Obama’s Olympic Failure

Stinging defeat could take lasting toll on Prez's image


President Obama's vaunted star power flopped on the world stage -- and his failure to bring the 2016 Olympics to his hometown of Chicago may cost him a heavy price in political capital.

The Olympic diss was especially embarrassing because Chicago was the first of four finalists to be eliminated by the world body despite the president's dramatic late-night flight to Copenhagen to make his pitch in person. No U.S president had ever personally pitched the Olympics, and Chicagoans had desperately hoped their city's favorite son would use his charisma to bring back the games.

"I have no doubt it was the strongest bid possible," Obama said at a Friday afternoon press conference. Obama, looking fresh on what must have been very little rest, said he called the Brazilian president to congratulate him on Rio De Janeiro being chosen as host.

"I believe it's always a worthwhile endeavor to promote and boost the United States of America and to invite the world to come see what we're all about," he added, before thanking the Chicago officials and volunteers who put their "heart and soul" into the bid.

Chicago spent nearly $50 million over the last few years trying to win over the 100-plus member International Olympic Committee. But the stinging rejection cost Obama even more, in prestige. Moments after the decision, Adam Brookes of the BBC predicted the defeat will diminish Obama's political stature.

"The shock of Chicago's elimination was greater for the fact that it came in the first round," Brookes wrote. "And greater for the fact that President Obama had taken valuable hours from his packed and tense political schedule to travel to Copenhagen.

"His legendary powers of persuasion will be said to have failed him," Brookes added.

Even before he hopped aboard Air Force One to go charm the IOC, Obama's domestic critics were out in full force.

"He's the president of the United States, not the mayor of Chicago," sniped House Minority Leader John Boehner, (R-Ohio). "And the problems we have here at home affect all Americans and that's where his attention ought to be."

Obama made the trip right after critical talks with Iran about its nuclear program and amid the ongoing and increasingly polarized health care debate.

"The president can't make everything a priority, because the end result will be that there is no priority," complained Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich.). "Nothing is a priority because everything is a priority."

Some in Chicago wondered why the president would bother, given the city's reputation for skulduggery and backroom dealing. By going to the White House, Obama had supposedly risen above Chicago politics. Yet, there in Copenhagen along with stars like Oprah Winfrey and First Lady Michelle Obama, was Mayor Richard Daley and a cadre of lesser-known operatives from a city with a political landscape known for patronage and corruption.

“Obama got out of the swamp," wrote Ben Joravsky, a columnist for the liberal weekly  the Chicago Reader. "Now why would he want to dive back in?”

While the rebuke won't directly affect Obama's political agenda, it could take a toll on his image as a smooth and effective leader. After all, it wasn't right-wingers at a town hall meeting, or even the loyal opposition in Congress who said "no thanks" so emphatically to Obama.

It was the world.

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