Obama’s Olympics failure will haunt him in future

OK, so it wasn’t health care, climate change or war. Still, President Barack Obama’s high-profile failure to win the Olympics for Chicago could feed negative narratives already nipping at his heels — that he’s a better talker than closer, more celebrity than statesman.

And this could hamper his efforts on the weightier issues.

Despite Obama’s fabled charm and powers of persuasion, his in-person plea for Chicago to host the 2016 Summer Games fell flat. It was a hugely embarrassing defeat. His adopted hometown — considered a front-runner heading into Friday’s voting — didn’t just lose, it took last place, shocking nearly all by getting knocked out in the first round while the remaining three contenders moved on.

The defeat could soon be a distant memory, and may never be more than a quixotic-blip trip. But if, for whatever reason, bigger losses start piling up in Obama’s corner, his performance in this case could be regarded as emblematic.

Obama tried to put the best face on his trip, saying upon his return to the White House, “One of the things that I think is most valuable about sports is that you can play a great game and still not win.” He said he was proud of everyone’s effort.

However, almost every aspect of his involvement this week in the Olympics quest recalls a strain of criticism that has been gaining ground on him:

• He’s trying to do too much at once.

The line is familiar by now: It’s nuts for Obama to tackle the dismal economy, the overhaul of two wars, a remaking of the U.S. health care system and climate change all in one year, and with other difficult issues on the agenda as well.

He has achievements to be proud of in less than nine months in office. But with most of the bigger issues still in the air, voters — even some in Obama’s own Democratic Party — are beginning to wonder whether he’s someone who tries a lot but succeeds at little, and whether he has the sense to focus on the most important things. A jaunt across the Atlantic, and an extraordinarily expensive one at that, doesn’t help.

• He doesn’t have what it takes to close a deal.

The why-Chicago-lost story has many contributors, with Obama’s last-minute flight to Copenhagen for an emotional appeal probably among the least of them. Regardless, he is now tied inexorably to Chicago’s defeat, and that verdict isn’t good.

• He is a celebrity, for sure, but is that always a good thing?

Remember how Republican John McCain tried to stoke doubts about Obama during last year’s presidential campaign by calling him all flash and no pan? A bit of that is in play here, too, where some perceive Obama as arrogantly relying too much on his celebrity status and not enough on the nitty-gritty work of winning votes. For instance, some IOC members resented the fact that Obama blew into Copenhagen for just five hours, jetting back down the runway toward Washington hours before the result was even announced.

“It can be that some IOC members see it as a lack of respect,” said former IOC member Kai Holm.

• He’s too casual with the use of his own time.

This White House has been drawing questions about its tendency to turn to Obama as its only closer, with not much of a bench. Other White Houses have been more judicious about deploying their most precious resource, the president — doing so only when really needed, and usually only when they know they can win. This reduces the chances of overexposure reducing his effectiveness.

It might have been wiser to know more about the vote count before he boarded Air Force One. In hindsight, there was plenty of reason to doubt Chicago’s chances.

• He’s junior varsity-league, still learning on the job.

The votes of IOC members are notoriously hard to count ahead of time. But so are those in the U.S. Capitol. Will Obama do as poorly predicting how health care votes are leaning in Congress, and make similarly ill-fated strategic decisions as that long and complicated debate unfolds through the fall?

Keep in mind: If Obama had not gone to Denmark and Chicago lost, he no doubt would have been blamed for not making an effort. He tried, as he often does, to thread the needle — make the trip, but make it a quick one to deflect questions about taking time away from the pressing health care and Afghanistan debates.

Aides said the president viewed the trip as worth it, despite the painful outcome. “If you can’t do more than one thing at a time,” said spokesman Robert Gibbs, “the president wouldn’t have gotten through the first day.”

But the president risks seeing the pool of his easy doubters grow with each misstep, even these smaller ones.


Jennifer Loven is AP White House Correspondent and has covered the White House for the AP since 2002. Julie Pace reported from Copenhagen.


  1. woody188

    Perhaps the IOC was making a statement about the US invasion of 3 countries and US threats to invade at least one other. The Olympics, games of goodwill and peace, have a history of doing these things.

    Obama isn’t the only failure. Look in the mirror you fascist imperial pigs. To say and do nothing is silent agreement.

    Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain

  2. pondering_it_all

    What a pantload this article is: I don’t recall President Obama being put in charge of the US Olympic Committee! They were responsible for the 2016 Chicago proposal, and their efforts fell short of the other contenders. Host city decisions are never about the popularity or competence of a country’s leader. Just because Obama was willing and able to show up and add his support to Chicago’s bid, doesn’t mean this is somehow a great harbinger of failure.

    Let’s just see how the President does over the next couple of years. Once the health care reform bill is passed and the economic recovery expands, look for reelection by an even larger percentage.

  3. Sandra Price

    Woody, that is exactly what I understood from my own correspondence. The denial of Chicago should be the wake up call to all Americans that just possibly our reputation on this planet is not good.

    We had no lesser of two evil choices last November which is why many of us wrote in Ron Paul.

    American values are no longer our independence and the GOP had everything to do with this. The GOP still sits in the lap of a one world order forcing not only democracy across the world but the hint (I’m being careful here) of Christianity fixing what ails humans.

  4. psyopswatcher

    Obama was damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t. Imagine the flack if he hadn’t went?

    The IOC knows what a inconvenient, humiliating mess it is to get into the US thru customs and immigration. I don’t think they wanted to inflict that on the rest of the sports loving world. Much of the world is well aware of the xenophobia Olympic tourists would have to face coming here. Better they go somewhere they’re actually wanted.

    Maybe they were doing us a favor not having the security worries that would run rampant all the way to 2016. I know they did themselves a favor not picking picking Chicago.