November 5th, 2010
12:49 PM ET

Letters to the President: #655 'Pick a card…any card…'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: President has resurrected talk of a new bipartisan approach to government following the GOP’s big gains in Congress. Me? I’m just writing the same old letters.

Dear Mr. President,

When I was a teenager dabbling in magic, one of the harder things to master was the art of forcing a card. (The art of getting a date was a close second, but that’s for another letter.)

The point is to give the impression to your “assistant” that he or she is freely choosing from a fanned deck, when in truth you are subtly guiding a particular card into their fingers. Like most young wizards, I would either be so timid that I would miss the target, or I would so obviously push the intended card that Ray Charles could have seen it coming.

Gradually, however, as I grew older, I developed my technique. Today I can nonchalantly chat, make jokes, and even heat up a toaster pastry while I slide an entire deck back and forth inviting someone to pick a card, and nine times out of ten it will be the one I selected before the trick began.

There are a few simple secrets. First, give your “assistant” something real to do. Let him actually shuffle the cards; mix them up as thoroughly as he likes. Then locate your chosen target with a quick riffle and proceed.

Second, you have to make it look easy - as if you genuinely could care less which card he pulls from the deck.

And third, and this is by far the hardest part, you must constantly make him feel as if he is utterly in control - calling the shots and doing what he wants, not what you want. That means hiding your delight not only at the critical moment when he touches the target, but also even in the denouement. Usually when I reveal the chosen card I say something like, “Why look what you’ve done! There it is. You are so clever.” Sure, he knows it was me, but it gives the sense that we were working together, not that I was “putting one over” on him. In other words, I declare victory for us…not for me.

Of course you see the analogy. When you sit down with your newly empowered Republican friends (and trust me, you’ll get a lot farther calling them friends than enemies) nothing would be more effective in accomplishing your agenda than letting them feel that it is theirs, or at least truly a shared goal. That’s tough in Washington where every matter seems to be a battlefield on which people feel that there must be winners and losers.

But, like a good sleight-of-hand man, I suspect success will lie in your ability to be humble, to act as if you are happy to be working cooperatively on a shared goal, and to stifle the urge to declare that you have achieved a victory…even if you have.

Btw, if you have time to come over this weekend, I’ll show you a card trick that will totally blow your mind! Give me a shout.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Lynn

    Ed. A starting point may be reining in the President and his family's appetite for international travel and subsequent cost to taxpayers. I'm sorry that I personally don't find reassurance in how economical this India trip is when compared to former President Clinton's African trip...refresh my memory, but which political party does he also represent? But never mind, since President Obama promised a reign of transparency no doubt we can expect that the true figures be disclosed shortly.

    November 6, 2010 at 2:59 am |
  2. john shaw

    Mr President

    There is a gauge that became popular under the Bush regime. It is called "business efficiency"
    This is a smoke screen term that points to a failed tax policy. Businesses do more with less because there is NO tax incentive to re-invest. The so called business efficiency rating goes up and jobs go down. Great for wall street and bad for the economy. Bushes legacy will always be linked to killing a great economy. The reversal of his tax cuts will fix the economy

    November 5, 2010 at 9:02 pm |
  3. Ed

    The incoming, and current Republicans continue attack the President and the Democrats on debt, and spending. I have not heard from any Republican what they would cut to help reduce the debt, and control spending. Would it be defense, education, social security? Every time they are asked they spin it back to what in their opinion is wrong with the current direction. If the democrats don't want to do it then will someone hold the Republicans feet to the fire and have them cough up what they want to cut, and reduce. My guess is that they don't have a plan, so they will bog us down with rhetoric pertaining to Healthcare Reform to avoid taking a stance on something. Thanks

    November 5, 2010 at 12:56 pm |