All week, conservatives have been bashing President Obama for filling out his NCAA tournament bracket on ESPN while uprisings roil the Arab world, a nuclear crisis and widespread devastation loom in Japan, a budget battle rages in Congress, and stubbornly high unemployment and rising oil and food prices threaten economic recovery. The President has, of course, addressed all of these developments, but his critics claim the March Madness gesture demonstrates that Obama isn't focused on the issues that matter.
In recent days, a new wrinkle has emerged in the criticism. Conservatives are offering Obama their own brackets, and let's just say you won't find Kansas or Ohio State among their teams. Hot Air's Allahpundit, for example, recently offered some picks for Obama: "I’ve got Qaddafi in the Libyan regional, radioactive steam over the containment vessels out east, and China over Duke in the final. At the buzzer."
Then there's Fred Thompson at National Review, who, after accusing Obama of picking teams in swing states, asked his readers to create "Brackets of Leadership" for the "ever-distracted" president. "I could easily slot issues like Japan, the budget, entitlement reform, and tax cuts in upper seeds," he wrote, adding "there is no rule that says that 'Tax Cuts' can’t be seeded next to 'Zero Out the Education Department' (though I’d hate to pick one over the other)."
But Newt Gingrich took the concept to a whole other level last night. Appearing on Fox News, the potential 2012 GOP presidential candidate presented his Final Four for Obama, which included reducing unemployment to four percent, producing enough oil and gas domestically to reduce gas prices to $2 a gallon, and balancing the federal budget while reducing the size of government. In other words, problems so grave that we shouldn't be distracted by college kids bouncing round balls. The times are not as tranquil as March of 2009 (when the nation faced issues like a teetering economy, an intractable Iraqi insurgency, and a crippling blizzard) and Gingrich could ask people to "join the Speaker and friends in friendly March Madness Competition" on Facebook.
So even while laying out his politicized Final Four picks Gingrich couldn't help but be distracted by the President's trifling game: "He may well be right about Kansas, although I must say I have a personal affection for Duke, where my best friend from high school went to school and where they have a great coach, and I kind of have a soft spot in my heart for Duke winning. But Kansas is a great school, so maybe the president is right." Undermine your point there a little, Newt?
Not every Obama critic is taking the alternative bracket approach, though. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, for instance, tweeted, "How can @BarackObama say he is leading when puts his NCAA bracket over the budget & other pressing issues?" Priebus has himself been known to juggle sports and politics. When his Green Bay Packers made it to the Super Bowl in February, he tweeted a photo of himself at the big game with Congressman Paul Ryan and Senator Ron Johnson. The caption? "Go Pack Go!" No mention of the budget.