Thursday, October 8, 2009

Lessons Learned from Copenhagen

(I thought this was gonna run in the paper this week but it didn't so goodies for y'all. Advice for our president after the events of last week. And I apologize for it being so formal, I expected it to run in a newspaper, not my personal blog.)

A week after watching Chicago lose in their bid for the 2016 Olympics, the outcry over President Obama’s role in the city’s bid has died down.

Quick recap. Pundits, critics and anybody with a voice saw it as a huge blow to his image, one that some said he’d never recover from. They called him a failure as he was solely responsible for the city receiving the fewest votes.

I don’t see blame being passed around to Oprah Winfrey or First Lady Michelle Obama. I guess nobody wants to criticize it as a sign of Oprah not being a big deal anywhere else besides America and Africa.

To me, both takes are an exaggeration – there’s truth in both statements but not as much as you think.

The real discussion shouldn’t focus on who’s fault it was Chicago didn’t get the 2016 Olympics – Rio de Janeiro had the better presentation – but should the President have been there to begin with?

One criticism of Mr. Obama is that he is trying to tackle too much all at once. If he felt the need to send a delegation led by the First Lady, so be it. But with his plate full as it is, a quick business trip to Copenhagen was not necessary.

If anything it proved that former Secretary of State Colin Powell might have been right in his criticism that Mr. Obama is spreading himself too thin by tackling too many issues.

Also it was not a good week for Chicago. The tragic murder of 16-year-old Derrion Albert highlighted the cycle of violence plaguing the city in recent years and all we heard from the White House was a brief statement.

It would have been enough had not the city’s most famous resident left the country to appeal for it being a suitable host for the world’s biggest competition.

The timing could not have been worse. To residents, it was more important to promote Chicago’s attractive qualities instead of addressing a more pressing issue.

Some news stations highlighted Mr. Obama’s trip right before showing the footage of Albert’s murder. Extreme? Perhaps, but it showed where the pulse of the country was.

His statement on the issue was enough but his actions afterwards left some feeling there was mixed messages.

One of the principles of being a leader is knowing how and when to delegate. Another is knowing when to pick your battles. With health care raging in Congress and military leaders expressing their questions about Afghanistan, the Olympics were and should have been lower on his personal radar.

But going to Copenhagen wasn’t a significant failure. It wasn’t a political hit that stained his term. It was a gamble that fell short – a last-minute appeal would not have swayed the International Olympic Committee who operate on their own volition.

It’s a gamble that perhaps should not have been taken and while more will be taken, one hopes that Mr. Obama – and the country – will understand if he sends others to play his hand.

This lesson may have been learned as he delegated Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder to Chicago yesterday to discuss how the administration will seek to combat youth violence.

Despite all of this, the country is going to have accept one thing. Barack Obama is a President, not a miracle worker. He serves America, not just Black America. He cannot and should not be everywhere.

Everything he touches will not succeed and some things he leaves alone, others can solve them better.

That ultimately is the lesson that the President will learn from Chicago’s failed Olympic bid.

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