As more pundits disagree with my notion that the Communists botched the Olympics (especially Jay Nordlinger over at NRO - The Corner), I took some time to reassess my view. However, while Nordlinger, Anne Applebaum (Washington Post), Human Rights in China, and Zenit make some valid points, I think they've missed the larger issue.
While the Beijing Games certainly had wonderful stories about athletes (which were mentioned), I don't see as much of a glow for the host. In fact, for every blind MSM assertion that Nordlinger references, there was the off-key (for the cadres) response of John Burns (New York Times via Weekly Standard Blog): "In truth, some of the worst instincts of the old China have poked through the dazzle, most egregiously in the substitution of the pretty little girl in a red dress, and a voice-over, for the 7-year-old whose voice, but not her uneven teeth, met the Politburo’s standards."
I fear that many of my anti-Communist friends were expecting some sort of political disruption to hit the Olympics - or, to be more accurate, set the bar so high that only such a disruption would qualify as a failure for the Games. However, just because the Olympics did not achieve what we wanted (even if none of us expected it) does not mean the cadres got what they wanted either.
What did the cadres get? Conspiracy theories zipping around the local blogosphere about an injured athlete (Epoch Times) before the internet police could catch up to them and shut them down, the Wang Peiyi debacle, a blooming gymnastics scandal, and most ominously, a stunning lack of interest from outside Beijing. The last one is the real problem for the Communists (and one nearly anyone who focused to heavily on Beijing itself would have missed), since all the propaganda in the world means zilch if no one is listening.
I think this also reveals a larger problem within the anti-Communist community. Because it was largely urban intellectuals who led the fight against European Communism, most of us assume a similar uprising will bring down the CCP. This notion became further entrenched by the presence of the students in the 1989 Tiananmen Spring. However, the CCP has moved heaven and earth to co-opt the urban intellectual element - and sadly, they have had much success. The Party's weakness is outside Beijing, in the rural counties and industrial small cities where anger at the regime runs highest. This means the regime is far weaker than it appears to the outside world, in no small part because the folks searching for weaknesses (us) are looking in the wrong place. The Olympiad, along with reaction to it, is merely the latest (and best) example of this.
The other thing to remember is how the Olympics will be remembered a year from now. We will remember the athletic achievements, and the Chinese people will remember the corruption, land seizures, and payoffs that made it all possible. I doubt their memories will be fertile ground for Communist propaganda.
So, while the regime continues to arrest priests (Zenith), spread their economic influence (BBC and London Telegraph), prop up the Korean colony (BBC, CNN, and Washington Post), and intimidate democratic governments (Epoch Times), let us not forget that the major cities are the last place to look for the views, hopes, dreams, and grievances of the Chinese people. Otherwise, we will literally miss the forest for the gleaming towers.