Monday, October 5, 2009

Blame it on Rio

I suppose the convergence of politics and the Olympics is a topic that I should definitely weigh in on. First of all, let me just say up front that hardly anybody who knows the Olympics ever thought Chicago would win. Rio and Madrid were heavy, heavy favorites. Also, I don't think it was in any way President Obama's fault that we "lost." Moreover, anybody who was pulling against Chicago due to some desire to see Obama fail needs a beating (although there were legitimate reasons to pull against Chicago, and certainly, this isn't nearly as bad as hoping something as serious as a war effort fails).

All that said, however, I think the Obama effort and the ensuing reaction do illustrate a few noteworthy points. First, Obama going was a political/PR mistake. Many pundits said when he left that "the fix must be in," Chicago-style, if the President and First Lady were going to fire up a million-dollar trip on Air Force One and go to Copenhagen. Obviously, they were wrong. But a pro would have/should have known the potential downside. Better to stay home and lose than risk political capital that way. And if we had won, he could have still taken credit. An alternative view is that the decision was not so much amateurish as narcissicistic. Perhaps Obama really believed that his dulcet tones would sway world opinion. Neither scenario is pretty. Equally ugly was the CNN reporter's incredulity at the announcement--as if it was utterly unbelievable that the IOC had dared to snub Obama, the USA, and the Windy City!

But most interesting to me is how popular opinion has reacted. In the grand scheme of things, this episode is nothing compared to trillion-dollar healthcare bills, major strategic changes in Afghanistan strategy, or rising unemployment. Yet this one is what gets people fired up. The next week, Saturday Night Live ran its first skit that was genuinely critical of Obama. The guy was elected almost a YEAR AGO! Perhaps it's because the American people understand sports a lot better than they do economics. But for whatever reason, somehow the Olympics going to Rio illustrates Obama's weaknesses better than anything so far.

On a more personal note, I was thinking that if the games DID come to Chicago, I might try to get a faculty grant to go and see some of the track and field events. After all, it is semi-connected to my job description. I fear that Rio would be a harder sell.

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