As Japan crept closer to a full nuclear meltdown yesterday, President Obama was explaining his March Madness bracket to ESPN for a segment airing today, as he did in 2010 and 2009. "While Japan Burns, Obama Fills Out His Bracket," a headline from the National Review's Jim Geraghty reads. RNC chairman Reince Priebus seconded the critique in a tweet today. "How can @BarackObama say he is leading when puts his NCAA bracket over the budget & other pressing issues?" An RNC spokesman also demanded that Obama "explain why filming an ESPN special on the NCAA tournament should be a priority on his public schedule."
People, understandably, would generally prefer their presidents to be doing important presidential things instead of goofing around, which is why pointing out when they do the goofy things whether it's golfing or clearing brush is such a common political attack. But in reality, Obama is not in charge of solving the nuclear crisis in Japan. He should keep abreast of developments, but spending a few minutes with ESPN in the White House isn't going to prevent him from doing that. And, in fact, Obama ensured that the ESPN video will actually help the Japanese people in tangible ways. Before getting into his picks, Obama says:
Obviously our hearts go out to the people of Japan. One thing I wanted to make sure that viewers who are filling out their brackets, you know, this is a great tradition, we have fun every year doing it. But while you’re doing it, if you’re on your laptop, et cetera, go to usaid.gov U-S-A-I-D dot G-O-V and that’s going to list a whole range of charities where you can potentially contribute to help the people who have been devastated in Japan. I think that would be a great gesture as you’re filling out your brackets. It can help out some people who are really going through a tough time.
A lot of people are going to hear that message on TV and online, and some of them will go donate. That will end up helping Japan a lot more than Obama not doing the ESPN segment because of concerns about superficially damaging optics.