Steve Chapman

Abraham Lincoln was once asked how he liked being president. Bedeviled by secession and war, he recalled a story about a man who, when tarred, feathered and ridden out of town on a rail, commented that "if it was not for the honor of the thing, he would much rather walk." Chicago didn't get the honor of hosting the 2016 Olympic Games, but it should be grateful.

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Athletes who make the games face the challenge of outdoing talented peers from all over the world. Cities that host the games face the challenge of putting on a massive and highly visible two-week extravaganza without spending themselves into the poor house.

That's why plenty of locals had serious reservations about the whole thing. While the Chicago 2016 committee brandished a poll showing that 72 percent of locals supported the bid, a Chicago Tribune/WGN poll put the number at only 47 percent.

Here, as elsewhere, public opinion does not always matter. When the mayor and assorted corporations and interest groups line up behind something, even a grandiose vanity project, it's a good bet they will prevail over petty malcontents. Mayor Richard M. Daley is accustomed to getting his own way, even if it means calling out bulldozers in the middle of the night to wreck a city airport the federal government refused to let him close.

In this case, the big boys did prevail, rolling over local objections to be among the four finalists in Copenhagen. They just couldn't prevail over powerful interests in other countries. For Daley -- who has been in office for two decades but whose popularity has eroded due to scandals and flights of arrogance -- the shocking first-round eviction was a rare humbling moment, which might be good for him.

The outcome did not cast a flattering light on President Obama's decision to jet to Denmark to personally lobby the International Olympic Committee, which know-it-alls back home took as proof that everything was wired for his home city. Conservatives crowed that the defeat showed global disdain for a president who was supposed to win over the world. But it could just as well reflect residual distrust sown by his predecessor.

It did, however, confirm that Obama should have stayed home and focused on issues that have something to do with his job, instead of inviting a small group of foreigners to hand him his hindquarters on a platter.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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