Belmont Club

The Ego has Landed

“I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.”

–Groucho Marx

Drudge reports, that “the Ego has Landed”, citing a Reuters news story describing President Obama’s failure to convince the International Olympics Committee to select Chicago for the 2016 games. The President gave an inspiring speech in Copenhagen sounding the mystic chords which served him so well in his campaign.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, had taken their star power to the Danish capital to make Chicago’s case, ignoring the carping from Republican opponents who charged it was a bad time to go with foreign policy challenges in Iran and Afghanistan and the U.S. Congress bogged down in a domestic healthcare debate.

“I’m asking you to choose Chicago. I’m asking you to choose America,” Michelle Obama told committee members.

Her husband said, “If you do, if we walk this path together, then I promise you this: The city of Chicago and the United States of America will make the world proud.”

But it was to no avail. President Obama spoke fine words, but he didn’t bring enough goodies.

Yes, goodies. In the great wide world the fine portals open into courtyards that are not all they seem.  Amid the fine words, gleaming crystal, white-coated waiters, the green baize tables, the Ivy League accents — the entire august setting — two basic modes of doing business remain: cash on the barrel or a gun to the head. That is how the players deal among themselves. The fine music and lofty words —  is all for the consumption of audiences who think His Excellencies are really excellent or that David Letterman is funny when he tells a fifteen minute story about how he had sex with his employees and got blackmailed for it. At least Letterman knew enough to press charges. That wasn’t funny. But the fact that people were laughing was.

The reaction among the Olympic officials was telling. This machine translated page from a Danish newspaper says it all: “You can not just come with the train one day and try to affect everything, says Kai Holm and continues: – People have felt that it was a lack of respect for the Olympics and sport in general.” It’s amazing how much that sounds like Rod Blagojevich’s complaint that he was being dissed by the One when it came to who he would appoint to the US Senate. The Chicago Sun-Times carried excerpts of a wiretap:

(Advisor B and another consultant are believed to be on the call at that time) are telling him that he has to “suck it up” for two years and do nothing and give this “motherf***er [the President-elect] his senator. F*** him. For nothing? F*** him.” Rod Blagojevich states that he will put “[Senate Candidate 4]” in the Senate “before I just give F***ing [Senate Candidate 1] a F***ing Senate seat and I don’t get anything.”

Asking for freebies without showing the money is bad business etiquette and it ain’t funny. Who’s laughing at the administration now? If there’s any lesson to be learned from the failure to get a bunch of international officials to select Chicago rather than someplace else it’s that speeches don’t do it; goodwill doesn’t do it, though greed and fear may work just fine. When in other international settings, like Afghanistan or the Middle East or Russia, the United States is told that its setbacks come from a lack of nuance, a deficit of humility or a lack of sophistication the story itself is really a test. Those who tell it are testing to see if you believe it. If you believe it and come forward groveling then they’ll tell you another story about Santa Claus. You’ve failed the test because then they’ve got you pegged for a chump. But if you reject it, then you might just possibly be someone worth dealing with; a person who at least had the wit to see the truth and hear the jungle screams across the manicured lawns.

So how should America come to the Mullahs?  Like America, that amalgam of freedom, crazy idealism and strength. The point of American exceptionalism is not to become like the world but to change the it, if only in one place. And the world, strangely enough, expects America to act like America, not someone who aspires to be one of the boys. The lesson was cheap at the price. Being the 44th President of the US isn’t so bad; not if one understands what it means. It’s a lot better than applying for a club, which come to think of it, you don’t want to be admitted as a member; and least not on its terms, when there are so much better things to do.

So, we’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion but what’s important — why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant. … If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. …

And how stands the city on this winter night? … she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.

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