WASHINGTON -- When President Barack Obama decided to go to Denmark, he hoped to win international support Friday for the U.S. bid for the 2016 Olympics to be in Chicago. The moment he signed on, however, he also generated a storm of criticism from the right at home.
Some Republicans and right-wing commentators are blasting him for going, saying it's a waste of presidential time when he should be doing other things, such as deciding on an Afghanistan strategy.
Some say Chicago itself is unworthy, calling it a crime-ridden city filled with corrupt Obama cronies waiting to line their pockets with Olympic-sized graft.
Some openly suggest that the United States should lose the competition.
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"If they knew what brand of toothpaste he uses, they'd be against it," said Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. "It's like the old song that said, 'Whatever it is, I'm against it.' If Obama said the sun came up in the east, somebody would show up with a study arguing against it."
Obama initially had said he was too busy to go to Copenhagen, though the national leaders from the other three finalists for the 2016 Summer Games — Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo and Madrid, Spain — were planning to show up to make their cases. Obama initially planned to let Michelle Obama and a coterie of Chicagoans, including Oprah Winfrey, make the U.S. pitch.
No American president ever before has traveled abroad to present the U.S. Olympics bid. The competition changed in recent years, however, as British Prime Minister Tony Blair showed up to help win the 2012 Summer Games for London, and then Russian President Vladimir Putin pitched in to help win the 2014 Winter Games for Sochi, Russia.
Obama decided earlier this week to make a quick trip, leaving Washington on Thursday night, making his pitch Friday morning, then flying back Friday afternoon.
That sent the right around the bend.
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said that while it was a noble idea to support the U.S. bid, it was wrong for Obama to make the trip with the country in recession, Americans worried about the economy and health care, and the nation facing international challenges.
Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, his party's leader in the House of Representatives, said that it was fine to promote the Chicago bid, but the job should be left to the city's mayor. As for the president, he said, "the problems we have here at home affect all Americans, and that's where his attention ought to be."
Neither Boehner nor Steele noted that Republican President George W. Bush went to China for four days last year to watch the Olympics, at a time when the country was sinking into a deep recession and was fighting two wars.
Right-wing pundits also lined up, pointing to the gruesome murder of a Chicago student by gang thugs as evidence that the city could be an embarrassment.
"Obama is Chicago, Chicago is Obama," talk-show host Laura Ingraham said Thursday. She went on to ridicule the White House statement that Obama found video of the student murder chilling, saying, "hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of similar beatings" had occurred in Chicago "since Obama was cutting his teeth at ACORN."
Obama worked with the liberal advocacy group in Chicago, representing it in a lawsuit and conducting leadership seminars for it.
Talk-show host Sean Hannity also linked the murder to the Olympics bid, saying that Obama turned the crime into a political issue when he decided to travel to Denmark.
Several commentators charged that Chicago is corrupt and that Obama pals will profit, such as adviser Valerie Jarrett, who had a Chicago real estate business before she came to the White House, where she's a top adviser.
"Some people say she was a slumlord and she may personally benefit," said Glenn Beck of Fox News.
"What we're going to have is gangster politics that will make Al Capone so happy," added Fox News contributor Pat Caddell, a former adviser to Democratic President Jimmy Carter. "This is the biggest outrage ever done."
Grover Norquist, an anti-tax lobbyist and conservative strategist, said that the U.S. bid should be rejected because Obama was being hypocritical.
"Obama told the United Nations that under his presidency, America's values and interests would take a back seat to the interests of the world community, but evidently not when it comes to bringing the pork home to Chicago," Norquist wrote in The Washington Post. "Let's be nice and let some other country have the Olympics."
"Chicago is an easy target because of its reputation," said Peter Brown, an independent political analyst and the assistant director of the Polling Institute at Quinnipiac University. "Whether it's fair today or not, its history makes it easy."
Chicago isn't really the target, however. Obama is.
"This is much less about Chicago than it is about Obama," Brown said. "It's another opportunity to go after him."
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