Tuesday, September 29, 2009

[President] Obama's Olympics Pitch Is Ill-Timed [Ken Blackistone]

Here are some excerpts of an article written by Ken Blackistone of FanHouse:

In short, this is no time for President Obama to make a special trip to Copenhagen to join his home base of Chicago in its final bid for the 2016 Olympics. Just two weeks ago, Obama even admitted he was too busy with health care reform to go to Copenhagen on Oct. 2 to personally pitch Chicago for the Summer Olympics...

...A two-week international sports spectacle seven years from now makes about as much sense being on the president's agenda at this moment as timeout for tiddlywinks...

...We know the 44th president likes his sports as much as his predecessor, a baseball nut. He's done the usual presidential sports' thing in throwing out a first pitch and entertaining championship teams at his Pennsylvania Avenue crib. He's done the unusual by presenting his March Madness bracket on national TV and sitting courtside in casual clothes at an NBA game. He's a participant on the basketball court and golf course, too, and, sort of, on a bowling lane...

....It has been pointed out that Obama is simply doing what other national leaders have done. For example, when London was vying for the 2012 Olympics, British prime minister at the time, Tony Blair, and his wife, Cherie, went to Singapore, where IOC members were holed up before casting their final votes, and spent a couple of days glad-handing voters. Two years later in 2005, Vladimir Putin, Russian president then, visited IOC voters to support Sochi's bid for the 2014 Winter Games.

But Great Britain then didn't have the host of problems facing Obama, and Blair was six years rather than nine months into his office. Putin was in his second term as president when he championed Sochi's bid and, while facing many struggles, exercised his broad authority to get done almost anything he wanted.

Furthermore, London is England. It is synonymous with its home country, it is its heartbeat. And Russia had never hosted a Winter Games.

Chicago is but one of our biggest cities with about 2.8 million people. Another 300 million or so of us make up the rest of the United States. What positive tangible impact will a Chicago Games have on, say, Raleigh, N.C.? Did the Salt Lake City Winter Games help Buffalo, N.Y.?

Hosting an Olympics in this country is a municipal or regional concern. It is not a national issue and, as such, certainly not something that should rise to the docket in the Oval Office. We've seen eight Summer and Winter Games in this country from New York to California and in between. A president need not make the Olympics a special case.

This should be an assignment solely for the first lady, who is as much a part of Chicago as deep dish pizza. She was actually born and reared there. Leave it to her.

What the president is doing is living down to that old Tip O'Neill adage: "All politics is local." This is the president paying off a political IOU to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's cronies – Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, all in Obama's inner sanctum -- who helped him get elected to the Illinois Senate (over one of my political mentors and former professor, Alice Palmer) and eventually the U.S. Senate and the White House. It is also a pay off to real estate interests in Chicago, as Ben Joravsky, author of Hoop Dreams and a longtime friend and political writer in Chicago, observed recently in his Chicago Reader blog: "The Olympic plan is perceived by many as a thinly disguised urban renewal project. They worry that Olympic 'improvements' will drive working-class African-Americans from the near south side."

But Chicago honchos are fearful they are going to lose out to the favorite for the 2016 Games, Rio de Janeiro, or one of the second fiddles, Madrid and Tokyo and couldn't care less. So they pleaded, and then some, with the president to step up on their behalf even though it may mean trampling on his near south side base.

This is not about the president spreading himself too thin, either, which is a criticism that has been raised as he has sought to orchestrate an economic bailout, two wars (the Iraq war is ongoing), reform of health care, closing the Gitmo prison by his deadline (he is likely to miss it), etc. This is a case of the president getting himself involved in something that is not worthy of the Oval Office, like the arrest last summer of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. into which the president inserted himself.

And therein rests the danger. Like in the Gates' case, the president is exposing himself unnecessarily to a losing proposition. There is still a lot of animosity towards the United States outing of foreign IOC members stuffing their pockets in Salt Lake City. The president's involvement doesn't make winning the games a slam dunk. As former Vice President Al Gore staffer Chris Lehane told Politico.com on Monday: "If they don't come back with the gold, clearly there will be the same questions that American basketball would get if they don't come back with the gold -- they are expected to win."

President Obama isn't in need of another perceived setback.

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