Apparently, you can fool some of the people some of the time, as long as those people aren’t 14 years old. I shall explain.
This past week dutifully coughed up yet another political brouhaha as the McCain camp accused the Obama camp of playing the "race card." I’m not sure why I use quotes around the term "race card" but I get the impression it’s "the thing to do."
Not only did John McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, say that they were playing the "race card," but he said they played it from the bottom of the deck.
I dunno, Rick… I think it would have been more effective to just stick with the basics. Adding the "bottom of the deck" line just confused the issue and made you sound a bit hysterical. Then again, I’ve never run a campaign before, although I did help my pal Billy get elected as class president back in the fourth grade.
According to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, I may have implied to Billy’s opponent, one Buzz Tompkins, that "bad things" could happen if he stayed in the race. Buzz dropped out later that day, saying he wanted to focus on his Hot Wheels racing career. The CIA took notice and I was recruited shortly thereafter.
What prompted the "race card" exchange was a line from Barack Obama during a speech earlier in the week, a line he had used on previous occasions, as well.
During a stop in Missouri (State motto: "Somewhere roughly in the middle of the country, possibly next to Ohio, but not really sure") Obama said that since McCain "doesn’t have solutions for the problems the country is facing … what they’re going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, he’s not patriotic enough. He’s got a funny name. You know, he doesn’t look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills. You know, he’s risky."
Frankly, I wouldn’t vote for him simply because he says "you know" way too often in a paragraph. Throw in a few "likes" and maybe an "OMG" and he’d sound like my teenage daughter.
After Obama made those comments the McCain camp cried foul, essentially saying that Obama was implying that McCain is racist and would use Obama’s race to scare voters.
It based its complaint on Obama’s statement that the McCain camp would try to scare voters and say that "he doesn’t look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills."
The Obama camp, never to be out-drama-queened, issued an indignant response, declaring that Obama meant no such thing and certainly didn’t play the "race card." According to the Obama spin machine, when Obama says that "he doesn’t look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills," he’s not referring to his race, he’s referring to his level of experience and resume.
What a load of crap. In fact, the PWB’s patented CrapMeter, maintained in a climate-controlled bunker and monitored 'round the clock by volunteers from the Center for Research and Politics, registered its highest readings ever following the Obama camp’s response to the McCain camp’s "race card" accusation.
The readings were relayed to the PWB headquarters, where Bobo the Talking Intern leapt into action, rushing across the street to the bar where the rest of us were playing cards and possibly imbibing.
Here’s the thing… it’s logical if Obama wants to inoculate himself from the potential impact of the "race thing" by drawing attention to it. That seems to be a fine strategy. In a perfect world race would not be an issue for anybody. Unfortunately, I suspect we’re not in a perfect world.
Given that, it makes sense for the Obama camp to get out ahead of the situation by bringing it up as he has, talking about it and basically moving us further down the road. One day it won’t matter and that will be a very good thing.
But don’t bring it up by implying that McCain is using race to scare voters, when he has done no such thing. And by all means, don’t try to break our CrapMeter by suggesting that you weren’t referring to race when you made those comments. That is simply playing the American voter for an idiot.
To test this theory we created a simple survey. We decided to ask a random group of individuals what Obama means when he says: "You know, he doesn’t look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills." A very simple test… read the sentence and then ask, "What does Obama mean?"
Unfortunately, by the time we finished our card game it was the end of the work day and there was no way to convince the PWB staff to work extra hours conducting a survey on the street. The pursuit of empirical research once again was being thwarted by my slacker staff.
Luckily, when I arrived home my 14-year-old daughter and some of her friends were hanging out at the house playing "Guitar Hero" and eating their way through the kitchen pantry. A ready-made random sampling of voters, although admittedly all too young to vote. Close enough.
The test question was handed out, along with No. 2 pencils, and the kids were given five minutes to stare gormlessly at the piece of paper. I stayed in the room and ensured that there was no talking and no cheating. I then collected the answers, tossed more bags of chips and Twizzlers into the room and returned to the PWB headquarters.
Out of eight respondents to the question "What does Obama mean when he says, 'You know, he doesn’t look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills,'" eight wrote "… that he’s African-American." Not a single 14-year-old thought Obama might be referring to his experience or resume.
Now, using that data and following the statistical process first outlined in Clarence Dunwiddy’s seminal piece "Surveys, Statistics, the Universe and You" we can see that if a group of 14-year-old teenage girls with the combined political savvy of a cantaloupe reads Obama’s statement for what it is, then a majority (plus or minus 4 percentage points) of eligible American voters should also see through the spin.
Unfortunately, Dunwiddy was proven to be an idiot with a limited understanding of cardinal numbers and no academic training in statistics. Thus we have to throw out the results and assume that the general public once again will be duped by the ability of a politician to talk out of both sides of his mouth.
So, what have we learned from this week’s drama? Well, apparently, the Obama camp wants to get out in front of the race issue by painting the McCain camp as racist. And when called on it, they think the American voter is perhaps stupid enough, gullible enough, not interested enough or enamored just enough with their candidate to buy whatever spin they’re selling. And you know what? They may be right.
Too bad we can’t lower the voting age to 14. I’ve got a house full of kids that aren’t buying it.
Till next week, stay safe.
Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector, including most recently Prescience LLC, a global intelligence and strategy firm. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on such issues. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant, writer and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks" as well as major motion pictures and two new BBC drama series finishing production in the U.K.