Is President Obama Really Going to Grovel in Copenhagen?

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The president heads to Europe today—not to bargain for an international treaty on climate change, or to join the heated Swiss negotiations on Iranian nuclear ambitions, but to beg and plead on behalf Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid. There had been some speculation about who might go fight for the president’s adopted hometown (last week, Michelle Obama, Valerie Jarrett, Arne Duncan and Oprah were the biggest names) but word on the street is that Obama’s last-minute appearance, presumably to charm the pants of the International Olympic Committee, makes Chicago a lock to win.


Never mind that it looks a bit funny for Obama to be gaming out his goodbye party in 2016 (what happened to reelection, Mr. President?), but given the number of pressing domestic and foreign policy issues that remain in Washington, the 30-hour tour to Copenhagen, Denmark, looks unwise. Jon, citing Jason Zengerle, pointed out some of the follies:

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?

Yes, Obama met with a heavy-hitting cadre of advisers on the war in Afghanistan yesterday, and will do the same with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today. But to hear Amy Shipley at the Washington Post tell it, the Olympic gamesmanship really is reminiscent of a high school student council election:

In the final days of their campaigns, cities that have spent millions of dollars on elaborate construction plans waste little time touting the quality of their hotels or plans for traffic control. They bring out politicians and celebrities, trying to show the support and power behind their bids. They put on flashy presentations and carve out time for plenty of handshakes and eye contact in the hope of stealing hearts and accruing last-minute votes.

Oh dear. Amid this climate of competition and glamour, even Michelle Obama and Oprah have gotten in on the trash talking. Earlier this week, the first lady called it “a battle — we're going to win — take no prisoners.” She continued the jabs Wednesday afternoon: "Every single city who's bidding wishes they had Oprah on their team." "The party starts tomorrow!" Oprah exclaimed shortly thereafter. Yes, Chicago is the heart and soul of the Obama family, but let's hope we don't see an end-zone dance after Friday's vote.

What’s more, it’s debatable whether Olympic bids are really so wonderful for the cities that host them. It may be beneficial for businesses surrounding the proposed Olympic site, and a patriotic moment for the country, but not all Chicagoans are convinced this is smart—just ask those who are backing Rio De Janeiro for the bid.


All the controversy hasn’t stopped all the four finalist countries—Brazil, Japan, Spain and the US—from doing their best Tracy Flick impressions for the IOC (Pick me! Pick me!). It’s just a bit sad that the president of the United States would join the fray.

But now that the charmer-in-chief has gotten down in the mud—he had better win.


Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.