Opinion Extra

Collins: Wonderful Copenhagen

President Barack Obama is flying off to Denmark to lobby for Chicago's Olympic bid.

Or, in the words of the House minority leader, John Boehner, he is "going to go off to Copenhagen when we've got serious issues here at home that need to be debated."

This is the sort of thing an opposition party is supposed to say because it sounds virtuous even if it makes no sense whatsoever. It's like complaining that the health care bill that Congress has been working on since 1964 is being rammed through without enough study.

Sen. Christopher Bond of Missouri has been trotting around the cable TV circuit, complaining that the president needs to spend those precious Copenhagen hours consulting with the military about Afghanistan and working "to keep our country safe." Bond is the logical point man on these matters because he is the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. And I do not want to hear any jokes.

Actually, the president will hardly miss any White House time at all. He left on Thursday night and was to sleep on the plane and spend part of Friday morning hanging out with the International Olympic Committee before taking off for home again.

Truly, it is not the sort of mission you want to whine about if your party's last chief executive spent more than one-third of his presidency hanging out at Camp David or clearing brush outside Crawford, Texas.

And did you hear the Democrats complaining about that? Well, yes, actually quite a bit. Still.

No American president has gone to lobby for the Olympics before. But then no American president had gone on the David Letterman show before. No president had ever made a speech in Cairo before. No president had ever been called a liar by a U.S. representative during a speech to Congress. No president had ever been accused of "following Marxist theory" by Andy Williams, the pop singer we haven't heard from since "Moon River" was in vogue.

There was a time when no head of state would even consider running off to beg members of the unpredictable, quirky and occasionally bribable Olympics committee for their votes. But these days, you can't beat them off with a stick. The president of Brazil, who is popularly known as "Lula" is there, as is the prime minister of Japan, who is popularly known as "the new guy."

Madrid is the fourth contender for the 2016 Summer Games, reportedly trailing behind Chicago, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo. So Spain is just sending the king, who is popularly known as "Your Highness."

There are downsides to Obama's decision to race off to Copenhagen, none of them involving failure to make the country safe.

One is that it might actually not make sense for Chicago to spend tons of money to win the right to stuff the city with new places to throw a javelin.

Chicagoans seem about evenly divided on whether hosting the Olympics would actually be a good thing, although they are overwhelmingly certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that they do not want to be on the hook for cost overruns. Which their City Council, nonetheless, voted unanimously to guarantee.

But the White House is full of people who love Chicago and want to see it shine on a world stage. You can just hear them telling each other that it's easy to come up with reasons not to try, but where did that ever get anyone? Seize the day! Beat Rio!

"I'm going after you in Copenhagen," Michelle Obama told the wife of the Brazilian president.

This was said in good humor at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, a well-known venue for joshing.

What if Obama goes to Denmark and Chicago loses anyway? Let's hope the White House has been guaranteed that the fix is in. If you're going to waste the administrative momentum on a big gamble, it really ought to be to slow global warming or to reform Wall Street, not to make sure the 2016 triathlon champion wins his medal in Illinois.

The worst downside about Obama's trip to Denmark is that even though the Republicans' complaints are spurious, he did say the other day that he couldn't go because he was too busy "making real the promise of quality, affordable health care for every American."

His new confidence that it's all right to leave suggests that maybe the president feels as though the promise got real when the Senate Finance Committee began pummeling a bill into exactly the shape desired by lawmakers who represent large and representative states such as North Dakota and Montana and Maine.

If so, this whole scenario is very depressing. I prefer to think that Obama suddenly agreed to go to Denmark not because Chicago couldn't win without him, but because he just needed a short break from thinking about Max Baucus.