The tour and the speech are done, and now it is on to the next big, fatuous thing: the Olympics. The Obama campaign has announced that it will spend some $5 million to run advertisements for the candidate during broadcasts of the Games. It is odd how, here in late July, with Obama not yet even the official nominee of his party, the $5 million figure seems paltry and the description of him as a “candidate” woefully inadequate. He has so much more money and so much more star power than that. The world hasn’t experienced anything like him since Diana died.
When Obama promises to “remake the world,” a vow he made in Germany, the multitudes swoon. This came, of course, a few weeks after he had said, upon winning a primary vote, “generations from now we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment . . . when the rise of the oceans began to slow . . . when our planet began to heal.”
He is, it seems, running for president of the planet.
Obama and the Olympics are perfectly matched; they are both high-gloss products designed to stimulate a kind of emotional ecstasy. The Olympics come packaged in a lot of overblown rhetoric about how the world sets aside its political differences for a few days and comes together on the fields of friendly competition just the way it was done back in ancient times.
The stuff about the Olympics somehow being able to shed itself of politics is especially rich. It wasn’t true of the ancient Games, and the modern Olympics have been corrupted over and over by the worst of 20th-century politics. Hitler made the 1936 Games a kind of coming-out party for National Socialist Germany, and the rest of the world went along. There is a famous photograph of British athletes giving the Nazi salute at one of those ceremonies the Games are so fond of.
The next time the Games were held in Germany, in 1972, Palestinian terrorists took the opportunity to kidnap the Israeli team. A rescue attempt was unsuccessful and eleven athletes, one coach, and five terrorists died.
In 1980, the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Games as a way of protesting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviets retaliated next time around when the Games were held in Los Angeles. And when the various parties were not openly playing politics with the Olympics, there was still plenty of nationalistic score-keeping going on. During the Cold War, the East Germans won truckloads of medals and claimed that this proved the superiority of Marxist-Leninist societies in the competition with soft capitalist nations for world supremacy. People on our side of the Iron Curtain wrung their hands over the weight-lifter gap, but the West somehow survived, and there is now only one Germany, united in its adoration of Barack Obama.
This year’s Games will begin in a couple of weeks. In China. There will be extensive television coverage, with all the usual effusive commentary and the endless ads, including those for Obama. The Chinese are treating the Games as a kind of open-house to which we are all invited. They want the world to look on all that they have become and find it good.
There will, one can feel certain, be no mention, by any television personality, of Tiananmen Square, Tibet, or Darfur. No discussion of the heavy-handed Chinese security measures put in place for the Games. That would be political and would sully the mood. The Games are long on glittery fantasy and designed to stimulate the cheapest, most vulgar emotions and, in this way, they are profoundly political. They serve as a kind of political Disneyland. The China of the Olympics is a theme park.
But that makes the broadcast of the Games a perfect placement for Obama ads. The transition from empty sports commentary to fatuous political rhetoric will be utterly seamless. We will hear about the way people of all nations and faiths have come to China in a spirit of peaceful competition, and we won’t even feel the slightest bump when the gears shift to bromides about walls coming down and moments we’ve been waiting for and, of course, remaking the world.
And think about this: Shortly after the interminable closing ceremonies in Bejing, the American political conventions will be getting underway.
It has been a long summer, already, and it promises to get even longer.
– Geoffrey Norman is editor of vermonttiger.com.