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The boundaries of Brand Obama

Mark Mardell | 17:17 UK time, Friday, 2 October 2009

The president's home city has been knocked out in the first round of the vote to choose the host city for the 2016 Olympic Games, even though he and the First Lady travelled to Copenhagen to push the bid.

A humiliation, a moment of moment or a fact devoid of political meaning? I have no doubt some hostile commentators will argue the former.

The argument had already been doing the rounds that he should concentrate on the big stuff, and not on such trivia.

But that position has already been undermined. He used his European trip to have a meeting in the front of Air Force One with Gen Stanley McChrystal, the top military man in Afghanistan. So not a wasted journey.

It is surely the president's duty to push as hard as possible for an event to be held in his country, when most think it will bring jobs and regeneration. It would have been a dereliction to have sat in the White House, leaving it to his wife.

But it perhaps reveal the limits of charisma, the boundaries of Brand Obama. There is no doubt he is still hugely revered in the rest of the world, even if his support has slipped at home. If he is still a spellbinding superstar, this time the magic touch did not work.

You could argue the president has a history of relying too much on his own personal intervention to solve problems, rather than using it as the final touch on top of a detailed political strategy. That certainly seems to have happened with the healthcare debate.

But perhaps the Olympic judges are not swayed by the last minute arguments, and this reality TV with world leaders is just so much showbiz.

The winning city itself may be more compelling than passionate pleading from a superstar.


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