One can understand an American president’s lobbying for an American city to obtain the Olympics, but the blitz by the Obamas proved a PR nightmare. Let us count the ways:
1) Obama’s brand is trans-nationalism and an “America is not exceptional” multiculturalism. According to his worldview, it makes sense that a South American country — especially a powerful, ascendant country such as Brazil — should at last have its turn at hosting the Olympics. It did not seem consistent that a politician who had reached out to the Castros, Chávez, Morales, and Ortega, in parochial fashion, would lobby for his own hometown over a “yes, we can” Latin American initiative, especially one involving an exciting city such as Rio.
2) The Obama lobbying speeches were counterproductive. The world has its own inspirational narratives and is not impressed that much by the Obamas’ Chicago sagas. It was accidental but unfortunate that the global viewers had seen some horrific YouTube clips of street fighting in the Windy City, and then were told by Michelle that her father had taught her how to land a right hook, and that it was a sacrifice for her to fly to Denmark to make the case for Chicago.
3) The Chicago bit was overdone. Obama should remember that there is a perfect storm brewing: The more we hear about Valerie Jarrett, Rahm Emanuel, Bill Ayers, and all his old Chicago friends, along with rumors about Tony Rezko–style backroom deals to cash in on Chicago real estate involving the Olympics, and continuing stories about Chicago’s street violence and corruption — the more it hurts the president to be identified as a “Chicago politician” who tries in heavy-handed fashion to implement change through the “Chicago way.” To a younger Obama, Chicago was the romantic can-do town of Reverend Wright, Michael Jordan, Oprah, and the Daley machine; to the world at large, it is something quite different, and far more unappealing.
4) Obama’s messianic appeal is wearing thin, both at home and abroad. I think that once Sarkozy essentially said to the world, “The emperor has no clothes,” the Obama facade crumbled. And here we are.