Volume 79, Number 21 | Oct. 28 - Nov. 03, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Talking Point

The Olympics and the lie of conservative patriotism

By Markos Moulitsas

Who would’ve thought that rooting for America to host the Olympic Games could ever be controversial? Not only is hosting the Olympics a source of national pride, allowing the nation to showcase the best of America (as we’ve done recently with Salt Lake City and Atlanta), but it’s also a powerful economic driver and catalyst for redevelopment.

On Jan. 7, 2008, President George W. Bush met with the Chicago 2016 bid committee. “They say that the Olympics will come to Chicago if we’re fortunate enough to be selected, but really it’s coming to America, and I can’t think of a better city to represent the United States than Chicago,” he said. “And so I — this country supports your bid, strongly.”

It was natural for Bush to assume national unity behind the Olympic bid, but he was unfortunately wrong (again). Bush’s fellow conservatives opposed the bid because, quite simply, Chicago is President Barack Obama’s hometown. When news broke that Chicago had lost out to Rio de Janeiro, conservatives celebrated on Twitter and on blogs, at conferences and in conservative newsrooms.

At the conservative “Defending the American Dream Summit” in Arlington, Va., the hotel ballroom erupted in wild applause. A writer at the conservative Weekly Standard blogged, “Chicago loses! Chicago loses! Cheers erupt at WEEKLY STANDARD world headquarters.” Quickly realizing how ugly the sentiment was, the post was quickly replaced.

Not all conservatives were ecstatic. Commentator Joe Scarborough said that swing voters must look at Rush Limbaugh bouncing with joy at the Windy City’s loss and think, “My God, the Republicans have gone off the deep end.” Former Bush deputy press secretary Scott Stanzel tweeted almost immediately, “Note to GOP officials/consultants — resist temptation to pile on about Chicago losing just becuz Obama made the pitch.” Mitt Romney spokesman Kevin Madden told Politico, “[Obama] has a lot of really wrong ideas. But does that mean his effort to bring the Olympic Games to Chicago and a chance to put America on the world’s stage should also automatically be subjected to scorn? I don’t believe it should. That’s just criticism for criticism’s sake. Reactionary criticism could even dilute any valid and legitimate criticism of his bad policies.”

“Reactionary” is the only way to describe right-wing applause for the loss of the $13 billion to $22 billion in economic development and 315,000 “job years” — the equivalent of one full year of work for 315,000 people — that Chicagoland would have gained from the Games.

Liberals didn’t cheer four years ago when New York lost out to London for the 2012 Summer Olympics. We saw it as a disappointing loss for New York and our nation, not as a loss for then-President Bush or Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Even though rampant, Bush-inspired anti-Americanism around the world likely harmed the Big Apple’s bid, liberals supported NYC 2012 out of patriotism and a desire to see job creation.

Early next year, world athletes will gather in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and much of the U.S. will root for Americans competing in the Games. But for conservatives, chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A” have been replaced by open disdain for our country — proof that their flag-waving was never anything more than cover for rank partisanship.

Viewed through this lens, right-wing celebration of Chicago’s loss makes perverse sense. After all, conservatives used to equate criticism of Bush to criticism of our nation. In their minds, Bush and the U.S. were one and the same. Today, they appear to equate Obama and the U.S., which places them in opposition to generally unobjectionable American interests.

That’s just twisted — and it exposes the lie of conservative patriotism.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos and a columnist at The Hill, where this column first appeared.

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