There was an extraordinary scene at the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo Friday morning. The prize went to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was barred by the Chinese government from attending the ceremony. It was the first time since 1935 -- when the prize went to a winner imprisoned in one of Adolf Hitler's concentration camps -- that the Peace Prize winner or his repesentative did not appear personally to accept the award.* Liu's absence was symbolized by an empty chair on stage.
So on this notable occasion, the White House released a statement from President Obama on the awarding of the prize to Liu in absentia. And this is how Obama's statement began:
One year ago, I was humbled to receive the Nobel Peace Prize -- an award that speaks to our highest aspirations, and that has been claimed by giants of history and courageous advocates who have sacrificed for freedom and justice.
Critics have often said of Obama that "it's all about him," that he has a tendency to reference himself no matter what subject he is discussing. Could he do any more to prove them right? But just to show that he is, in fact, humble, the president followed his opening sentence with this:
Mr. Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving of this award than I was.
In the rest of his statement, Obama writes that "We respect China's extraordinary accomplishment in lifting millions out of poverty, and believe that human rights include the dignity that comes with freedom from want." But of course, Liu wasn't at the Nobel ceremony in Oslo because of the Chinese government, so Obama adds, "Mr. Liu reminds us that human dignity also depends upon the advance of democracy, open society, and the rule of law. The values he espouses are universal, his struggle is peaceful, and he should be released as soon as possible." And then, before closing, the president makes one more reference to himself:
I regret that Mr. Liu and his wife were denied the opportunity to attend the ceremony that Michelle and I attended last year.
*Some earlier winners, like Russian dissident Andrei Sakharov in 1975, also were not allowed to attend the ceremony, but were represented by others.