Obama's March Madness

For most of us…well, those of us who grew up in Indiana breathing basketball and now spend most of the spring on the couch in front of a CBS telecast hanging on every uttered word from Gus Johnson and Kevin Harlan…this is the greatest time of year.  It’s like New Year’s Eve on the roof of the Palms in Vegas with Sports Illustrated’s Marisa Miller…times a hundred.  It’s when games start at breakfast in the west and go well past midnight in the east.  It’s when heroes are made and goats are revealed.  And in my house, it’s when my wife and I speak only in head nods for a month.

This is also the time of year where the American dream plays itself out on a small scale for the whole world to see.

Small schools take on big universities.  Newcomers challenge tradition.  Opportunity waits for all, but true success finds a mere few.  Talent, luck, and money are important, but hard work, intelligent strategy, and unyielding determination are more so.  Everyone has a chance to participate, to win one game, to win it all.  And how each team defines success is unique to that team’s history, resources, and goals.  

What a unique concept -- an arena where everyone has the opportunity to succeed according to his own efforts and intentions.  And even though not everyone wins the big prize, all can be proud of whatever level of accomplishment is attained.  If only Barack Obama believed in such a thing.

Throughout his campaign and into his presidency, we learned of our new leader’s affinity for hoops.  President Obama revealed his NCAA Tournament bracket yesterday, and to no one’s surprise, he has chosen the most obvious teams to advance in every single round, with three number one seeds predicted to advance to the Final Four.  No creativity.  No gambles.  Not even an often-reliable 12-seed over 5-seed upset pick.  His riskiest choices are (11) Virginia Commonwealth over (6) UCLA and (10) Maryland over (7) California.  Hardly out on a limb.  Hardly very generous to the overmatched and underprivileged that Obama seems to love so much in his domestic policies.  Rather, he has chosen to root for the big boys, the evil corporate teams with the deep pockets.  Perhaps his basketball mind is as contradictory as his political one.

When picking his teams on ESPN, he actually had the audacity to pick North Carolina to win it all because of their “experience and balance.”  Anyone even remotely aware of the last few erratic and partisan months could tell you that Obama’s leadership is anything but experienced and balanced.  He also denounced Arizona for making the tournament by “squeaking by on reputation” and that Oklahoma will falter down the stretch because of their lack of depth. If only Obama would’ve been so careful about reputation and depth when filling the positions in his Treasury Department.  The president praised Louisville for their “outstanding defense,” but we all know how Obama really feels about building a strong defense.  Obama went on to confidently declare Pittsburgh a Final Four team because of their “muscle,” but the only muscle the president has displayed is when he constantly forces his way into center-of-attention television time (e.g. this evening’s Tonight Show).  He has yet to show any real strength in foreign or economic policy in his young presidency outside of selling his grandstanding rhetoric that nobody is actually buying.

All the qualities he loves in basketball teams, he ignores in his governing.  For most of us, it’s hard to have two conflicting perspectives on life.  It’s Duke or Carolina, Celtics or Lakers, Beatles or Stones, Deep Dish or Thin Crust.  But Obama was able to convince 53% of America how to live in the middle.

But I won’t do it.  I won’t watch 63 games in the next three weeks without the hope that some underdog will prevail at least once along the way.  Give me a Cleveland State, a Utah State, or an Akron.  Give me a 5-seed in the Final Four.  Give me a 15-seed that pushes a 2-seed to the buzzer.  Give me something daring and tough and ambitious.

That is what inspires people.

Those miracles may not happen this year.  Probably Louisville, maybe North Carolina, possibly even Memphis – some huge school with equally huge budget – will take the crown.  But each team has a chance.  And when all is said and done three weeks from now, no one will ask for a bailout.  No one will cry about unfairness.  No one will hate the coaches for being millionaires or the winners for being good.  And everyone will try again next year.