President Bush has joined the list of those who would bend the Olympics to political ends. You might wonder at the company he keeps, since the list includes Jimmy Carter. However, if Bush really wants to use the Olympics to help himself get reelected, then maybe he could do something for the Athens Games in return. Maybe he could give Svetlana Khorkina a sandwich.
This week the Bush campaign debuted a commercial titled "Victory," which conjures images of Olympic stadiums, and credits Bush with liberating athletes from Iraq and Afghanistan so that they can compete here. The U.S. Olympic Committee is not overjoyed with the ad, since the politicization of the Olympics is forbidden by, among other bodies, Congress and the International Olympic Committee.
"In 1972 there were 40 democracies in the world, today 120," says a narrator as flags of all countries wave over a stadium. "Freedom is spreading throughout the world like a sunrise. And this Olympics, there will be two more free nations. And two fewer terrorist regimes."
The USOC is reviewing the ad and considering whether to ask the campaign to pull it, as an infringement of its exclusive rights to the Olympics. The IOC charter states that the Olympic word, symbol and concept belong exclusively to the IOC (and to the USOC in the United States) and should not be used for political purposes.
But the attitude of the Bush campaign is they are not technically in violation of any law. "We are on firm legal ground to mention the Olympics to make a factual point in a political advertisement," a spokesman for the Bush reelection campaign, Scott Stanzel, told the Associated Press.
What should we think about President Bush trying to squeeze a little juice out of these Olympics by tying them to his wars? On the one hand I guess it's reasonable given that Iraqi athletes used to get tortured by Saddam Hussein's sadistic son Uday. On the other hand, it's one more area in which Bush is running for reelection based on things he himself personally did not actually do. The swift boat guys are knocking John Kerry on the issue of Vietnam (where Bush never set foot) and he has his own ad up wrapping himself in the Olympic spirit, not that he has swum a single stroke or turned a single somersault, or shown much regard for the IOC charter.
So perhaps Bush should do something for the Athens Games. Here is a list of some small ways in which he could be helpful.
He could set up a Feed Khorkina program.
He could take the mirror out of Gary Hall Jr.'s locker.
He could ask the CIA to find Kostas Kenteris's missing motorcycle.
He could sign a law requiring a person to sink at least 6 of 10 three-pointers, unguarded, before signing an NBA contract.
He could tell the U.S. swimmers to pull up their bathing suits.
He could do the Athens organizers and local government a really big favor by telling Tony Blair to give the Elgin Marbles back. He could take Blair to the Parthenon, point up, and say, "They go there. Right there. Where those HOLES are." Though admittedly, there is not much hope of persuasion on this one. I can already hear Blair's reply:
"Have you gone totally native? Does the term 'finders, keepers' mean nothing to you?"
He could tell Paul Hamm to give a medal to the South Korean kid. He could advise Hamm that such a gesture would carve his name into the marble of sports history, and people would talk about him decades from now. Instead, he's an asterisk. Granted, the South Korean delegation's endless appeals are not easy to watch, and the rules are on Hamm's side. But as matters stand Hamm has to live with the downside of the dispute, because he'll always be the guy who landed his vault in a judge's lap and no one should really win an Olympic gold medal after landing on a judge. If he had gone over to the South Korean and pressed his gold medal into the guy's hand, and said, "I don't care what the rules say, you deserve this," he would have the instant book contract, the big commercial endorsements, and speaking engagements for big money to the end of time.
Also, it would've been the right thing to do.
Ahh. The right thing to do. We're back to that. The Bush campaign may be technically entitled to use the Olympics, as a legal point, or not. Other presidents have certainly used the Olympics, and no one used them harder than Carter, by boycotting the 1980 Games in Moscow. But Carter, it should be noted, got his payback; the boycott was ultimately regarded by voters as just one more sign of a national malaise, along with hostages and gas lines, and the general feeling of gloom cost him reelection.
Let's just say that it's not an especially honorable or Olympic thing to do. It's also a highly ironic thing to do, given that before the Games began, former president George H.W. Bush visited here as head of the U.S. Olympic delegation and urged American athletes to refrain from unseemly displays. He asked them to behave with "class and dignity."