So here's a case of questionable audience awareness: U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) has introduced a bill designed to ban the military from spending money to sponsor "NASCAR race cars."
Now, NASCAR and the military go together like peanut butter and jelly -- or maybe screaming and beer is a better comparison -- so the congresswoman's decision to take on this issue is, at face value, a curious one. After all, as NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston noted on Twitter, one in three servicepeople is a NASCAR fan, and 1-in-5 fans either serves now or has served in the military.
"NASCAR fans are the kind of people who fight America's wars," Poston wrote, "which would put into question the wisdom of banning the military's ability to reach out to them."
But Bill Harper, McCollum's chief of staff, questions the marketing angle. "I would challenge the Pentagon to give me one example of someone today in Iraq or Afghanistan who saw the Go Army car going around the race track and that’s why they joined the Army," Harper said, according to Landmark Newspapers' Dustin Long. "It may be the reason why they go to Home Depot, but not necessarily Afghanistan."
Now, the obvious knee-jerk response is to blame Obama and scream that this is a Democratic plot to short-circuit NASCAR, or some kind of similar FOX News-esque nonsense conspiracy theory. After all, in addition to Ryan Newman there, military logos adorn Dale Earnhardt Jr. (National Guard) and AJ Allmendinger (Air Force), among others. Exact sponsor figures aren't always available, but the military spent about $11.9 million to sponsor Newman in 2009.
But as Long reported, the representative is casting this as a matter of priorities, not blame. As Harper put it:
"The question is, why are taxpayer dollars being used to sponsor NASCAR race cars? We’ve got two wars going on. Can we afford it? This is not an attack on NASCAR. There are a lot of private sector businesses that support NASCAR. The Pentagon is in the war-fighting business and not the race business."
Certainly, none of us wants to see sponsor dollars leave NASCAR. And let's be honest, the likelihood that this passes is about the same as certain drivers winning the Sprint Cup this year. But in the interest of open and honest debate, which always happens on the Internet, kick this topic around. Should the government be involved in sponsoring NASCAR, or are there better ways to spend our tax dollars?