Today's New York Times Weekend Opinionator has gathered plenty of foolish opinions from around the web about "An Olympian Defeat for Obama."
Yesterday, the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2016 Summer Games to Río de Janeiro, turning down bids from Chicago, Madrid, and Tokyo. I write this rant from Madrid, where the outlook on the vote is quite different from these Obama-obsessed and US-centered commentaries.
The NY Times blog asks: "Did the president err in backing Chicago’s bid? And does the decision mean that the world still dislikes America?" No and no, I reply. Does it mark "the end of the so-called Obama Effect?" Again, no.
First, why did Obama go? "He has to come," said Edwardo Paes, Mayor of Río de Janeiro, on Tuesday. "He can't do anything else. The King (of Spain) is coming, Lula (da Silva, the president of Brazil) is coming, the prime minister of Japan is coming.... How can't he come? But he's different from them, he's someone we all respect because he can make needed changes in American politics. It's a very friendly gesture to come to an event like this.... It's an attitude of multi-lateralism."
But, Paes points out, Lula had been working on the bid for a long time. Obama flew in and out in four hours, and "wasted" a half-hour of that time talking to General McChrystal on Air Force One about Afghanistan.
It would have seemed weird to the rest of the world if Obama hadn't come. But to make a difference, he needed to have come early in the week and devoted himself to the bid, like Lula. And Obama has too much to do making changes in America for that, understandably.
Second, does the vote mean the world still dislikes America? No. Chicago offered a good but imperfect bid. The International Olympic Committee had concerns about public support for the Games, which was weak compared to Río and Madrid, and about funding. Problems with Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1966 and in Salt Lake City in 2002 didn't make the Committee feel better about the bid.
In the first round, Chicago got 18 votes, Tokyo 22, Río 26, and Madrid 28 — not exactly a clear example of anti-Americanism. It's true, absolutely true, that there's a lot of politics in the Olympics, but it's complex, multilateral politics, and while there's no doubt a bit of anti-Americanism, there's also antipathy and attraction toward many countries, regions, and individuals at play for all sorts of reasons beyond "politics" in the sense of national political policies. In the next voting rounds, all the votes from the cities that were eliminated went to Río. In the final analysis, all I can identify is pro-Ríoism. Or, rather, pro-Lulaism.
Finally, the Obama Effect: Obama created amazing excitement in Copenhagen. They even let him violate protocol so that members of the Committee could shake his hand, and a lot wanted to. He still has an effect.
But he's not the only guy with charisma. Don Juan Carlos I, King of Spain, spoke not only as a head of state but as an Olympic athlete (Munich, 1972, sailing) in three languages (beat that, Barack), telling how his grandchildren had volunteered to work in the Madrid Olympics. Spaniard Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee from 1980 to 2001, now 89 years old, said his dying wish was to see Madrid get the Olympics.
None of that could beat Lula da Silva, statesman of South America. Obama didn't lose. Lula won big. Speaking on behalf of the continent, which has never hosted the Games, he told the Committee with simple but compelling accuracy: "Our time has come." Lucky for South America, he's a pragmatic and intelligent man, because he more than anyone else may determine its future.
"Río loves you" is the slogan for its bid. But more than that, the International Olympic Committee, like many other people, loves Lula — more than the Opinionators seem to realize, and for reasons they may have noticed.
— Sue Burke