For the third year in a row, President Obama, a famously ardent college basketball fan, joined Andy Katz of ESPN to reveal his picks for the NCAA tournament, which tips off in earnest today. The president's picks went in a decidedly conservative direction. Obama did predict a few upsets — #12 Richmond over #5 Vanderbilt in the first round, for instance — but he played it safe by picking all four #1 seeds to advance to the Final Four, with only #5 seeds or better even making it past the Sweet Sixteen. And for the second year in a row, Obama tapped Kansas to win the title (last year, the Jayhawks were upset in the second round). What do the president's largely undramatic picks say about him?
He's too cautious: "Way to think outside the box there," says Lindsey Mannering at The Stir. Sure, it's possible that all four #1 seeds will advance to the Final Four, but Obama's bracket is "so lame and predictable that it's almost offensive." In 2008, Americans voted for the president hoping he would "stir things up," not run with the status quo.
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The president plays favorites: In the West, Obama picks Arizona — a "sentimental favorite" given recent events in Tucson — over Texas, where "he has little chance of ever winning majority approval," says Dan Shanoff at The Awl. And perhaps his prediction that Wisconsin will fall before the Sweet Sixteen is "a tweak to fiscal foil Paul Ryan or Gov. Scott Walker." And Obama "flashes an East Coast — some might smear 'elitist' — bias" by picking the University of Connecticut to beat San Diego State in a regional semifinal.
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Obama gives in too easily: Republicans have criticized Obama for taking the time to fill out a bracket while so many serious crises demand his attention, says Samantha Henig at The New Yorker. But the "better criticism of Obama's foray into Madness may be his submission to bullying." Last year, the president did not pick perennial contender Duke to advance to the Final Four. As a result, he told Katz, the team's legendary Coach Mike Krzyzewski "gave me a hard time," and this year Obama has the Blue Devils in the Final Four.
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He is just waiting 'til next year: Obama decided to "ride the fence" and avoid controversy this time, says A. Isaac at Guyism. But next year, in the thick of a reelection battle, he'll probably want to make his choices with political considerations in mind. Ohio and Florida are always pivotal states in presidential contests, so "if I'm a betting man, I'd guess that the Buckeyes and the Gators make prominent appearances in his bracket in 2012 — that is, if Obama cares to be in office for another four years."
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