Barack, chalk, Jayhawk.
President Obama filled out a favorite-heavy NCAA tournament bracket this week, picking all four No. 1 seeds to go to the Final Four and the Kansas Jayhawks to cut down the nets in Houston. The president completed his bracket during a taped segment with ESPN's Andy Katz which aired Wednesday on "SportsCenter."
Standing in the same White House map room where Franklin Roosevelt oversaw America's progress in World War II and Bill Clinton gave his testimony on the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the president wrote his picks on a whiteboard, mainly going with top seeds (there are only nine upsets on his board) and defying any red state/blue state favoritism (if he wanted to please constituents of a swing state, he'd have picked Ohio State over Kansas).
The segment was pretty bland, with Obama offering enough rationale for his picks to indicate that he knows a little about college basketball, but not enough to sound like he's sitting home and watching Big Monday every week. He dropped a few names (Kemba Walker, the Morris twins, Mike Krzyzewski) during the segment but mainly played it safe by discussing matchups in interchangeable political speak. You can't blame him for that; it's easier to say you're picking Ohio State to go the Final Four because they're deep rather than delving into the team's offensive efficiency.
Obama explained that he picked the Jayhawks because he unsuccessfully picked them to win last year. He told Katz that he picked UNC to lose in 2008 and then the Heels came back to win the next year. "They always feel bad about losing when the president picks them," he joked, "so they're going to go all the way."
The president's bracket segment is leading to some criticism that the president should have bigger concerns at the moment than the Temple-Penn State game. That's completely true. But isn't there always something more important to worry about? By that logic, a president can never relax because another matter will trump playing golf every time.
A president should participate in leisure activities and find time for frivolous endeavors that don't have anything to do with tsunamis, national security, health care and union protests. Being the leader of the free world is a stressful job. There needs to be an outlet to get away from it sometimes.
The picks themselves aren't the problem then. Whether or not the president fills out a bracket with Andy Katz isn't going to have any impact on those nuclear reactors in Japan. Relief efforts won't fail or succeed because he spent 15 minutes picking games at the White House. It's the perception that counts. (In politics, it's always the perception, not the action.) Somebody in Obama's inner-circle should have told him that picking the winner of a third-round game doesn't look presidential when there are still bodies washing up on the shores of Japan. The president mentioned the disaster at the start of the segment but then segued into picking Sweet 16 games. It didn't feel right.
Neither does that all-chalk Final Four.
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