Democrat Barack Obama, the first black candidate with a shot at winning the White House, says John McCain and his Republican allies will try to scare them by saying Obama “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.”
Obama didn’t make clear what distinctions McCain was likely to raise regarding the presidents on U.S. currency, men who are white and, for the most part, much older than Obama when they were elected. McCain has not raised Obama’s race as an issue in the campaign, though he has said that Obama lacks experience.
Stumping in an economically challenged battleground state, Obama argued Wednesday that President Bush and McCain will resort to scare tactics to maintain their hold on the White House because they have little else to offer voters.
“Nobody thinks that Bush and McCain have a real answer to the challenges we face. So what they’re going to try to do is make you scared of me,” Obama said. “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 the dollar bills.”
The McCain campaign did not have an immediate comment when asked Thursday about Obama’s remarks.
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said the senator was not referring to race.
“What Barack Obama was talking about was that he didn’t get here after spending decades in Washington,” Gibbs said Thursday. “There is nothing more to this than the fact that he was describing that he was new to the political scene. He was referring to the fact that he didn’t come into the race with the history of others. It is not about race.”
Oh, please. Of course Obama was referring to race.
Let’s be clear. I think McCain has run the more disreputable campaign over the last few weeks. He seized on a cancelled visit to a military hospital during Obama’s overseas tour to — should I bother with a euphemism? Nah — lie repeatedly about Obama’s sensitivity and patriotism. He has been flummoxed by the Iraq government’s support for a timeline on U.S. troop pullouts that more closely resembles Obama’s policy than his own. He has been reduced to complaining that Obama travels abroad, after repeatedly urging Obama to travel abroad. And now, with this Britney/Paris/Obama ad, he has mixed images of a handsome black man with pretty white women on the flimsiest of pretexts. This has led to questions about what McCain is hinting at.
So along comes Barack Obama to say — what, precisely? That McCain is “trying to make you scared of me” because Obama “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.”
Let’s assume Robert Gibbs is not, himself, a bad liar. If Obama is not referring to race, what is he talking about?
That Obama “didn’t get here after spending decades in Washington”? I’m no presidential scholar, but off the top of my head, neither did Presidents Bush (43), Clinton, Carter, Roosevelt (Teddie), Lincoln, and I’m sure I’m missing some others. That he’s “new to the political scene”? Oh yeah, that will explain the “funny name” bit too. When I moved to Ottawa, Stephen Harper and Allan Rock were new to the Canadian political scene, and all the old-timers would spend hours at the Press Club laughing uncontrollably. “Har-per! Rockrockrockrockrock! Harrr-puuuuuur! Have ya ever heard the like?!!!”
No, clearly Obama’s words must be taken at face value. McCain wants to make Americans afraid of Obama because he does not actually closely resemble the presidents on U.S. banknotes.
I can see the strategy meeting now. The McCainocrats are sitting around a table, pulling their hair out. “Iraq was a dream trip! Berlin was a bit stiff, but he didn’t face-plant! Now what are we gonna do?”
The guy from Halliburton has a brainstorm. “Wait a minute. Give me some money.”
The others sigh and roll their eyes. “What, again?”
“No, no, I’m not asking for another government grant. Give me some cash! Some bills! I want to check something.”
They rummage around in their pockets and pull out a few wads of banknotes. Halliburton Guy starts rifling through them.
“Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Hamilton, Grant… Holy cow. Obama doesn’t look like any of these guys.”
The others stare at Halliburton guy. Finally Rove Deputy A asks what they’re all thinking. “What are you getting at?”
“Just look. He doesn’t have a beard like Lincoln and Grant. His hair’s way shorter than Jefferson’s and Hamilton’s. None of them had a chin as big as Obama’s. If he was elected, he would look like some kind of whole new president.”
Silence as light bulbs go on over a couple of heads. Halliburton Guy lets it sink in.
“I mean…don’t you think that’s just a bit…scary?”
Rove Deputy B chimes in. “Yeah. Yeah! Think of it. You’re watching TV and suddenly they cut in and the presidential seal appears on the screen and then suddenly you’re looking at some stranger!”
Rove Deputy A finally gets it. “A stranger with short hair and a long chin and no beard. A guy who looks nothing like the other presidents on the dollar bills.”
Halliburton Guy is now jotting down notes on a pad of paper. “Whereas at least Kerry looked a bit like Andrew Jackson. He wouldn’t be jarring at all! And McCain — well, McCain could be the spitting image of —”
” — Harry Truman!” says Rove Deputy A happily.
“Herbert Hoover!” says Arizona Senatorial Staffer.
“Herbert Hoover?” says Rove Deputy B.
“Well, do you know what Herbert Hoover looked like? He could look like McCain for all you know.”
“Fair point,” says Halliburton Guy. “The important thing is that we’re not talking about race.”
“Oh hell no,” says Rove Deputy B. “I never thought you were.”
From there it’s only a short detour to Creative, where the designers and the web guys come up with a slate of ads designed to cleverly but subtly exploit Obama’s inability to resemble previous presidents. Rejected slogans: “Obama. How are you gonna pay for a pizza with that mug?” and “Obama. Sure it’s a funny name, but you can’t buy a pizza with it.” and “Obama. Too liberal for too long, and you can’t buy a pizza if his face is on the bill.” and “Obama. It almost spells BOO!”
No, I’m pretty sure Obama is accusing the McCain camp of race-baiting. It is odd that this sort of accusation can fly, while everyone involved denies that this sort of accusation is flying. But with three months to Election Day, one presumes the various camps will have time to get over their shyness.