Barack-etology: Where Are Obama’s Priorities?

The Malaysia Airlines jetliner is still missing. Obamacare has become such a tragicomical farce that actor Zach Galifianakis, in some semi-coherent form, was used to educate young people about signing up. Sen. Rand Paul invoked the names of Martin Luther King and Muhammad Ali, who were subjected to surveillance in the 1960s, in telling the New York Times, “The first African-American president ought to be a little more conscious of the fact of what has happened with the abuses of domestic spying.”

Yet the various crises of his job didn’t stop Barack Obama from spending a portion of his presidential work week with an NCAA tournament bracket.

He filled out all 67 games for the ESPN audience. He explained why Michigan State is his pick to win the national championship, saying, “Tom Izzo is a great tournament coach. He knows how to motivate folks and he knows how to coach. … Bring it home for me. It’s been a while since I’ve won my pool.” He chose Florida, Louisville and Arizona as his other Final Four teams, lauding the work of Florida coach Billy Donovan and Louisville coach Rick Pitino by name. Amazingly, he knew how to pronounce the last name of Kansas center Joel Embiid — “Em-beed,” he said correctly, something even avid sports fans might not get right — knew that Michigan State’s “(Keith) Appling and (Adreian) Payne” have returned from injuries, knew all about Creighton scoring machine Doug McDermott and even knew the names of Arizona’s best two players.

Do you know the names of Arizona’s two best players? I knew only one, Aaron Gordon, before thinking hard and remembering Nick Johnson. The President of the United States knew their names.

Was he prepped by an aide? I wish I could say yes, but the man watches this stuff, studies this stuff, bones up so much on college basketball and all sports that his passion begs a question.

Shouldn’t the POTUS be devoting his time and energy to more urgent matters?

Never have we seen an American President so immersed in sports. That might not be relevant if Obama, in the eyes of many Americans, also wasn’t among this nation’s most ineffective and inert leaders. It’s one thing to invite championship teams into the backyard to honor them, quite another to know enough about North Dakota State to forecast a second-round upset of Oklahoma. I am convinced Obama escapes to a private area of the White House and calls sports talk shows, going on the air as “Barry from Bethesda.” Think not? As a panelist on ESPN’s “Around The Horn” for eight years, I was reminded often that Obama watched our program and “Pardon The Interruption.” And while that was cool in a way, it also was unsettling. Didn’t he have more important things to do than watch me yell at Woody Paige for flubbing a name?

A president should have hobbies and diversions from a hellish job, I realize. But during his two terms, Obama sometimes has seemed preoccupied, if not obsessed. Any other president, if finding any time to fill out a bracket, probably would spend 90 seconds on it and laugh. Barack is awfully serious about his. “I know these are not imaginative picks, but I think they’re the right ones,” he said, defiantly.

I met Obama when he was a junior state senator in Illinois and I was a Chicago sports columnist. I also might be one reason why he has his current job. At one point, he faced a daunting race against a Republican challenger named Mike Ditka. No one is more popular in those parts than Da Coach, but one day, knowing how sleazy politics can be (particularly in that state), I wrote a column urging Ditka to reconsider based on lies and embellishments that might be spread about his private life. Days later, Ditka bowed out. Instead of losing and fading away, Obama won.

So blame me for President Sports Geek.

And, yes, the Malaysia Airlines jetliner is still missing.