The International Olympic Committee has selected Rio de Janiero as the site of the 2016 Summer Games. I feel sorry for the people in Chicago, which was knocked out in the first round of the selection process, and I don’t understand or share the reaction of some Americans who celebrated the decision as a kind of comeuppance for President Obama.
Still, I think the President’s decision to jet over to Europe to make a pitch for the Games was an ill-advised decision on many levels. How can the President justify taking time away from a full plate of foreign and domestic problems to make a bid for what is, at bottom, a sporting event? Comparisons of the amount of time he has spent with his commanding general in Afghanistan and the amount of time he spent flying over to selection committee meeting are cheap and easy, but have real resonance with Americans who are still trying to figure out what President Obama is like as a person and as a leader. What do such comparisons say about his priorities? Moreover, I object to the majesty of the American presidency being engaged in hucksterism, where the President is brought in at the last minute to try to “close the deal” on things like the Olympics or large corporate contracts. Finally, as a political matter, the President’s decision to become personally involved seems foolish. He gives his domestic political opponents ammunition, reduces himself by going over to Europe to plead with a bunch of low-level functionaries in a corrupt international sports bureaucracy, and then gets humiliated when, despite his impassioned plea and celebrityhood, the functionaries boot Chicago out in the first round.
I hope President Obama has learned a valuable lesson. The weight of the office of the American President should not be dissipated on trivialities. Our President’s decision to become involved in a particular matter should have impact, in part, because it is rare and reserved for very special occasions. If the President is seen on late-night TV regularly, or is happy to fly to some faraway destination to shill for a city hoping to land the Olympics, what kind of impact will it have if the President tries to mediate some domestic political dispute or foreign policy crisis?