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Friday, May 09, 2008

Putting the Jinx on John McCain

In Fiji, if a criminal refused to confess, the chief sent for a scarf with which “to catch away the soul of the rogue.” At the sight or even at the mention of the scarf the culprit generally made a clean breast. For if he did not, the scarf would be waved over his head till his soul was caught in it, when it would be carefully folded up and nailed to the end of a chief’s canoe; and for want of his soul the criminal would pine and die.
-Sir James Frazer, The Golden Bough

People sometimes confuse the words "strategy" and "tactics." A strategy is the plan, tactics advance that plan. This is why intercontinental ballistic missiles are referred to as "strategic weapons" and tanks are referred to as "tactical weapons" -- you launch the nukes and you're pretty much done. They're so powerful that pushing the button is the plan.

In Barack Obama's race against John McCain, the strategy should be clear; establish that McCain is identical to George W, Bush, then run against the most unpopular president since Lincoln (face it, there was a civil war, half of the people hated Abe).

The tactics serving this strategy aren't all that hard to figure out. Talk about Iraq, Iraq, Iraq and play clips of McCain talking about Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. But sometimes, tactics aren't really tied to strategy. They're used only to help gain the upper hand or "tactical advantage." Examples of this would be olympic swimmers shaving their bodies to get that extra fraction of a second or the basketball player talking trash on the court to throw the opponent off their game.

I guess what I have in mind here is sort of the same as the basketball player. You get into the opponent's head and get them thinking about how much they hate you, not the game. The hope is that they begin trying things that are a little beyond them, with a higher degree of difficulty, just to prove that they're a better player than you are. They'll try to showboat and they'll fail. You want them to start playing a different game than basketball.

I bring this up because I believe I've found a way to get into John McCain's head.

Dana Milbank, Washington Post, February 2000:

"I'm wearing my lucky shoes from today till Sunday," McCain says from his bus on Wednesday. At the moment, his pockets contain the compass, feather (from a tribal leader) and penny (flattened, in his wallet). When McCain once misplaced his feather, there was momentary panic in the campaign, until his wife found it in one of his suits. When the compass went missing once, McCain assigned his political director to hunt it down. Weaver found it, and it remains safe, knock wood.

McCain talks about his superstitious nature all the time. Todd Beeton at MyDD provides examples. In February, McCain said, "I am superstitious, as I said earlier, and for me to start talking about what would happen after I win the nomination, when I have not won it yet, is in direct violation of my superstitious tenets."

Later that same month, McCain said after winning the Wisconsin primary, "Thank you Wisconsin for bringing us to the point where even a superstitious Naval aviator can claim with confidence and humility that I will be our party's nominee for president of the United States. Thank you, Wisconsin."

There are two ways that people can be superstitious. The first is as an inside joke, a running gag, and it doesn't really mean anything. It's more of a motivational tool to get everyone on the same team. The other is the crazy idea that lucky talismans and ritual actually have some influence on reality. I think McCain's the second type of superstitious personality. It has the power of religious belief for him.

I came to this conclusion after watching a McCain appearance on The Daily Show earlier this week. At one point, McCain says, "Knock on wood," raps the desk, and freaks out for a moment when he realizes that what he knocked on wasn't wood. He legitimately seems confused, as if he has to do something about his error, but doesn't know what that is.

I opened with the quote from Frazer for a reason. Magic actually works. That unrepentant historical Fiji islander really would suffer if the chief tied a scarf to a canoe. He might even starve himself to death, worrying about his impending doom. When someone believes in magic, magic works on them. The magical happens inside the skull. As the wise and Obama-supporting Stevie Wonder once put it, "When you believe in things that you don't understand, then you suffer. Superstition ain't the way" (do yourself a favor and follow that link, by the way -- it's pretty awesome).

Maybe what people planning on voting Democrat should do is show up at McCain events in athletic jerseys with the number 13 on them. Or photos of black cats. There are some superstitions that are old and nearly forgotten, but McCain might know of them -- pictures of birds indoors, for example (an old Welsh jinx). Others everyone knows, like open umbrellas indoors. Play it safe and bring an umbrella with pictures of birds on it.

If Baghdad Johnny [note; thirteen letters] thinks everyone's trying to put a hex on him, would he change his game? I think it's worth a try just as a large scale social experiment. If it does change his game, if he starts turning people with unlucky jerseys or umbrellas away from events, it'll make him look like the doddering old loon he is.

In fact, if it changes his game in anyway, even inside his head, it'll have some effect. He'll be countering something that, for all intents and purposes, doesn't actually exist and will, therefore, be wasting energy on BS. And even if that's just mental energy, it'll make some kind of difference, whether it's mental fatigue or just distraction.

It's not a strategy -- it barely qualifies as a tactic -- but it'd be awfully fun. Bonus, Barack Obama doesn't have to do a damned thing. It'd be all ours. All we need are a bunch of jerseys with the number 13 and the name "McCain" on them.


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