AN ASPIRATIONAL RECORD…. In his remarks this morning, after noting that he did not feel deserving to be in the company of some previous Nobel Peace Prize winners, President Obama acknowledged a common thread in the history of the award. “I know that throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it’s also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes,” he said.

That’s true. For every “but he hasn’t accomplished enough yet” we’ve heard this morning, it’s worth remembering that the award has often gone to works in progress, with the hopes of advancing an encouraging vision.

Robert Naiman had a good item on this earlier.

The Nobel Committee gave South African Bishop Desmond Tutu the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his leadership of efforts to abolish apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid wasn’t fully abolished in South Africa until 1994. The committee could have waited until after apartheid was abolished to say, “Well done!” But the point of the award was to help bring down apartheid by strengthening Bishop Tutu’s efforts. In particular, everyone knew that it was going to be much harder for the apartheid regime to crack down on Tutu after the Nobel Committee wrapped him in its protective cloak of world praise.

That’s what the Nobel Committee is trying to do for Obama now. It’s giving an award to encourage the change in world relations that Obama has promised, and to try to help shield Obama against his domestic adversaries.

Ronald Krebs raised a similar point this morning.

Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland told the AP, “Some people say, and I understand it, ‘Isn’t it premature? Too early?’ Well, I’d say then that it could be too late to respond three years from now. It is now that we have the opportunity to respond — all of us.”

In this context, honoring the president this way makes more sense.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.