Obama's 2016 Olympics Bid Was Inept Politics

Another lesson in the limits of rhetoric.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

What exactly were the folks in the White House thinking? Granted that President Obama's Olympic tumble will quickly fade into the realm of "remember that?" trivia, but it's a fundamental rule of politics that you don't make high stakes long-shot bets without a requisite payoff.

In the case of the 2016 Olympics, the payoff—the president's home town hosting the Olympics—was not big enough to justify the prestige of a full court presidential press. The only way his trip to Copenhagen would have made sense was if the fix was in. Why, with literally the world watching, send the president vaulting over a bar if you aren't absolutely sure he can clear it?

Or to put it in terms that former members of Congress like Obama and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel might understand, congressional leaders don't send a bill to the floor without whipping it and knowing that either they have the votes or can get within a few arm-wrangles of them. This was the Olympic equivalent of a high profile but symbolic resolution going down on a procedural vote: big embarrassment over something that would have had little payoff anyway.

Or as Tucker Carlson put it on washingtonpost.com:

Why didn't Obama see this coming? He spends all this time, gets all this press, uses all this political capital to promote Chicago, and then loses? What an amateur. Prosecutors don't ask witnesses questions in court unless they're sure of the answers. Presidents don't stake their personal reputations on contests whose outcomes are uncertain. Very foolish move. No wonder he can't get health care passed.

That's what's so confounding about this. It was an unforced error. There was no compelling reason to make the bid and the decision to go for it was made at the last minute. (In fairness to the president: At least his unforced errors didn't get us into any unnecessary, preventive wars.)

It also underscores a point I've made a number of times, most recently in my column last month: Presidential speeches can be a powerful tool, but they have their limitations. They can make a difference when the surrounding circumstances are lined up correctly. They can catalyze a trend and focus national attention on an issue. But they rarely in and of themselves redirect events.

That is a lesson the president and his aides still apparently have to learn.