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An Olympic “Misunderestimation”

October 3, 2009

First, what this post isn’t about: lambasting President Obama for leaving Washington for all of 24 hours to pursue a project of personal interest. If the United States can’t be without its president’s physical presence for one whole day, we’ve got other issues we need to deal with. While the merits of President Obama’s interest in Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid probably ought to be questioned in light of its rather dramatic one-round failure, his mere presence in Copenhagen is not in itself objectionable.

What is objectionable about the president’s ill-fated little jaunt abroad, however, is its implications about how he sees himself as representing America. Granted, he is a former resident of Chicago and by any measure very attached to his previous Windy City home. But at the same time, particularly in light of the downright apologetic stance he has taken in his dealings abroad, it is also clear that President Obama sees himself as the symbol of a post-Bush America, which is surely a happier, friendlier place that everyone ought to love now that that crazy Texan is out of office. Maybe.

Chicago’s failure to win the bid was a wake-up call from this troubling kind of thinking. If President and Mrs. Obama were hoping that their mere presence would result in the members of the International Olympic Committee falling over themselves in a rush to support the Chicago bid, that hope was quite obviously sorely misplaced. The IOC, like the rest of the world, has not and will not simply fall in love with the United States all over again just because Barack Obama is president. The reasons the rest of the world disliked America while Bush was president in many ways remain the same reasons the rest of the world dislikes us now. President Obama’s position at the helm will not change that—no matter how practiced his rhetoric is, how adorable is puppy undoubtedly may be, or how charming (might I say dis-arming?) his wife is.

It’s time to stop expecting the world to like us because our president is likeable and start seriously considering how we can earn the respect of the international community. That process begins with an end to publicity stunts like these, which only serve to dishonor the office of president.

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