Curious criticism

I confess I am very happy that Rio de Janeiro will be hosting the 2016 Olympics. It is a beautiful city that has been sadly neglected in recent decades – this could be just the shot in the arm needed by this cidade maravilhosa to bring it back to its state of glory. In the larger scheme of things, it was obviously a good decision, and the International Olympic Committee recognized that.

One thing about the competition that puzzles me is the criticism from some in the U.S. of our president for flying to Copenhagen and arguing forcefully in favor of our own Chicago as the 2016 host city. When I think about the role of President – or the leader of any nation for that matter – it’s hard to define that office in a way that wouldn’t encourage such a mission. In these difficult economic times, it would have been a significant boon to our nation to have nabbed that prize. By sending our leader, we were putting our best foot forward – such a show of seriousness can only help one’s case.

Of course if he hadn’t gone, there would have been far greater criticism. President Obama would have “owned” the loss: Whatever other factors were involved in the IOC’s decision, if he had turned his back on the process – a bid from his own home city – there would have been consensus that the loss was his fault, for not lending his support. To have failed even to try because the odds were against success would rightly have been judged as a craven decision.

There are so many real things to do discuss in this country. Decisions on Afghanistan, the bank bailout, health care, environmental policy, these are all subjects for legitimate debate. It is important that the administration not get a free pass on any policy issues that affect millions of Americans – and in some cases the rest of the world.

But when the topic at hand is a no-brainer – when the president does something as obviously reasonable as flying to Copenhagen to stand up for our nation’s bid to host the Olympics – there is something peculiarly idiotic about taking him to task for this. It’s as though some critics of the administration are deliberately trying to be perceived as clowns – to destroy their own credibility – when in fact our nation needs them to be taken seriously, so that we can continue to have a serious back and forth on the real issues that face our nation.

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