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Does Obama’s March Madness bracket mirror his presidency? (yes)

For the past few years College Basketball Fan/U.S. President Barack Obama has filled out an NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bracket, indicating who he thinks will win one of the most exciting events in American sports: March Madness.

Whereas many characterize Obama as cold, calculated, and Spockian, I have found the president to be both accessible and likable (“Is Obama too much like Mr. Spock?” MSNBC).  One need only to look at his choice to publicly fill out an NCAA Bracket; the picture of him giving his wife a pound; and the way he talks about the TV show The Wire in interviews to understand that the man is cool and down to Earth. Indeed, the bracket is humanizing, and while we may not want our president to be distracted from his job by “bracketology,” just like we don’t want our surgeon to be as into drinking on the job as we are, you have to admit that it is fairly cool that Barack fills out a bracket (Do we call it a Baracket?). If he slacks off a bit during March and some foreign scenarios slide a touch (Israel and Iran, can you guys wait until April?  Do you really even need our help?), then that’s a price I personally am willing to pay–or at least have others pay.

And how exciting is it when the president announces his picks?!

Well, to be quite honest, it’s not exciting. Not at all. The fact of the matter is that Obama’s bracket is fairly safe and unremarkable.  It’s great that he fills one out, of course, but the bracket itself isn’t enthralling (See the president fill out his bracket here).

All throughout the 64 team tournament, President Obama’s picks are right down the middle and much less liberal and progressive than what many supporters would have hoped. From the Initial 64, to the Hot 32, to the Sweet 16, to the Elite 8, to the Final Four, then the Cute Two (Disclaimer: some terms have been made up) and finally through the Championship Game, Obama seems to be pandering to the Republican controlled congress in a futile attempt at bi-partisanship sports predictions (Disclaimer:reaching a bit).

The overarching conclusion, however, is that  Obama’s Bracket is a reflection of the president’s first term.  In the most general terms it both could be described as  as solid, safe, wise, calculated, and overly compromising.  And the further we look, the more this holds true. In fact, it’s eerie. It’s kind of like The DaVinci Code, National Treasure, Hoosiers all rolled up in one.

Generally, Obama has not lived up to the grandiose expectations of sweeping change that a seemingly unified nation had of him upon his 2008 election. His low approval rating, which sits in high 40’s, is largely a product of his failure to fix the economy.  Suffice it to say that the public thought more highly of him a few years go.  His 2012 bracket, in general terms, can also be viewed as a disappointment (“Obama and the politics of disappointment,” CNN)

Let’s start with the positive for both his bracket and his presidency, identifying connections and analogous moves.

Picking UNC to Win it All/Health Care Plan

Good stuff all around here. Obama is clearly looking out for the underdog in some fashion and while UNC is not a huge underdog, the vast majority of experts are choosing Kentucky.  Just how the health care legislation gives his presidency some flavor and meaning, choosing UNC to win the whole shebang gives his bracket a dash of interesting  (CBS Predictions).  He’s going against the grain and fighting for something he believes in. Choosing UNC to win the whole thing sums up his presidency–he leans left, but he’s not going to alienate conservatives with overly crazy moves.  Just like we don’t know if the health care bill is actually going to go into effect we don’t know if UNC is going to win the tourney, but the idea behind both is solid.

12 VCU Over 5 Wichita State in the first round/China Relations

Love it. I feel like I’ve seen VCU perennially surprise people in the tournament and the President knows that a good bracket needs upsets.  We’re not talking crazy upsets like a 16 beating a 1, but a 12 over a 5 is usually feasible and this game especially is winnable by VCU.  This move is totally akin to his masterstroke Foreign Policy with China in 2009-2010.  Right?  (“Obama, Explained,” The Atlantic).

10 Virginia over 7 Florida in the first round/Improvement of American Image Abroad

Great stuff on both accounts. Just the way Obama has helped the way foreign countries view the U.S., he has done something smart and not entirely easy by choosing a #10 Virginia team to beat a historically strong Florida.  Granted Virginia has looked damn good in late season play, almost knocking off UNC, but this doesn’t diminish a move that is so sharp and well-calculated.

Choosing Kentucky to get to the championship game/Avoiding Disastrous Depression

This, as James Fallows of The Atlantic calls it, is a “negative accomplishment.” Look, you need to put of $800 billion  of bailout money to keep the system afloat in the face of a disaster, just like you have to assume that the team that most people think will win it all will at least make it to the championship game.  Avoid disaster. Obama avoided a worse depression than what we went through/are going through, just like he avoided having the worst bracket in the West Wing by not doing something ill-advised and thinking that a lower-ranked team would upset Kentucky before the final game. Sometimes kicking ass is as simple as avoiding a really big screw up, right?

So, as you can see, his bracket is mirroring his presidency in eerie, nutty ways. Right? Well, it goes deeper. Let’s look at the negative sides of both, lining up a few of the bigger disappointments of Obama’s presidency with the analogous shortcomings of his March Madness Bracket.

There are three problems from Obama’s first term in the area that is perhaps his weakest, the “closely intertwined domestic fields of economic management and political strategy” paired with three problems from his March Madness bracket:

#1 – Purdue over St. Mary’s/Underestimated and Under-reacted to the Economic Crisis

Right?  St. Mary’s has been hot and is ranked higher than Purdue. Likewise, we should’ve tackled that problem with more fervor.  $800 billion? Come on. That’s nothing.  You have to grab these problems by the balls and really go at it, just like I think you have to assume St. Mary’s is going to win here.

#2 – NC State over San Diego State/Lack of FDR Style Public Service Jobs to Lower Unemployment Rate

Regarding this shortfall in Obama’s presidency former Democratic Presidential Nominee Michael Dukakis has said:“‘In all the other recessions that I remember, public-service jobs were an important component of fighting unemployment…I believe in giving people unemployment checks for half a year or even a year and helping in the course of their job search—and after that, if there simply are not a lot of jobs out there, you take the checks and turn them into jobs. But, for the Republicans these days, public-service jobs are Bolshevik policy…”

Come on!  You don’t like the Aztecs’ chances?  And what?  You really think the republicans are going to successfully brand you as a commie in the public’s eye if you create more jobs for Americans through public works projects inspired by the New Deal?  Right?

#3 – 2 Missouri Over 1 Michigan State/ Accepted that the federal deficit was the most immediate threat to the country

Talk about giving into the Republicans! Missouri was a red state in the 2008 election, Michigan was blue, and Barack’s choosing Missouri over Michigan State is so akin to him accepting the Republicans’ assertions about the federal deficit.  Right?  I mean, come on.

So, we can conclude that Obama has made some strides in his first term as president just as he’s shown some flashes of competency and smarts in his choosing of the winners of NCAA Basketball games. But he’s also been too safe with many of his decisions and hasn’t lived up to the ambitious ideals of change he inspired in the people when he was elected in 2008.  To the casual supporter it is safe to say that Obama has been at least a slight disappointment, even if he’s made some good moves and averted greater disaster.  And so reads his bracket: a competent, safe set of picks that leaves us yearning for more.

Given President Obama’s first term and the final bracket of his first term, it is difficult to say what his legacy will be. I would like to see him stick around for four more brackets so we can truly tell if he’s a good president/bracketologist.  To be seen as truly great, he will need to step it up a notch.

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