Should President Obama Have Lobbied For the Olympic Games?

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Told ya.

I wrote this week that President Obama's trip to Copenhagen to lobby for Chicago's Olympics bid could be futile or even counterproductive. Obamamania notwithstanding, the U.S. president is always seen at international gatherings as the ultimate Bigfoot, and nobody likes to be Bigfooted. Chicago used the Powell Doctrine of "overwhelming force" to try to win, but in this context the deployment of presidential power and charisma served only to invite a comeuppance.

The Olympics movement is a strange culture with its own etiquette and mores. I don't think Chicago would have won the Games if the Obamas had stayed home, but clearly their trip didn't help. The International Olympic Committee likes a little humility, and -- almost by definition -- no POTUS can be convincingly humble. The first lady would have had a better shot on her own.

I have to be happy for Rio de Janeiro and all of Brazil, though. Rio is one of the world's great cities -- a place where sea, mountains and urban electricity all meet in a setting so beautiful it melts your heart. The city knows how to throw a party -- carnaval happens every year, and it's the greatest show on earth. Parabéns, cariocas!

-- Eugene Robinson

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Maybe they should have sent Michael Jordan. Clearly, the International Olympic Committee wasn't bowled over by President Obama's in-person plea to hold the 2016 Summer Games in his home town of Chicago. Indeed, it was the first city the committee eliminated.

That first-round rejection was a surprise. Not so unexpected is the carping -- commenced within minutes of CNN flashing the news -- about Obama's decision to travel to Copenhagen. A loss to his prestige! Major setback! Should have known better!

I still think Obama did no wrong in going the extra mile in trying to get something he thought would be good for this country. I say that as one of those people who really don't "get" the Olympics (just ask my family and friends, who grew tired of me complaining last year about how much time people spent watching the Summer Games during our beach vacation). I do, though, respect what the Olympics are supposed to represent -- the best doing their utmost. And in that regard, Obama was true to the tradition of trying.

Accordingly, it is hard for me to understand all the hoopla that surrounded the president's trip. The world didn't fall apart while he was on an overnight flight. Indeed, the Senate Finance Committee even managed to pass a health-reform bill in his absence.


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