The president's picks are in. Barack Obama broke down the NCAA men's basketball field of 64 in the White House map room yesterday afternoon, picking the University of North Carolina Tar Heels to win it all and flexing his knowledge of conference strengths and the undeniable momentum of the Syracuse Orange.
Obama clearly knows his stuff. He's played pickup ball in Chicago for a number of years (with fellow Illinois politicos David Axelrod, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoilias), and he scrimmaged last summer with the UNC squad. His no-looks are presidential; his jumper, commanderly. Sports Illustrated has praised his game.
So while the nation waits to see what kind of leader Obama will be, the answer is right before us. You can tell a lot about a president by looking at his bracket.
For starters, Obama is conservative. Maybe not slash spending and overturn Roe v. Wade conservative, but cautious and risk averse. His UNC pick is shared by many, and his Final Four are Louisville, Pittsburgh, UNC, and Memphis--all 1 seeds aside from Memphis, whom many have predicted to beat Connecticut. He's picked a total of three upsets in the first round (not counting his two predictions for 9 seeds to beat 8 seeds), his most notable being a win for VCU (11) over UCLA (6) in the East region and another for Temple (11) over Arizona State (6) in the South. Aside from a Maryland (10) victory over Cal (7) in the West--a pick many are making--that's it. The only thing risky about these picks is that they may cost Obama some support in California in 2012--and he's probably not worried about that.
It's no wonder the president siding with the received wisdom, playing it relatively safe: after all, we're in a crisis, and this is no time to take chances. If Obama were to pick, say, 13-seeded Cleveland State to beat 4-seeded Wake Forest, and underdog Akron to make the Elite Eight (saying, perhaps, "I think the Mid America Conference is due to make a splash), the stock market might dip 200 points tomorrow.
And no one wants that.
So when it comes to bracketology, Obama has shown a steady hand and delivered on his campaign promises of pragmatism. (It takes a true ideologue to put a 5 seed in the championship game; pragmatic leaders pick the favorites.)
His one bold statement is picking Syracuse to advance past Oklahoma in the South region. The Orange are coming off a strong performance in the Big East tournament, which included a six-overtime victory over the favored Huskies of Connecticut, and Obama has them carrying that forward into a Sweet Sixteen victory over the Sooners. It takes a politician to recognize Uncle Mo.
Obama's own swagger has been duly noted in the press, and 'Cuse could be a team after his own heart. Two years into his first and only Senate term, with the political advice of his own Jim Boeheim figure--the similarly bald and comparably expert Axelrod--Obama started his miracle run when he rose to become the second-best-funded candidate in the Democratic primary, then eventually defeated Hillary Clinton and John Edwards in the equivalent of a six-OT showdown in Iowa.