The limits of charm

We weren't among those who were critical of President Obama and the first lady for taking their Chicago Olympics pitch to Copenhagen this week.


If the Obamas hadn't given it a try, they would have been criticized for that too. And they'd probably be kicking themselves for not going. Other heads of state were in Denmark to press their cases to the International Olympic Committee as well.

That said, there may be some lessons to take from the episode.

Chief among them may be that U.S. presidential prestige and capital must be expended ever-so-carefully. By making a personal appeal for the games and failing miserably -- on the first ballot -- the president was seen as being humiliated on the world stage.

"The ego has landed," blared one headline.

"Obama's Olympic failure will only add to doubts about his presidency," screamed another.

We may look back and see this as the moment Mr. Obama's stature tumbled.

Another lesson: The Obamas have bumped violently up against the limits of their personal charm -- the power of which they appear to have vastly overestimated.

The president was somewhat less laudatory of his country than we would have liked; the United States is nowhere close to being as unwelcoming as either Mr. Obama or our critics would like to make out. But Michelle Obama's speech to the IOC was regarded as especially personal and touching.

They no doubt were jolted, then, when Chicago was dumped by the IOC on the first ballot.

The lesson may be that it's hazardous to start believing in your own press clippings. In the health care debate, too, the president has been ubiquitous, and yet public support for his reform ideas has continued a steep slide.

We would suggest, however, that there is at least one other rather momentous area where the president's charm could, in fact, still be most useful.

Perhaps the president noticed that while he was planning his Copenhagen trip to push for Chicago as an Olympic site, two young black men became the victims of savage gang-related beatings in Chicago, including 16-year-old Derrion Albert -- an innocent honors student who died after apparently being caught in a gang melee.

During one of last year's presidential debates, a questioner from Atlanta challenged Republican candidates to do something about black-on-black crime in U.S. cities. As the nation's first black president, Mr. Obama is uniquely situated to take that on. We hope he does.

He'll need more than charm. But it's not a bad start.