NCAA Brackets & Leno: Smart, Un-Presidential or Both?

Here’s my take on the debate over whether President Obama should have gone on ESPN to fill out his NCAA tournament bracket and appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. For the White House message team, there is great value in showing the President doing what the American people are doing at a given time of year – back to school, July 4th picnic, baseball opening day, etc.

At a time when millions of Americans have swiped work time to organize tournament office pools, do research, fill out their brackets and of course, watch games online until their boss walks in…it’s okay – even during the economic crisis – for the President to fill out a bracket. It connects him with lots of Americans – even if Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and fans of teams he didn’t pick – are not among them.

The Tonight show provided another extended unscripted moment – following the Town Hall event and the ESPN appearance – after a run of events heavy on the teleprompter…Going in, I thought this call was ill-advised and that on a comedy show he would appear tone deaf to the very outrage he has been talking about all week. But, he was received in raucous fashion and his light-heartened opening jokes went over well. Then the discussion on AIG and the economy was fairly substantive and not frivolous, with no insensitive jokes about the economy. As I watched it, I thought he had pulled it off.

NCAA brackets and Leno – definitely un-Presidential, but also smart.

And then it happened – the President of the United States made a wisecrack about the Special Olympics. Huh? We’ll see how big it gets played and if it overshadows the otherwise successful appearance – I know it would have been the headline if the 43rd President said it.