Going for the gold

Posted: Oct 04, 2009 12:00 AM

 America and the world face plenty of serious issues. Where to hold the 2016 Summer Olympics isn’t one of them.

I know this. You know this. Even most folks in Chicago understand.

But the president of the United States doesn’t.

Last week, President Barack Obama hopped aboard Air Force One and flewall night across the globe to be part of his home city’s sales pitch tohost the sporting event. In doing this he committed more than jet fuel.He committed his time and energy and even greater amounts of theseresources from members of his staff.


The heads of other nation-states have done much the same, pleadingthe cases for “their cities” before the International OlympicCommittee, seeking the mixed blessing of hosting the games.

My mother taught me to resist the impulse to imitate others, to dosomething solely on the basis that others were doing it. In theinterest of full disclosure, she usually mentioned cliffs, jumping, andthe lemming-like behavior of my compeers. Never once did she analogizeabout a flight to Copenhagen.

Arguing with Idiots By Glenn Beck

We’re told that the whirlwind trip was no bother at all for thePrez. While Air Force One zipped over the Atlantic, he caught a fewz’s. Then, in a snap, he jetted back.

But ask yourself, would you want the CEO running your company to betaking such side trips on matters so unrelated and inconsequential toyour core business? Would you want him or her to be doing it in themidst of several major crises? While proposing major new product lines?

At least the trip created an opportunity for a photo op with themilitary commander of tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan,who happened to be speaking in London . . . warning of the direconsequences if some big decisions aren’t made soon by themulti-tasking manager of the free world.

Government can’t be all things to all people. But it keeps trying.In that tradition, Obama’s jaunt to Denmark not only suggests thatgovernment can and should do it all, but that Obama can do it allalmost single-handedly. Otherwise, how could pitching the IOC end up atthe top of any day’s agenda?

This is more than simply a matter of not prioritizing. We may be seeing the result of very deliberate and precise political prioritization.

Note Michele Malkin’s charges that this is the classic patronage game— using one’s position to reward friends and cronies. This has becomeknown, for abundant reasons, as “the Chicago way.” Certainly, Mr. Obamahas friends and allies deeply involved in the Chicago bid, folks whowould have gained had our president been successful in bringing thegames to Chicagoland.

But I fear something even more dangerous behind Obama’s involvement: The belief that winning the games actually matters economically.

The Olympic Games, you see, are said to spur the economy. This makessense only if you believe that throwing trillions at banks or carcompanies or what-have-you spurs the economy. Further, the collectivepride manufactured through all the hoopla would compel ever morecitizens to the shopping mall, thereby exuberantly spending Americaback into prosperity.

Excuses and public rationales aside, politicians like to make big splashes, to take credit for the panem et circensesthey provide. But Roman bread and circuses were actually financed bywealthy Romans to placate the masses. Today’s bread and circusesrequire slapping higher taxes on the little guy, the better to helpbigger guys.

I remember how, years ago, the same DC politicians who persistentlydecried their lack of money to address the problems of poverty,inferior schools, and terrible levels of crime suddenly found nearly abillion dollars to build a shiny new stadium for millionaire baseballowners — who then provided free luxury boxes to those same politicians.

Our country didn’t become wealthy by hosting sporting events orsubsidizing stadiums. Or bailing out failing businesses. We need jobsthat actually produce products and services valuable enough that peoplewill voluntarily purchase them.

Thankfully, Chicago lost the bid. Call it a triumph, for hosting theOlympics would have created not one permanent productive job. But therewould have been big profits for some — at the expense of areataxpayers.

No wonder less than half of Chicagoans wanted the Olympics to cometo their city. The majority, in this case, possesses the good sensethat the president and his advisors lack. Could it be that — unlikeObama, who lives at The White House — they would have had to pay thehigher taxes and endure the extra traffic jams had the president’seffort been successful?

When the modern Olympics were established at the end of the 19th century, President Grover Clevelandinsisted on spending not one cent of taxpayer funds on the project. Theevent was a private affair, requiring private funding alone. BarackObama should have followed that sensible lead.