How does the President order flowers?

by on November 15, 2010 at 7:05 am in Political Science | Permalink

I don't post much about the President, so this puzzle caught my eye:

Asked if he has a hard time ordering flowers – as the Michael Douglas character did in "The American President" – Obama said, "The truth is, actually, I get to keep my credit cards, and if I want to go to the florist, I could order some flowers and pay for it." (He did add that if he tried to order the flowers by phone, "they might not believe me.")

What could you say to prove, over the phone, that you are the President of the United States?  If you assume the florist is at a working computer terminal and can access Google, you could promise to answer questions about your life, and to answer them so quickly the florist would not think you are googling to those answers.  Plus you are dialing from a 202 area code and you sound like President Obama (because you are President Obama), whose voice is well-known and distinct.  I would think he would have an especially easy time establishing his identity over the phone.  Furthermore the audience, wondering that maybe you are the President of the United States, would fall into the deference mode, even if some residual doubt remained.

Impersonating the President of the United States might draw interest from the law, or at least an inquiry, and that would discourage potential pranksters and make your claim more credible.

Who would have a tougher time establishing a credible identity over the telephone?  How about Lady Gaga?  Her speaking voice is not well known, fans will know the details of her life on the web and thus pass the Google test, she does not command deference from many florists, and if you impersonate her the Secret Service won't come knocking on your door.

Somewhere in here is a lesson for evolutionary biology…

1 Anonymous November 15, 2010 at 3:10 am

Lady Gaga actually has a name (Stephanie something) so unless she were silly enough to call herself by her stage name she'd have no problems.

2 hanmeng November 15, 2010 at 3:20 am

What I take away from this is… Obama is not really the president.

3 Konstantin November 15, 2010 at 3:47 am

Start your phone call with "Let me be clear."

4 emmy November 15, 2010 at 4:30 am

Lady Gaga's real name is Stefani Germanotta…that is her name…and most people in the WORLD know that!!

5 Lars Olsson November 15, 2010 at 4:45 am

What difference does it make if the person on the other end of the phone believes you're the President, as long as they carry out your order? If it became a situation where, due to their skepticism, the person on the receiving end of the call was unwilling to send flowers (or whatever) to the White House without Proof of Presidency (heh), then I'd just tell them to call the White House switchboard, identify themselves as "Joann from the flower shop" (or whatever) and ask to be patched through to the President. Then tell the switchboard to wait for a call from "Joann from the flower shop," and to patch it through immediately. Problem solved.

6 David N November 15, 2010 at 4:58 am

What if President Obama called Lady Gaga and asked her to order the flowers? Would that create some kind of synergistic chain of implausibility? Could the whole be greater than the sum of its parts?

7 Jim November 15, 2010 at 5:15 am

Konstantin is the winner.

But let me be clear: anyone who thinks this guy would actually demean himself to the level of placing a flower order with his own precious fingers is probably gullible enough to be in the White House Press Corps.

8 Borealis November 15, 2010 at 5:50 am

Call a lobbyist and tell them what you want. They will happily order the flowers and even pay for them.

9 Andrew November 15, 2010 at 6:53 am

Obama: "Oh, I thought you asked how I bought the Fowlers! LOL!"

10 jacobus November 15, 2010 at 7:50 am

Give B. Clinton a call; he probably has her number lying around somewhere…

11 Anonymous November 15, 2010 at 8:17 am

Not quite a US president, but several years ago we had prime minister Tony Blair visit the small IT company I worked for, and as a demonstration of his computer skills, he would order flowers online (Interflora) for his wife.

Anyway, just for this one purchase he had been given a special one-off credit card, together with the phone number of one of his retinue who had to take the inevitable ‘is this order a joke?’ phone call.

The hardest part of all this was performed by a colleague of mine, having to explain to Tony Blair how to use a computer mouse 🙂

12 JonF November 15, 2010 at 9:08 am

Have you read the novel "Failsafe?" There's a pretty relevant passage in there. The President (an unnamed JFK) must issue an order directly to a bomber pilot, who is trained to ignore such orders as possible fakes.

13 Annelid Gustator November 15, 2010 at 9:56 am

Long form birth certificate should do the trick.

14 bdbd November 15, 2010 at 10:07 am

As to ordering flowers, during the 2008 campaign, President-to-be Obama stopped by Penny's Flowers in Glenside, PA (a couple of miles from where I am currently sitting) to get some flowers for his wife (it was Valentine's Day, or Mother's Day, or near her birthday or something). My understanding is that he used his own fingers to do this.

15 Harry Potter November 15, 2010 at 11:44 am

Being much older then the Harry Potter books, my parents didn't know the trouble they would cause when they gave me that name. From experience I can tell you exactly what would happen, the person on the other end of the phone would say, "You must get this all the time" and then follow up with some inane question like, "Do you get paid?". After that they would ask for the 3 digits on the back of the card and the transaction completes.

16 Glenn November 15, 2010 at 12:41 pm

If he just says, "I'm a socialist Kenyan Muslim witchdoctor who wants to kill your grandmother with a death panel, and I just spent two billion dollars flying to India," everyone will know right away it's Obama.

17 Laserlight November 15, 2010 at 1:44 pm

He says he wants to pay with his own money? Obviously that can't be Obama.

18 A. November 15, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Why would Obama need a florist? I thought he made flowers grow with his mere presence.

19 ed42 November 15, 2010 at 6:50 pm

It wasn't explicitly stated, but what about the problem of delivery? Do you tell the S.S to meet the florist at the delivery gate? What precautions must the S.S. take? (exploding flowers? poisonous decay?)

20 iolanthe November 15, 2010 at 8:16 pm

I remember reading about someone who spoke to the Prince of Wales for whatever reason – it was an unsolicited call to discuss architecuture or gardening or suchlike. A voice came on the phone saying he was the Prince of Wales' private secretary and would he be available to speak with the Prince. He said yes and then a pause and exactly the same voice spoke to him and he realised that if you are HRH and place your own calls then you need this sort of subterfuge otherwise people will assume it's the local lunatic.

21 zbicyclist November 16, 2010 at 5:46 am

As for Lady Gaga, isn't that one reason to use a stage name, so you can have a more normal life under your real name?

22 Yancey Ward November 16, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Who is Lady Gaga?

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