The Magical Art of Politics

One of the keys to a successful magic trick is not letting the audience know when the trick actually occurs. It’s called misdirection. When the audience thinks the magician is simply cutting cards or straightening cups, that’s when the “magic” often occurs. The banter, the smiles, the music, it’s all there to keep the audience distracted from what’s really going on.

When attention is brought to bear on a single act — the tapping of a wand, the tugging on a silk scarf — that’s when the audience thinks the slight-of-hand is at play. But in reality, all the magician is likely doing is, well, tapping a wand or tugging on a scarf.

Magic and politics have a lot in common. The principles say one thing and do another. The simplest of accomplishments are touted as earthshaking. However, at the end of the day, finding the Ace of Spades inside a lemon is pretty spiffy, but it’s not turning the economy around. And neither will a few hundred dollars in rebate checks.

And the best in the fields of magic and politics are masters of misdirection. 

Consider: Senator Hillary Clinton’s campaign has been telling the audience — the media, pundits and public — to focus on Ohio and Texas. That’s where she’ll prove she’s the inevitable nominee, break the momentum of Senator Barack Obama and, if not quite able to overtake him in the delegate count, positioning herself to pull that rabbit out of her hat on April 22nd in Pennsylvania. Everything between Super Tuesday and March 4th is just so much hoopla to be ignored — focus on Ohio and Texas.

Yet at the same time, Senator Clinton is spending significant time and money in Wisconsin hoping for a bit of magic this Tuesday. Her campaign is spinning expectations so low that merely being on the ballot would count as a victory. That’s called banter. In the mean time, she’s cutting cards, palming quarters, and priming the gaff to keep the state close and, if miracles come true, actually win. Polls show the race close, albeit with Senator Obama in the lead. But a five point lead, which, give or take, is where things stand, can evaporate overnight. Just ask Senator Obama’s New Hampshire staff.

Even if she doesn’t win Wisconsin, keeping the race close helps the Clinton campaign in two ways. First, the campaign is all about delegates. Since they’re divvied up proportionally, an effort in Wisconsin should get her a good share of them. Second, it mitigates against a blowout that the Obama campaign could use to close the gap in Ohio and Texas. Keeping it close, on the other hand, allows her campaign to claim we’ve witnessed Senator Obama’s high water mark.

So the misdirection is a no lose situation for her. As long as she can keep everyone talking about Ohio and Texas on March 4th, she has only upside in Wisconsin on February 19th. That’s the magical art of politics.

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