THE PLANK SEPTEMBER 29, 2009
Okay, I'll admit that I have some issues with the Olympics, but I think that even Mary Lou Retton should be outraged over Barack Obama's decision to fly to Copenhagen later this week to lobby for Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Summer games.
First of all, consider the optics: the fate of comprehensive health care reform is hanging by a thread up on Capitol Hill and the Pentagon is awaiting the commander-in-chief's word on the way forward in Afghanistan, and Obama's going to take time out of his busy schedule to schmooze with the Princess of Liechtinstein and the 105 other worthies on the I.O.C.'s selection committee? It's enough to make a guy agree with Kit Bond.
Second, what's in it for Obama? If he goes to Copenhagen and the I.O.C. picks Rio, he suffers a completely unnecessary defeat on the world stage; it's one thing to stake your prestige on a global climate change treaty or tougher sanctions on Iran and fail, but to do it for a sporting event just seems ludicrous. And what happens if Obama does succeed and manages to bring the games to Chicago? Well, to quote one-time U.S. men's basketball national team member Derrick Coleman, "Whoop-dee-damn-do." Sure, people in Chicago will be happy, but will anybody in the rest of the country care? I certainly don't remember much dancing in the streets of anywhere other than Atlanta and Salt Lake City when those two cities locked down their Olympic bids.
Finally, what's the point of hosting the Olympics anyway? There's plenty of reasons to doubt the supposed economic benefits of hosting the games. (Just go take a stroll around Atlanta's Centennial Park if you doubt these sorts of studies.) And while I'm sure Obama would enjoy using the 2016 games in his adopted city as a sort of victory lap at the end of what would be his second term, he first has to win that second term. I think health care reform and the war in Afghanistan are going to be a lot more determinative on that count than the I.O.C.
P.S. If Obama's looking for a sporting-event-cum-victory lap in Chicago for 2016, how about persuading the NCAA to host the Final Four in the United Center that year? Not only would such a move endear him to Chicagoans; he'd earn the appreciation of college basketball fans across the country for moving the Final Four away from a dome and back into an actual basketball arena.