Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Commander-in-chief/ College sports commissioner

The "60 Minutes" interview with Barack Obama was surprising to me for two reasons. First, I didn't know "60 Minutes" was still on the air. And second, there was this little exchange between Steve Kroft and the President-elect:

Kroft: I have one last question. As president of the United States, what can you do, or what do you plan to do, about getting a college football playoff for the national championship?

Mr. Obama: This is important. Look, excuse me for a second.

Michelle Obama: Please. Don't mind me.

Mr. Obama: I think any sensible person would say that if you've got a bunch of teams who play throughout the season, and many of them have one loss or two losses, there's no clear decisive winner that we should be creating a playoff system. Eight teams. That would be three rounds, to determine a national champion. It would it would add three extra weeks to the season. You could trim back on the regular season. I don't know any serious fan of college football who has disagreed with me on this. So, I'm gonna throw my weight around a little bit. I think it's the right thing to do. (Emphasis mine).

We hear comparisons made between Obama and Lincoln, because they're both skinny Illinois lawyers who took office with quite thin resumes. We hear comparisons between Obama and JFK, because they both took office as young, good looking snobs. And there are the inevitable comparisons between Obama and FDR, as both took office in times of economic turmoil.

One comparison I haven't heard is between Obama and Woodrow Wilson. If I'm not mistaken, Obama, having taught Constitutional Law for about twelve years at a top tier law school, will very likely be the most knowledgeable President on the Constitution in nearly a century, since Wilson was in the White House. I note Wilson in this regard because he wrote a book entitled Constitutional Government in the United States. Obama hasn't written anything like that yet, as he apparently prefers autobiography to legal scholarship, but all those years teaching, telling students who pay the University of Chicago's hefty tuition just what the Constitution means and does not mean, certainly gives him some claim to being the most versed President on the intricacies of the great document since the days around World War I.

And that, my friends, is why I cringed when I heard Obama say he wants to throw his weight around to get a college football playoff. To be honest, I wouldn't even do a double take if President Bush had said this. I'd just shrug and think, well, that's just George the good old boy, talking as he might if you shared a beer with him.

But the standard here for Obama has got to be a little different. He knows what's in Article II. He knows, or should know, that there isn't any power granted the Chief Executive that could remotely be considered a license of authority to lean on college presidents to get a football playoff going.

You may recall that before the election, I defended Obama, to a degree, against the criticism that he didn't have enough experience to sit in the White House. I wrote:

"That's the thing about experience: a person may lack it in one relevant area but possess it in spades in another. Yes, Barack Obama is unusually unqualified to be President of the United States if you consider only the political positions he's held. But on the other hand, who is better qualified to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States than a guy who taught it at an elite law school for a dozen years?"

Since to me, his Constitutional knowledge is actually Obama's best case for being President, I must say I find it troubling that he is so casual about the relationship between the Constitution and the Presidency in a major interview.

Picking a college football champion is not as important--nor as potentially dangerous--as dealing with Iraq. Nobody is going to think less of Obama if he can't get a playoff. But I have to admit, I think a little less of him for believing that leaning on folks to get a playoff is one of the President's duties.

Besides, as a Midwesterner, Obama shouldn't wish for a system that might show everybody even more clearly how bad Big Ten football has become.

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