Olympic uniform controversary brings bipartisan ‘gotcha moment’

John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — With the London Summer Olympics fast approaching, the eyes of America are on Team USA, or more precisely on the manufacturer’s labels on their uniforms. What looked like a proud sporting moment when designer Ralph Lauren unveiled a really classy looking blue navy blazer, white pants and slightly improbable beret, became a political “gotcha moment” as the ubiquitous “Made in China” label was part of the kit. Whoops!

Politicians and pundits alike were energized as fast as a July thunderstorm. And rightly so — to a point. That the Team USA dress uniforms were not made in the USA comes as shock but hardly a surprise. Have you been to a clothing or shoe store recently?

U.S. Olympic athletes rower Giuseppe Lanzone, left, and swimmer Ryan Lochte are pictured wearing the 2012 US Olympic team uniforms, made by Ralph Lauren. /Reuters

While the Ralph Lauren manufacturer portrays a classic and classy “American look,” the actual product is Made in China. Surprise? So are so many men’s and women’s clothes be they Brooks Brothers polo or dress shirts, or garments at the GAP or Crew.

The real outrage was not so much that the product comes from a low wage, non-union manufacturing base in communist China, but that in these times of recession, eight percent plus unemployment, and a continuing hemorrhage of American jobs, that the outfits can and should be produced here in the USA.

The disputed uniforms are the responsibility of the Colorado-based U.S. Olympic Committee, a private organization without taxpayer funding. U.S. Olympic Committee fundraising often includes various promotional items, umbrellas, t-shirts, kit bags etc, which are … Made in China.

Many politicians drew the line in the sand on nationalistic grounds as well as the fact that China has siphoned off so many American manufacturing jobs.

Nevada Democrat and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, in a pique of disgust said “I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them.” Almost sounds like Mao’s Cultural Revolution!

Republican House Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said sarcastically of the Olympic Committee, “You’d think they would know better.”

Vermont’s Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose economic policies often seem to the left of contemporary China’s, chimed in but with reason that, “At a time when millions of Americans are unemployed, there is no reason why U.S. Olympic uniforms are not being manufactured in the U.S. This action on the part of the U.S. Olympic Committee is symbolic of a disastrous trade policy which has cost us millions of decent-paying jobs.”

The U.S. Olympic Committee must be appallingly dense not to have thought that the Made in China label creates a political lightning rod especially in hard economic times.

Let’s look at the record of our lopsided trade with the People’s Republic of China. The USA/PRC trade deficits have soared and dangerously so even during recession. In 2011 a recession year, Beijing held a $295 billion trade surplus with the U.S. In 2010 the surplus was $273 billion in China’s favor. Such sobering statistics clearly overshadow the uniform uproar.

Sadly the story becomes about the uniforms not the amazing athletes on Team USA.

In the 2008 Olympics in Beijing China, Team USA’s uniforms were also Made in China.

Bob Beckel, a prominent Democrat commentator on FOX News went ballistic on the show, “The Five.” He boomed, “They are so competitive, they probably would have put downers in the fabric to hurt our athletes… I don’t trust them worth a damn, and I tell you, I wouldn’t let anything be done over there.”

Beckel blasted Beijing, saying that Islamic terrorists are not nearly as great a threat to the United States as is China. Democrats seem to outdo the Republicans in Beijing-bashing as they do self-righteous outrage.

Outsourcing becomes the issue. Not just with the traditional manufacturing jobs, but increasingly high-tech and scientific production which has gone offshore. Firms like Boeing aircraft and Microsoft have facilities in China.

Here at home, have we noticed the Obama administration has cut over 10,000 highly paid scientific jobs in Florida before outsourcing the U.S. space program launches to Russia? NASA’s manned launch capacity has been outsourced by Obama.

Given that it is too late to re-manufacture the Olympic uniforms, let’s end on a positive note. The U.S. Olympic Committee should run a special fundraising campaign for Team USA in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Solicit donations for the uniforms Made in the USA. This would rehabilitate the Olympic Committee’s reputation in the minds of many, would be a great angle to solicit donations, and actually also prove its solidarity not only with Team USA, but the American worker.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for WorldTribune.com.

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