Strategy ’08

Obama vs. the other guy, 2008

‘A .22-caliber mind …’

Long-time reader, first-time poster.

In a 2002 episode of “The West Wing”, President Bartlet commits an open-mic gaffe by referring to his opponent, the W-esque Gov. Ritchie, as a “.22-caliber mind in a .357 Magnum world.” At the end of the episode, Toby C.J. deduces that Bartlet’s gaffe was intentional, since it allowed him to inject doubts about his opponent’s intellect into the media while maintaining deniability.

As I was reading Frank Rich’s latest, it occurred to me that there’s a similar opportunity for Obama to raise doubts about McCain. No, I don’t mean copying Bartlet’s trick exactly — that would be a little too transparent. In fact, I’m not sure Obama himself could really pull it off. Instead, I’m thinking of something along the lines of Wesley Clark’s “gaffe”, except that instead of reminding people that McCain’s a war hero, the episode could remind them that he doesn’t know a whole lot about economics.

Picture this: A high-profile Obama surrogate goes on a Sunday talk show and makes a rude, slightly over-the-top, but most of all MEMORABLE put-down of McCain’s intellect. The media goes nuts, McCain whines (for the umpteenth time) that “Obama’s pledge to run a different kind of campaign is now inoperative”, and the surrogate maybe has to commit political hari-kiri. But in the meantime, the media spends a week debating McCain’s intelligence, Timeweek does a cover story like “Does intelligence matter in a president?” and all future McCain gaffes — and you know they’re coming — get wrapped around the hook of “Maybe ___ was right, and McCain really isn’t so bright.”

Will any of this happen? Probably not. But just for fun, make your suggestions in the comments. Two questions to consider:

A. Who should make the gaffe? It should be someone with a rep for plain-spokenness, so that the media can say, a la Manny Ramirez, “Oh, that’s just ___ being ___.” He or she should be well-known enough that the remarks actually get coverage. It also wouldn’t hurt to have the words come out of the mouth of a folksy Southerner. I’ll throw out a few names to get the ball rolling: Biden, Webb, Rendell, Hillary, Carville. (Moment of silence for the woman who would have been perfect for this role: Ann Richards)

B. What should he or she say? Remember, it has to be memorable enough to get repeated a lot. To that end, it should either be especially folksy (think of a less-convoluted version of one of Dan Rather’s metaphors), or especially harsh (think of Tommy Franks’ putdown-for-the-ages of Doug Feith

Any ideas? Have at it in the comments.

July 22, 2008 - Posted by | Economy, Media Strategy | , ,


  1. Great idea, here’s my suggestion:

    A. Sherrod Brown – an avowed economic populist from Ohio.

    B. He should say: “Man, I didn’t think I would meet anyone who was dumber on economic issues than Bush, until I met McCain.”

    Comment by dansac | July 22, 2008 | Reply

  2. Or:

    Poor John, he’s handicapped without his abacus.

    Comment by Susan from 29 | July 22, 2008 | Reply

  3. Just a clarification…it was actually CJ who came to that conclusion…

    Comment by London | July 22, 2008 | Reply

  4. or: “Entrusting the U.S. economy to a guy who knows this little about it is like entrusting your brain surgery to a 12-year-old D student”

    Comment by dansac | July 22, 2008 | Reply

  5. “McCain likes to joke about how he graduated at the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy. Who knew that would represent his intellectual high point?”

    Could totally picture Biden saying that.

    Comment by gdh1 | July 22, 2008 | Reply

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