Obama goes for the gold

It’s hard to see the downside of President Obama’s decision to travel to Europe Thursday night to lobby personally for the 2016 Olympics in Chicago.

But that hasn’t stopped people from trying to find fault with the president promoting his country. One nattering nabob of negativism is Sen. Kit Bond (R., Mo.).

“I think it’s baffling that the president has time to travel to Copenhagen,” Bond said. “His number-one responsibility is to keep our country safe.”

Baffling? The president is making a round-trip of less than 24 hours to pitch Olympics officials on awarding the Summer Games to the United States. With Chicago as a finalist, it would be baffling if Obama didn’t make a personal plea for his hometown prior to the International Olympic Committee vote. (Philadelphia bid for these games but lost out in 2006).

Critics of the president’s trip argue, for example, that he should be focused only on sanctioning Iran for its secret nuclear-enrichment facility (something the United States has known about for at least a year).

Or the president should be focused only on getting a health-care bill through Congress (as if one overnight trip could make or break the long-simmering issue). Or he should give priority to the decision whether to send more troops to Afghanistan (as if he and the Joint Chiefs of Staff haven’t made that a top issue).

Or maybe the president should focus only on the economy, or the flu pandemic, or another budding crisis. Circumstances require this president to multitask to a much greater degree than some of his recent predecessors. One overnight trip aboard the flying nerve center called Air Force One isn’t going to change that equation.
Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, and Madrid also are finalists for the 2016 Olympics. Some people argue that the president shouldn’t risk his personal appeal on an effort that might fail. Given the prestige of the event, it would be worse for him not to even try.

The United States has not hosted the Summer Games since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics — the 2002 Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City. The event boosts the international appeal of a city.
The Chicago 2016 Committee has raised $70 million in private funds to promote the city’s bid, an indication of the support from its business community. Although an Olympics doesn’t always result in a boon for the local economy, the committee has estimated that the 2016 games would bring in about $22.5 billion in economic development for the state of Illinois, including $13.7 billion for Chicago.

Given those stakes, the president is more than justified in flying a few hours to Denmark and back.