Maybe it's the little things in life that count at the White House. Bill Clinton spent part of his presidency worrying about school uniforms. Jimmy Carter fretted over who got to use the White House tennis courts. George W. Bush tried to get to bed before the chickens. ("It's only 9 o'clock, and we know where our president is.")
Barack Obama is merely following precedent by fleeing Washington and big headaches - the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the deteriorating prospects for health care reform, legislation to cool the globe (or should we worry now about warming the globe?), and various "czars" gone wild. He's in Copenhagen with the missus not on the nation's business, but the business of his cronies in Chicago.
The International Olympic Committee will decide Friday where to hold the Olympiad of 2016, and the four cities in the running - Chicago, Tokyo, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro - have sent the top of the batting order to make the final effort. Tokyo and Rio sent heads of state. Spain raised with a king, and Chicago called, with a messiah.
The Republicans naturally pretend to be aghast, or at least appalled. You don't get many opportunities, even in Washington, to be aghast, so time-consuming are mere outrages, affronts and abuses. "The very idea," says Rep. John Boehner, the House minority leader, "of [the president] going to go off to Copenhagen when we've got serious issues here at home that need to be debated."
The White House thought so, too, last week, when the president's men said it was unlikely that the president would go to Denmark when there was so much rotten here, mostly the health care system, the world's weather and those darn czars who won't behave themselves. The generals in Afghanistan want more troops. Illegal immigrants are trying to get in. The thugs at Guantanamo want out. He would stay here to continue trying to fix things. But then the president decided that the health care debate was "far enough along" that he could spare a day or two to join the first missus in Copenhagen, where he should buy her a funnel cake and treat her to a ride on the Tilt-a-Whirl at Tivoli Gardens. He sounded a lot like saying that health care reform was in the tank, so he might as well take a respite from Dodge.
Chicago was the odds-on favorite to get the 2016 games a week ago, but the Brazilian bid began to look better this week. London's bookies, legal and eager to quote odds on everything, said on the eve of the decision that Chicago vs. Rio looked like an even bet.
The president, no doubt figuring that a nice speech in Copenhagen would tip the odds in Chicago's favor, isn't getting much help from his hometown. Suddenly certain streets of Chicago are awash in blood, with two horrific beatings of teenage boys damaging the city's hopes. One group of schoolyard thugs attacked with planks, another with lead pipes. Not a gun in sight this time, but neither the planks nor the pipes were registered with the law.
The beatings were only two isolated incidents, one on the South Side of town and one on the prosperous north side, but isolated as they were they fit the Al Capone image the Europeans and the rest of the world have of Chicago. Rio is among the most violent cities in the world, but that probably doesn't count.
Not everybody in the president's hometown is eager for the games, which always cost more than the promoters and boosters say they will. The vast sums of money expended to promote the games are swag for corrupt politicians - assuming such persons exist in Chicago. Mayor Richard Daley said for months that the city wouldn't assume responsibility for losses incurred by sponsorship of the games, but when Rio started closing in he changed his mind. One group of dissenters from the boosterism, called "No Games Chicago," dispatched a group to Copenhagen to argue against the city's bid, with the message that the city is broke, corrupt and undeserving.
"We are taking materials to back up our claim that Chicago is not fit to host the games," says Tom Tresser, an organizer of the group. A poll by the Chicago Tribune shows the city to be almost evenly divided.
Nevertheless, President Obama is staking his prestige on bringing the games home. The Brazilians scoff that a nice speech is nice, but Rio offers a gorgeous city set between the majesty of mountains and the bikinis of Copacabana Beach, a mild climate and Brazilians eager to welcome visitors, without either planks or pipes.
Today is decision day.