Can Barack Obama argue his way out of a paper bag?
That’s the question eminences of his party will be mulling after his defeat Friday at the International Olympic Committee in Copenhagen. Obama put his worldwide popularity and the full weight of the office of the presidency of the United States behind Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics.
He surprised the world by losing on the first round of balloting. That hurt his credibility at a time when he could least afford it.
I had thought Republicans were foolish to protest Obama’s Olympic bid as a costly waste of time. It seemed such an easy layup for a president who could use it.
Chicago had put together what to my untrained eyes looked like an impressive bid to host the games. Sending in Obama to seal the deal seemed a good call. Protesting it only made Republicans look petty beforehand and promised to make them sore losers, and enemies of contests that are popular, after he brought it home. There was just no upside in criticizing that.
Wrong! Obama now looks arrogant for assuming that he could land the games and extremely foolish for putting the prestige of the executive office behind a losing cause.
Of course, the GOP faithful could still overplay their hand on this Olympic-sized vindication. Talk show host Laura Ingraham was whooping it up over Brazil’s victory Friday night at Americans For Prosperity’s Defending the American Dream Summit in Crystal City, Virginia. “RIO!” she chanted, predicting that this was the beginning of the end for Chicago-style politics. Her enthusiasm is commendable, but it would be unwise for the Republican masses to follow suit and appear to be gloating.
Still, it will be hard to distract from this traumatic loss for a president who was touted for his ability to convince people of things. He got lily-white Iowans to vote for him over a party favorite. He managed to nimbly sidestep the Jeremiah Wright debacle. Here was an antiwar candidate who convinced voters to trust him on economic matters.
Obama’s past successes only makes his stumbles now more puzzling. The inarticulate George W. Bush convinced Congress to cut taxes and launch two wars. Professor Obama is having a much harder time of it. He was getting knocked around on the world stage before Friday and his domestic agenda is in deep trouble.
The president is struggling to deliver on the legislative priorities of organized labor or environmental groups. The more he speechifies in favor of health care reform — in stage-managed town hall meetings, on Sunday morning talk shows, before a joint session of Congress — the further it slips from his grasp.
Too much can and will be made out of the Olympic decision; however, we can say this much: It was a loss when Obama wanted and needed a win. It was supposed to be an easy sell and a nice way to mark the end of his second term in the White House. Now one sure thing is gone and the other one is looking less sure by the day.
Does anybody seriously doubt that Mitt Romney, Obama’s most likely Republican challenger in 2012, would have failed to bring the Games home?