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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Like the presidential pardon of the Thanksgiving turkey or baseball’s ceremonial first pitch, the First Bracket is now a Washington institution. So it was inevitable that it would become politicized.

This year the criticism started even before President Barack Obama announced his picks for the men’s college basketball tournament: Congress is still waiting for the president to deliver his budget, Republicans said, yet he has the time not only to handicap 68 National Collegiate Athletic Association teams, but also to tape a segment with ESPN breaking down his selections?

If the act of filling out a bracket is inherently political, it’s nothing compared with the completed bracket itself. Our brackets are ourselves. They are less a quiz of basketball knowledge — no matter how much college hoops you watched this year, you are guaranteed to lose your office pool to someone who thinks a “Diaper Dandy” is a maternity gift — than a fill-in-the-blank Rorschach test.

Are you an idealist, the sort who bets big on your alma mater or your hometown team? Or a nostalgist, doubling down on a resurgent powerhouse from your youth? (I’m looking at you, La Salle.) Or maybe you’re a big-risk, big-reward guy, the type who looks at Southern University (16) versus Gonzaga (1) and thinks, no-brainer. Historically, Obama has done none of these things. He has filled out his bracket a lot like he has governed: dispassionately, and with a clear aversion to risk.

Obama’s first public bracket, released during the 2008 campaign, was a model of caution. (Not unlike his vice-presidential pick a few months later.) It included not a single 12th-seed upset of a fifth seed. His Final Four were UCLA, Kansas, North Carolina and Pittsburgh: three No. 1s and one No. 4. That was not Change You Can Believe In. It was a statement of support for the status quo.

The trend continued through Obama’s first term. In 2010 — after opting not to offer a second stimulus package, dropping the idea of a government-run health-insurance plan and deciding to keep the Guantanamo Bay prison open after all — the president picked the country’s top two teams, Kansas and Kentucky, to square off in the championship. The following year, his Final Four consisted of all No. 1 seeds.

Obama’s brackets might be so bland in part because he’s really more of a professional sports fan. President Bill Clinton, an Arkansas native, had his Razorbacks. But Obama — who grew up in Hawaii, attended college in California and New York, and spent most of his adult life in Chicago — doesn’t seem to have any strong college-sports allegiances. (For what it’s worth, the University of Hawaii’s Rainbow Warriors haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 2002.)

Ultimately, Obama’s NCAA brackets reveal a pragmatist. A couple of years ago, the president’s Elite Eight featured only one surprise — the favorite of Washington’s Elite, Georgetown. In the midst of last year’s re-election campaign, as political pundits never tired of pointing out, three of Obama’s Final Four picks were from swing states.

Obama’s prudence has served him well as a politician. It has been less successful as a bracket strategy: He hasn’t picked a winner since North Carolina in 2009.

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7 responses to “Obama’s NCAA Bracket: Hope But No Change”

  1. sigrid28 says:

    Now we find out that the bill to keep our government operating past March 27th, which must be signed, has eight riders attached to it supporting gun sale friendly initiatives for which the NRA lobbied and won. These are the first gun violence measures to be passed by Congress since the massacres in Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown, Connecticut. It is crystal clear: politics like basketball is also a game with winners and losers.

    • whodatbob says:

      What does your post have to do with the article? NOTHING! There’s a whole big world out there. Look around, gun control is not the only thing most people are concerned about.

      • sigrid28 says:

        Not sorry to rain on your childish, self-centered parade.

        • whodatbob says:

          I am a liberal democrat, believe in the big tent. I see many issues. You are a small minded single issue person whoes parade is being rained on. You sir/madem are unable to get out of the rain. Come in to the democrats big tent and dry off. You will be welcomed there. We have room for all.

          • sigrid28 says:

            Once again, a low-information voter thinks it must be impossible to walk and chew gum when it comes to supporting the liberal agenda. I’m seeing that not all low-information voters are Republicans. Too stupid to see that if liberals waste their time on brackets and other sports topics and do not pay attention to what happens in Congress our progressive agenda is bound to languish. Not tending to our political goals is a good way to allow the tent to fall down altogether. It is, however, impressive that you would take time out of watching basketball this weekend to post on the “National Memo.”

          • whodatbob says:

            Sorry for you! Again name calling and baseless assumptions. You need to have facts before you go off.

  2. whodatbob says:

    President Obama is a realist. He spells out his wish list, priortizes, and works to accomplish as much as can be accomplished. If unable to get everything wanted, accepts what has been accomplished and moves on.

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