Gold-Medaling In Hubris

A flop of Olympian proportions

By Robert A. George
|  Friday, Oct 2, 2009  |  Updated 10:30 PM EDT
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Obama's Littlest Constituents

Devastated Chicagoans react after city was eliminated in the first round of votes during the 2016 Summer Olympic rally and announcement at Daley Plaza in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jim Prisching/Getty Images for Chicago 2016)

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We hate to say "Told ya so!"  Except, well, we did.  We wondered why President Obama -- who has been traveling around the world at a ferocious clip almost from the day he got to the White House, trying to improve the United States image -- would risk both his office's prestige and his personal mystique on an attempt to land the Olympics for his hometown of Chicago

For one thing, the Olympic bidding process has weird, mysterious and -- let's not forget -- oft-times corrupt nature all of its own.  And that bore out on Friday when Chicago -- which had been trumpeted as a co-frontrunner with eventual winner Rio de Janeiro -- ended up being the first city to be rejected.  In other words, had this been an actual Olympic event -- with four competitors -- Chicago would have been the only city left off the medal stand.

Not even a darn Bronze!  As a further slap in the face, Madrid ended up placing second -- supposedly as an International Olympics Committee farewell thank/you to longtime IOC chairman Juan Samaranche. 

While conservatives reacted to this with a little bit too much glee to this news, the fact is that this should come as a real wake-up call to the White House. The only medaling that happened this week is in hubris -- and president and his team get a gold for their efforts there.  There was absolutely no reason for Obama to go to Copenhagen and put his personal, political and institutional prestige on the line.  Yes, the heads of state of the competing cities were there to lobby for their cities. But that is not unusual.  It is unusual for a president of the United States to travel to the actual bidding city and put in a personal appeal.  It is, so to speak, unprecedented. 

This situation raises serious questions about the quality of the president's political team. That includes whoever was taking the lead on the initial work with the IOC (this has been years in the making). Was there poor communication between the U.S. Olympic Committee and the White House? Did the IOC double-cross the USOC (hardly the first time there was a breakdown between those two bodies). Did vaunted White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel not ask enough questions?

This is significant because the president of the United States elected to take a day trip overseas during the week when his signature domestic issue -- health care -- was being debated and amended to absurdity in the Senate Finance Committee (and the president didn't even make a personal appeal or any phone calls on behalf of the important-for-liberals public option).  While he was only out of the country for one day, the president still had to be prepped on the full details of the bid and brought up to speed on what the IOC needed to hear from him. That takes hours away from other aspects of the presidency that he could be focused on .  

Ultimately, someone believed that bringing the president to Copenhagen would have been the clincher. That judgment could not have been more wrong.  Either the hubris of people around the president -- or the president himself -- ended up bringing embarrassment to the man and the office he holds.  As this president faces challenges domestic and abroad in the weeks and months ahead, perhaps this moment will stay with his team -- a teachable moment that might force all concerned to remember what cometh after pride.   

New York writer Robert A. George blogs at Ragged Thots. Follow him on Twitter.

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