama can do no wrong,” and dismissed by the 40 percent who dislike the president, he said. The remaining 20 percent who are simply busy with their own lives “probably wish they had the $1.4 million in prize money.”

Whalen also said “the timing is really curious,” citing last week’s “Saturday Night Live,” which featured an opening sketch of Obama musing over his yet-unchecked to-do list.
“It does beg the question, what has he done?” Whalen said. For an administration that already works to play down expectations and deflect the appearance of being cocky, the award is “a real invitation of the word ‘hubris,'” he said.

While Obama’s unexpected prize is dominating this morning’s headlines, Whalen said his thoughts are with former President Bill Clinton. “Wherever he is today, he’s probably beside himself,” he said.

Obama joins former President Jimmy Carter and Clinton’s own vice-president, Al Gore, in the ranks of Nobel laureates.

“Bill Clinton, who brought peace to Ireland, tried to bring peace to the Middle East and has undertaken many global initiatives with his foundation sits without the prize right now, bookended by the guy who defeated his wife in the presidential election,” Whalen said.

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