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Obama Fills Out His Bracket While World Collapses

This morning, Ben Domenech tweeted, “Over 72 hours, POTUS will have played 18 holes, spoken at Gridiron, taped his NCAA picks on ESPN. Good thing nothing important’s happening.”

Jim Geraghty gets in on the act with “While Japan Burns, Obama Fills Out His Bracket.”

Japan faces an almost unparalleled crisis, Libya is in civil war, and we’re having another budget showdown after running up a $222.5 billion deficit in the 28 days of February. And after last week’s bullying summit, Obama is spending this week talking education reform.

In an update, he notes that Obama also attended a DNC fundraiser for the 2012 run.

This is all amusing enough. Pundits and jokesters never tire of juxtaposing world events with presidential leisure and I presume Domenech and Geraghty are just engaging in that time-honored tradition.

John Podheretz takes the leap into absurdity, though, proclaiming that  “Obama’s Presidency Hangs by a Thread.”

It’s hard to overstate how poorly Barack Obama is doing in the face of these crises — and I don’t even mean how he’s doing substantively, which is a scandal in itself. I mean how he’s doing politically. Recall how much hay Michael Moore made of the fact that George W. Bush read My Pet Goat for nine minutes in that Florida classroom on 9/11 after being informed that the first plane had struck.

We’re going on four weeks now, or more, that Barack Obama has been reading My Pet Goat.

He is largely notable by his absence, which is itself the result not only of not knowing what to do but also apparently believing it is better for the world if he remains a minor player as a bloodbath approaches in the Middle East and something more ominous seems to be approaching in Japan. When he talks, as he did in Friday’s press conference, he only makes matters more confusing; there is little reassurance that there is a hand anywhere near the tiller.

Obama’s defiant unwillingness to take the measure of the world’s multiple crises and to act as a world leader in response to them in the eyes of the public indicates a fundamental disconnect in the Oval Office. We’ve heard all kinds of talk about how his new team in the White House is so much better than the old, but at least the old team recognized there was a crisis underway in the United States in 2009. It reacted too gleefully, and with wild overreach. But it acted.

I happen to think Obama is more-or-less doing the right thing in the Middle East. But I know plenty of smart foreign policy experts who disagree, arguing America has a duty to weigh in on the side of anti-authoritarian movements. So, there’s at least room for debate there.

I’ve yet to read any plausible account suggesting that Obama should be doing something substantially more or different with respect to the disasters befalling Japan. It’s a rich, sophisticated country with plenty of in-house expertise. And the United States is ready with any additional assets they might need.

And, yes, there’s plenty of other stuff going on, including unacceptably high rates of unemployment.

But the notion that the president should never do anything that smacks of frivolity or recreation so long as there’s something important going on is absurd. He oversees a massive executive branch, consisting of hundreds of thousands of employees. His job is to make the hard decisions; their job is to apply their expertise in carrying them out.

Does anyone seriously think unemployment would be lower if Obama had skipped his golf outing? That Japan’s nuclear reactions would be safe, if only the president didn’t keep up with college basketball? That Libya would now be a democracy if Obama hadn’t attended that fundraiser?

Yes, there’s such a thing as optics. Images of the Leader of the Free World enjoying himself while tens of thousands are missing and presumed dead in the land of one of our great trading partners–and young people in the Middle East are fighting for freedom from one of the world’s true bad guy–just don’t look right.

Then again, this is a no-win situation. If he’d canceled his annual bracket extravaganza, he’d be accused of a bunker mentality.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. I am very confused.

    If, as many on the right tell me, Obama is consciously engaged in an effort to harm America and diminish her standing in the world, then isn’t a a good thing that he’s taking up his time with golf, the Gridiron Dinner, and NCAA bracketology?

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  2. michael reynolds says:

    Maybe he could schedule an hour of air time when we could just watch him furrow his brow and pace back and forth while sighing heavily.

    Then everything would be fixed.

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  3. G.A.the Friendly Troll says:

    I say, give him and his whole administration a year long pass to Euro Disney. Its where they belong.

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  4. Derrick says:

    Maybe he could schedule an hour of air time when we could just watch him furrow his brow and pace back and forth while sighing heavily.

    Or maybe a number of meetings with some graphs and Google Maps on a projector while pointing to different people in the room.

    DO SOMETHING OBAMA! I DON’T KNOW WHAT OR CARE. BUT DAMMIT, DO SOMETHING!

    /shakes fist

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  5. Cuffy Meigs says:

    Does anyone seriously think unemployment would be lower if Obama had skipped his golf outing? That Japan’s nuclear reactions would be safe, if only the president didn’t keep up with college basketball? That Libya would now be a democracy if Obama hadn’t attended that fundraiser?

    Well, executive leadership may have produced an actual budget by now instead of neverending CR’s. Too much to ask, I know.

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  6. Derrick says:

    I say, give him and his whole administration a year long pass to Euro Disney. Its where they belong.

    I’m sure that based on our last Republican administration, that’s plenty of time for Republicans to start two additional wars and plunge us into another recession.

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  7. Rick Almeida says:

    Well, executive leadership may have produced an actual budget by now instead of neverending CR’s.

    Good thing the President is clearly given this role in the Constitution.

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  8. Cuffy Meigs says:

    You’re right. The President has zero involvement in budgeting. Z-E-R-O.

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  9. Neil Hudelson says:

    Cuffy,

    Of course he has a role. Just not the role you indicated he has. But hey, instead of engaging the criticism, you should just yell louder about something your critics didn’t actually say. Hows that working out for ya?

    Switching subjects now.

    Can anyone tell me how the events in Libya and Japan are any different than events that happen every month of every year? Why is Libya’s crisis different than the crisis on the Ivory Coast? I never heard anyone giving a crap about what the POTUS was doing during that.

    Or how about the escalation of tensions between Somaliland, Puntland, and Somalia during the Bush admin? Seems to me that that incident is in the same area of the world, has the same amount (if different type) of natural resources, and affects as many people as the Libyan crisis. Were there critics of the POTUS then?

    Or with Japan. How often did people cry out during the multiple mudslides that have hit Guatemala and Mexico over the past decade? Australia’s wildfires? Chilean Miners? Was the President not allowed leisure activities during those times?

    You know why Bush was criticized for his (initial) lackluster response during 9/11 [and for the record I think those criticisms were unfair]? BECAUSE IT AFFECTED AMERICAN CITIZENS YOU IDIOTS! Japan is a first rate economy with plans for disaster management. Obama has nothing to do with their crisis. Libya is a worrisome event, but one of hundreds and hundreds of worrisome events that happen every year. Get the hell over it people.

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  10. Wayne says:

    Expecting the President of the United States to lead and to be involved in creating a decent budget is so outlandish. You mean righties need to stop picking on Obama. (Sarcasm off for you that didn’t recognized it)

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  11. Idiot says:

    It’s just so hard to be a messiah than to campaign as one:

    “I am absolutely certain that generations from now we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last best hope on earth.”

    Barack Obama – June 2008. Not sung to the theme from Jesus Christ Superstar though it should have been.

    I wonder if the Libyan rebels still view America as the last best hope on earth. All the others look equally as silly. He ran for the job, he campaigned for the job, he wanted the job – he should try accepting the responsibility that comes with it graciously.

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  12. Cuffy Meigs says:

    You know the other role the President is clearly given in the Constitution?

    Picking brackets.

    Get. To. Work.

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  13. Steven Plunk says:

    Seriously, is it wrong to expect our President to act presidential? Is it partisan to expect him to project an image to our allies that reinforces their trust in us? Is it too much to ask that he makes his bracket picks in private rather than on ESPN? How about the desire we have for him to make a decision rather than make none? Too much to ask?

    This argument used against us who expect soooooo much from our president that we complain when he does act and then when he doesn’t ignores the main point that our complaints come mostly in regards to foreign policy and the image of Americans abroad. Sure he screwed up health care reform but that doesn’t mean we want him to ignore other responsibilities, he’s still President. Drop that lame, childish argument and face the fact he is terrible at foreign policy and terrible at knowing the proper time and place for recreation activities. It makes us all look bad.

    The Left can continue to defend him but realists know what kind of message is being sent with his seemingly callous attitudes and atrocious timing.

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  14. G.A.the Friendly Troll says:

    I’m sure that based on our last Republican administration, that’s plenty of time for Republicans to start two additional wars and plunge us into another recession.

    Start? Plunge? lol…

    What about continue and worsen?

    DumBO, I banish you and your flees and ticks to Euro Disney, BEGONE!!!!!!!!

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  15. Neil Hudelson says:

    Cuffy,

    Way to still ignore the actual criticisms levied against you. Once you have a winning strategy, why change eh?

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  16. Cuffy Meigs says:

    Way to still ignore the actual criticisms levied against you. Once you have a winning strategy, why change eh?

    What criticisms?

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  17. reid says:

    face the fact he is terrible at foreign policy and terrible at knowing the proper time and place for recreation activities.

    Of course, these are obviously just your opinions and not “facts”. Even James agrees that the policy is correct in the Middle East. And most people aren’t offended by his making NCAA picks or playing golf. Admit it, your main problem with him is that he’s a Democrat.

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  18. TG Chicago says:

    @Plunk:

    Is it too much to ask that he makes his bracket picks in private rather than on ESPN?

    What substantive difference would that make? That’s the question Joyner asked in the post.

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  19. William Teach says:

    Wait, according to Doug, these kinds of slams against Obama are worthless and a waste of time, a distraction. Which is it?

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  20. Neil Hudelson says:

    That your whole criticism of the President is that he’s not working to pass a budget, which people have pointed out, isn’t his job?

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  21. Steven Plunk says:

    reid, I’m not offended by the picks or playing golf either. I think he is doing it all at a bad time and in an inappropriate manner.

    TG, Substantive difference is really nothing other than the image of our President looking un-presidential to the world.

    I’ll admit this is all about what we want out of a president and is very subjective. I didn’t like the way the last president talked but agreed with most of his policies. I don’t agree with the current administration’s policies and now see the President demeaning the office. Once again, am I asking too much?

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  22. Cuffy Meigs says:

    Budgeting is not the President’s job? Really?

    Interesting.

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  23. reid says:

    Steven, so you at least thought Bush acted unpresidential? (For example, giving Merkel a massage. I’m sure there are others, including playing golf.) If so, I at least give you points for consistency, especially if you criticized him while he was in office.

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  24. Calvin Coolidge used to take a daily nap. Those were the good old days

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  25. Neil Hudelson says:

    Cuffy,

    US Constitution>Article 1>Section 6, 7, and 8.

    Your ignorance of this was, essentially, the criticism lobbied against you by Rick. At this point you are either willfully ignoring that you were wrong, or you are just extremely daft. Either way its embarrassing for you.

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  26. Cuffy Meigs says:

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb

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  27. just me says:

    I thought it was dumb when liberals attacked Bush for playing golf or engaging in some other mundane or entertaining activity during a crisis.

    I think it is dumb now although there is a bit of “reap what you sow” involved as well.

    The reality is that a president is always just a phone call away from any crisis-whether they are highly involved in the solution or playing golf. There also isn’t a whole lot any president can do at any specific moment to make whatever disaster go away or stop being a disaster.

    I wish everyone would stop with this kind of attack, but I think it is an attack that every president is going to be faced with and there probably isn’t any way to win.

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  28. Ezra Klein thinks “the White House cut its deal and lost its base.” And it’s true that Nancy Pelosi, Mary Landrieu, and other Democrats are hopping mad, thinking Obama gave away the store. But, frankly, who cares what they think? Certainly not Obama, who wants to get credit for compromise and really didn’t want to be defending raising taxes during a recession in the next campaign.

    Remember that one, James Joyner?

    Here’s a clue for you: stupid, failed ideas are stupid failures.

    Obama is running Bush’s 3rd term, and it is (predictably) a disaster. It’s funny that you title this blog “Outside the Beltway”, because you sound just like any other inside-the-Beltway bloviator.
    ~

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  29. JKB says:

    Well, it is a bit of poetic justice for a man whose entire adult career was rabble-rousing for those with actual responsibilities to do something, anything to be held accountable for the appearance of doing nothing but taking the day off.

    As for the Middle East, well, I seem to remember one call to arms in 2008 was for the U.S.A. to be more like Europe and so we are. Bad for the rebels but all the chattering classes in the world hated the interventionist Bush. Now, they’ve got hang-back Obama.

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  30. mantis says:

    I happen to think Obama is more-or-less doing the right thing in the Middle East. But I know plenty of smart foreign policy experts who disagree, arguing America has a duty to weigh in on the side of anti-authoritarian movements.

    Rather generous to those “smart foreign policy experts.” They want another war. It’s ok, you can say it.

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  31. Cuffy Meigs says:

    Things I Learned Today:

    1. Presidents do not propose budgets.

    2. The (titular) head of one of the major political parties provides no leadership during critically stalled budget negotiations.

    3. Goofing off with brackets during work hours is an important role of the Executive.

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  32. James Joyner says:

    @ifthethunderdontgetya: Is there a point in there somewhere?

    @mantis: There is a strong segment of both parties who want American intervention every time something big’s doing on. Everyone from John Kerry to John McCain is cheering for action here.

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  33. Neil Hudelson says:

    Cuffy,

    Of course you never said “proposing a budget is the President’s job.” You said a budget hasn’t been passed because of the President. That is factually wrong. In fact, I doubt you knew what the budgeting process was until Rick, followed by myself, called you on it. The President doesn’t pass the budget, he just proposes one.

    Which he has done. Idiot.

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget

    So, AGAIN, your criticism is baseless. The President has done his part in the budgeting process. It is up to the House–controlled by Republicans–to now pass a budget. Yet somehow their inability to get their own members in order is the President’s fault?

    Also, “goofing…during work hours.” Really? You really think the OPOTUS is a 9 to 5 job? If you really believe this, then I can see why you are being critical of the President. You think his day ends at 5 and he should play golf afterwards. Man, I’m totally with you now. Of course like most things right-wingers believe, this reality you live in is a false one, but still–I see why you are taking offense now.

    I’ll let you in on a hint Cuffy–the OPOTUS runs 24 hours a day. So either ‘work hours’ means the approximately 70,080 of Obama’s (probable) 8 year Presidency, or you are living in a fantasy world.

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  34. pylon says:

    According to FactCheck.org, Obama spent all, or part of, 26 days of his first year in office on vacation. This was less than all three previous Republican presidents, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, but more than the two previous Democratic presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

    just sayin’

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  35. TG Chicago says:

    @Plunk

    TG, Substantive difference is really nothing other than the image of our President looking un-presidential to the world.

    Most folks on the right say they don’t care what the rest of the world thinks about the US. At least, they say that when their favored policies go against world opinion.

    So can you point to who in “the world” is complaining about Obama looking un-presidential?

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  36. Cuffy Meigs says:

    Forgot Something Else I Learned Today:

    4. The President doesn’t sign or veto Congress’ budget.

    Neil is correct. The President has nothing to do with the budget once it’s proposed. The ball is totally out of his court and it’s bracket time, baby. Whew.

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  37. anjin-san says:

    Fox has been beating this drum for a while in the absence of any intelligent critique of Obama’s job performance. The attack gerbils are chiming in in the absence of any original thoughts. So we end up with brain-dead chatter. What else is new?

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  38. mantis says:

    There is a strong segment of both parties who want American intervention every time something big’s doing on. Everyone from John Kerry to John McCain is cheering for action here.

    I didn’t say anything about political parties. I was pointing out that those people want far more than for the US to “weigh in.”

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  39. mantis says:

    According to FactCheck.org, Obama spent all, or part of, 26 days of his first year in office on vacation. This was less than all three previous Republican presidents, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, but more than the two previous Democratic presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

    IOKIYAR

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  40. Cuffy Meigs says:

    Even Obama ally Michael Tomasky of The Guardian finds that the President’s current budget “passivity is kind of stunning.”

    I really don’t know why Tomasky says this – Obama’s budget job is alllll done, right Neil?

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  41. Neil Hudelson says:

    Well, executive leadership may have produced an actual budget

    You’ve changed your claim three times now. I’m guessing its because you had to actually go read what the budget process was, rather than just making assumptive claims about Presidential authority. I’ve never denied your last two points–but that wasn’t what you were arguing was it?

    I bet the budget process would go a lot quicker if we finally changed that 9-to-5 office hours OPOTUS has always operated under…

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  42. Tlaloc says:

    It would seem some people really really want this to be Obama’s Katrina, and are trying to compare Bush’s indolence while an American city drowned (and FEMA stood around doing one heckuvajob of nothing) to Obama’s actions while another country on the other side of the world gets tons of aid (including from the US) after a huge disaster.

    Ironically these same people, if Obama were to make some big show, would use it as an example of how he’s more interested in other countries than the US, doesn’t focus on jobs, and is generally always bowing and scraping to “furriners.”

    There’s a hell of a lot to criticize obama about, but somehow I get the feeling his critics onthe right are fundamentally unserious.

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  43. Cuffy Meigs says:

    “Executive leadership” encompasses the entire budget process, from proposal, to shepherding it through Congress, to final signing into law.

    Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

    I thought most people knew the President is historically very heavily involved in the whole budget process, not just those activities explicitly defined by the Constitution. My bad.

    The President punted on his proposal, submitting a budget so unserious that it was DOA. With that opportunity squandered, now we’re faced with zero input or leadership from him on the current impasse (see Tomasky).

    Instead we get brackets and talk of shutdown. Win the Future!

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  44. Phil says:

    Generally not an Obama fan, but I do respect Barry for taking 30 minutes out of his schedule to do what most normal, red-blooded Americans are doing this week: filling out their NCAA bracket.

    I am sure none of you has ever taken a longer than normal lunch break, sent personal email, or managed your stock portfolio during the middle of a work day. Heaven forbid the POTUS get a coffee break.

    And so what if he does it on ESPN? Politics is one giant, non-substantive media spectacle anyway (see the presidential “debates”).

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  45. MM says:

    SO the thrust of James Joyner’s post is:

    But the notion that the president should never do anything that smacks of frivolity or recreation so long as there’s something important going on is absurd. He oversees a massive executive branch, consisting of hundreds of thousands of employees. His job is to make the hard decisions; their job is to apply their expertise in carrying them out.

    Does anyone seriously think unemployment would be lower if Obama had skipped his golf outing? That Japan’s nuclear reactions would be safe, if only the president didn’t keep up with college basketball? That Libya would now be a democracy if Obama hadn’t attended that fundraiser?

    And the response from this thread is substance free rage, strawman slaying and goalpost moving.

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  46. danimal says:

    This kind of criticism is tiring and annoying when it comes from the left as well as from the right. Does anyone really believe that the lack of public spectacle means the president isn’t deeply involved in the budget process? That the bracket picks take up such a substantial amount of time that Libya burns due to neglect? Come on, grow up.

    The president makes decisions all the time, even on the golf course. Sometimes they are public and often they are behind the scenes. This is so obvious I can only conclude that the president’s critics are either massively ignorant or completely craven.

    Bush was presidentin’ while clearing brush in Crawford, too. Jeez, grow up.

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  47. [...] James Joyner of libertarian blog Outside the Beltway offered the only right-leaning defense of the president's bracket. "This is a no-win situation," he admits. "If he’d canceled his annual bracket extravaganza, he’d be accused of a bunker mentality." [...]

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  48. matt says:

    Ironically these same people, if Obama were to make some big show, would use it as an example of how he’s more interested in other countries than the US, doesn’t focus on jobs, and is generally always bowing and scraping to “furriners.”

    Actually these people would be complaining about stuff like Obama “not letting a good tragedy go to waste”…

    I thought most people knew the President is historically very heavily involved in the whole budget process, not just those activities explicitly defined by the Constitution. My bad.

    Well if you get seriously historical like George Washington historical then the president’s job is to sit back and only veto the bills given him that he believes is unconstitutional while not lobbying on either side of said bills in congress..

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  49. [...] Outside the Beltway [...]

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  50. Richie says:

    Newsflash – the budget was supposed to have been passed LAST year, when the Democrats ruled the presidency AND both houses of congress. The Republicans are trying to do the work the Dems didn’t bother with because they were to busy blaming everything on Bush.

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  51. James Joyner says:
    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 14:39

    @ifthethunderdontgetya: Is there a point in there somewhere?

    Yes. In the post I linked, you said “But, frankly, who cares what they think? Certainly not Obama, who wants to get credit for compromise and really didn’t want to be defending raising taxes during a recession in the next campaign.”

    James, where can Obama cash this ‘credit’? At this point, you have Republicans shrieking about 14 trillions dollars of debt they themselves are most responsible for creating, and you have the Obama Administration groveling at their feet trying to agree to cuts that won’t have much, if any, impact on that debt (but may well cause Democratic voters to wonder why they should bother showing up at the polls).

    It was stupid policy to agree to extend those cuts. Obama and the nation are worse off for it. And what you wrote about it was also stupid.

    Clear enough for you?
    ~

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  52. Tlaloc says:

    Newsflash – the budget was supposed to have been passed LAST year, when the Democrats ruled the presidency AND both houses of congress. The Republicans are trying to do the work the Dems didn’t bother with because they were to busy blaming everything on Bush.

    Agreed, the budget situation would have been better if had been resolved before the republicans had any power to screw them up.

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  53. James Joyner says:

    @ifthethunderdontgetya™³²

    I didn’t argue that he was going to enhance his position with the Republicans; we’re too polarized for that. The point is that he was positioning himself with the voters in between two parties the public considers extreme.

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  54. John425 says:

    Why bother claiming the President’s time spent on picking the Final Four is frivolous, when you know his entire Presidency is frivolous.

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  55. Mark Pierce says:

    OBAMA HAS OFFICIALLY JUMPED THE SHARK WITH THIS. HE IS AN EMBARRASSMENT. HILLARY 2012.

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  56. Is this what was meant by being as negative on Obama as on Palin?

    No, don’t answer that. It’s just snark.

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  57. Rick says:

    Cuffy has to be one of those brain dead Americans who contributed to the disaster we find ourselves in.

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  58. Robert Pegues says:

    James Joyner, I’d like to thank you for being level-headed, decent and fair to Obama on this issue.

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  59. Bob Roman says:

    Obama Fills Out His Bracket While World Collapses, give me a break. Maybe the President elect shouldn’t take the time for a crap either. If Reagan, RIP, were around, we would probably have to wake him from a nap. If George Jr. was in, we would probably have a hard time finding Cheney.

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  60. Garry Phillips says:

    The more Obama vacations,plays golf.picks brackets etc, the less harm he can do to our country. Soon the American people will give him a permanent vacation. Bye bye Obama

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  61. [...] James Joyner of libertarian blog Outside the Beltway offered the only right-leaning defense of the president’s bracket. “This is a no-win situation,” he admits. “If he’d canceled his annual bracket extravaganza, he’d be accused of a bunker mentality.” [...]

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  62. [...] I defended Obama from criticism that he shouldn’t have been filling out his brackets when the world was e… with crisis, one of the points I had in the back of my mind was the strong likelihood that [...]

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