Friday, October 2, 2009

Who's the mope in the White House who persuaded Obama to make a personal pitch for Chicago Olympics?

CNN anchor is dumbfounded at Chicago's first-round elimination

Sure, in a perfect world, Chicago's losing its Olympic bid is no big deal, and the President would be congratulated for giving it the old college try.

But politics is politics, and when the President of the United States very publicly -- and in the face of criticism -- puts the prestige of his office behind something -- anything -- losing has a cost, at least in political terms. As Politico's Ben Smith put it within minutes of the news:

There's a reason the president is rarely dispatched to a summit whose outcome is uncertain.

And Chicago's elimination in the first round of voting has to raise questions about whether the White House was getting accurate information about how competitive this was from Chicago's Olympics organizers.

The White House staked, and lost, some prestige on that one.
Exactly. So who in the White House called it so very wrong and urged Obama to change his mind publicly and make the 11th hour trip to Copenhagen? When the trip was announced, just about everyone assumed that it must be because Chicago was going to win, since no one would be foolish enough to put the Presidency behind a loss at a time when there really are so many other bigger fish to fry. After all, no one would have faulted Obama had he stuck with his original plan to send the First Lady.

It had to be one or more of the Obama Chicago crew: Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, political advisor David Axelrod, or family friend and consiglieri Valerie Jarrett -- or maybe all three. OK, maybe they got misleading intelligence from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley or were hoodwinked by the IOC. Still, it's their job to figure these things out. And it's just politics, not rocket science.

My money is on Jarrett who has the deepest ties to Chicago's elite and whose White House portfolio of "public engagement and intergovernmental affairs" means that liaison with Chicago's leadership on matters like this is her prime responsibility.

Obama's campaign team last year was widely lauded for its smarts and effectiveness, but their record in the White House isn't up to that standard. Look for changes as the second year of Obama's term draws near.

Got an opinion? Post a comment.

UPDATE -- I should add that I thought a Chicago Olympics would have been a good thing for Chicago, the USA and the Olympics. Why the IOC chose Rio, which is widely believed to be a cesspool of flith, crime and degradation, is utterly beyond me.

UPDATE 2: Unbelievable. "A sense of stunned bewilderment suffused Air Force One and the White House. Only after the defeat did many advisers ask questions about the byzantine politics of the Olympic committee. Valerie Jarrett, the president’s senior adviser and a Chicago booster who persuaded him to make the trip while at the United Nations last week, had repeatedly compared the contest to the Iowa caucuses.

"But officials said the administration did not independently verify Chicago’s chances, relying instead on the Chicago 2016 committee assertions that the city had enough support to finish in the top two. Mr. Obama, Michelle Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Ms. Jarrett worked the phones in recent weeks without coming away with a sense of how behind Chicago really was."

UPDATE 3: Larry Sabato asks the obvious question, "Will anyone’s head roll for causing Obama this acute embarrassment on the international stage?"


  1. Stunning that advisors so highly placed could be so naive; frightening Obama was not capable of making the call himself.

  2. Rio is no puzzle. The Olympics are a party for the well to do; that's who buys the tickets, rents the rooms, and dines in the restaurants. Would you pick Chicago or Rio if you wanted to party for a month?