Tuesday, August 22, 2006

“Polishing My Campaign Resume”

“Boss, I was checking over your bio, and it says that you’re forty-five years old, but you graduated from high school in 1958.”

“Did I forget to change that high school date? Make that—let’s see, if I’m forty-five years old that would mean I graduated in—1978. Change that to 1978.”

“Okay, that’s easy enough. Change one digit. What about your religion? I see you had ‘Methodist’ in there, but you’ve crossed it out. I can’t quite make out what you’ve scribbled in above it. Is that ‘Baptist’?”

“Right, Baptist. No votes in being a Buddhist Quaker. Where’s the nearest Baptist church? I’ll start going this Sunday. Do you suppose they need a Sunday school teacher or anything?”

“I’ll check. I’m sure there’s one nearby.”

“How about the education section?”

“Uh, here it is. You say you got your BA in History from West Virginia University, and an MA in Philosophy at Harvard, where you were fifteenth in your class.”

“I think Chris Wakim already claimed he was fifteenth. Make me tenth.”

[Making change on text] “Got it; tenth. Do you really have a BA in History from WVU?”

“I have a history with WVU. For campaign purposes, it’s the same thing.”

“How about your military service?”

“What did I say? I want to be sure I stay consistent.”

[Flipping through pages] “You fought overseas during Vietnam, and were wounded several times.” [Laughs]

[Defensively] “I did fight overseas during Vietnam. I worked for the Agency for International Development in Nigeria. I fought boredom, I fought mosquitoes, I fought culture shock. Don’t tell me I didn’t fight. Say, when was the war in Vietnam over? Do I need to adjust my age and graduation date?”

“I’ll Google it before I run off the final version. What about your wounds?”

“Hey, I was wounded constantly. My pride was wounded every time a woman turned me down. Where did Wakim say he was wounded?”

[Checking file] “It doesn’t say how his injuries occurred.”

[Reminiscing] “I got carpal tunnel syndrome from repeatedly lifting those heavy pitchers of Guiness stout. I had to drink to relieve the pain.”

“Maybe we should do the same thing Wakim did, and be vague about the nature of your wounds. You could just get a tortured look on your face and say that you don’t want to relive those painful memories—something like that.”

“That sounds good.” [Checks his watch] “We’re going to have to leave in ten minutes for my speech at the Kiwanis Club. Let’s run over my main talking points again. I want to be sure I stay on message.”

“Sure. Number one, you want to restore honor and integrity to Congress. Number two…”

© Tony Russell, 2006

Thursday, August 17, 2006

“Brushing Off Minimum Wage”

Crawford, Texas, August 17-

[Concerned] “Mr. President, don’t you think you ought to stop? It’s 105 degrees in the sun, and you’ve been cutting brush for nine hours straight.”

[President, wiping brow with a bandana] “Has it been that long already? Listen, Ken, I can’t knock off yet. I need the overtime.”

“Why do you have to push yourself this way, sir?”

“To tell the truth, Ken, our family counts on the extra income. I actually get paid minimum wage out of the ranch’s weed eradication fund for every hour I ‘m whacking brush.”

“With the Middle East sliding into chaos, and North Korea testing missiles, and hurricanes and heat waves battering us, and the budget falling off a cliff… Well, just let me say that I’d be glad to float you a loan if you need it, sir, so you could concentrate on your presidential duties.”

“No thanks, Ken. That’s not the way we do things in the Bush family. We don’t take any handouts. I’ll earn this on my own. It’s just that Laura hasn’t had a job for a few years, and things have gotten sorta tight. Another $5.15 an hour makes a difference to the Bushes, but even that’s not enough for folks like us with a family to support. Pass me that canteen, will ya?” [Stuffs bandana back in pocket]

[Light of understanding dawns] “Oh! Well that explains a lot, Mr. President. So that’s why you come down here every chance you get, calling it ‘vacation,’ and then get in some moonlighting. [Realizes he’s rapidly broiling under the Texas sun] Make that ‘sunlighting.’”

[Takes another swig, then screws top back on canteen] “You got it.”

[Doing some quick mental calculations] “So if we figure you make…what, at $400,000 a year as president, that figures out to almost $8,000 a week—call it a little under $200 an hour for a forty-hour week….”

[President interrupting] “It’s actually only $192.31 an hour.”

“Okay. So if you’re double dipping and add your $5.15 minimum wage to it, that makes it $197.46 per hour. Wow! Even with the full $2.15 an hour raise, you’d be pulling in less than $200 an hour!”

[Bitterly] “It’s those damned Democrats, Ken. Me and the Republicans in Congress tried to get an increase in minimum wage approved, but the Democrats turned their backs on us working people.”

[Sympathetically] “That must have really hurt.”

[Begins whetting the blade of his scythe with a sharpening stone] “I can’t tell you how disappointed I am. Our party offered a win-win proposition—two dollars and fifteen cents an hour for minimum wage workers, phased in over three years, and the elimination of inheritance taxes for multi-millionaires. That was a typical example of Republican fairness in my time in office: something for everybody. But Democrats just don’t get it.”

[Hesitantly] “Uh, yessir, but increasing the minimum wage might just mean that working people like yourself could eat every day instead of doing without. On the other hand, though, eliminating the inheritance tax would mean rich people could pass on their huge estates to their kids, who didn’t lift a finger to earn anything.”

[Disinterested] “So?”

“Well, sir, when you cut taxes for the rich, you’re cutting federal income. Then you end up cutting education, health care, housing—things working class people really need—because Congress worries that government is in the red. Minimum wage workers like yourself would gain a little but end up losing a lot. Rich people wouldn’t lose anything and they’d really cash in.”

[President opens lunch pail and unwraps a baloney sandwich] “Guess I might as well eat if I’m takin’ a break. You want part of this?”

“No thanks, sir. I ate just before I came out.”

[Talking while eating] “Ken, before we had this little talk, why did you think I spend so much time cutting brush when I’m in Texas? Tell it like it is, now, partner. Give it to me straight.”

[Hems and haws] “Um, well, to be honest, sir, I thought it was because your handlers remembered how well that stuff worked for Ronald Reagan. I thought they realized that those pictures of your dad at the helm of his yacht just didn’t cut it, so they set up photo ops of you cutting brush to make people forget you’re the millionaire son of millionaires. Trying to make you look like a down-home, hard-working, macho, sweat-of-your-brow kind of guy. A crass appeal to the Bubba vote.” [Now Ken is sweating]

[Closing lunch box and wiping mouth with back of hand] “Well I’m glad that you understand the truth now, Ken. Help me out here. Tell your friends what an increase in minimum wage would have meant to workers like me. The minimum wage buys less than it has any time in over fifty years. I’m halfway through my second term, and it still hasn’t gone up a penny since I came into office. The price of gas has skyrocketed, housing is out of sight… it’s damned frustrating.”

[Sympathetically] “Isn’t there anything you can do, sir? You’ve been able to push so many of your other projects through Congress; it must make you sick not to be able to do something to benefit people who really need it.”

“I tried, Ken. We offered the Democrats a good deal. They shot it down out of pure partisan politics. They just couldn’t stand to see Republicans get credit for helping the working class.”

“But you’ll try again, won’t you? You’ve been so persistent on all the things that matter to you, never taking a ‘no’ for a final answer. Opening up Alaska for drilling. Getting conservative judges. Tax cut after tax cut. This is where that famous stubbornness of yours can pay off, sir. Don’t be discouraged. You’ve still got more than two years left in office. You’re bound to get an increase in minimum wage if you keep at it.”

[Shaking his head] “No, Ken, this was my first and last shot. If I keep hammering on minimum wage, people will complain I’m only doing it to benefit myself.”

© Tony Russell, 2006

Thursday, August 10, 2006

“Straw Men R Us”

“Hello, Straw Men R Us! How may I help you?”

“Hi. I’m calling from the White House. I hate to ask you for another rush job, but the president is giving a speech on Social Security tomorrow night, and he needs some straw men to attack.”

“That’s pretty short notice, but we try to oblige you folks. You’re our best customer, and we’ll do what we can. What time is the performance?”

“They’ll introduce him at 8 o’clock. We’d like to have the straw men here no later than 6, so the president can get acquainted with them before they all have to leave for the auditorium.”

“How many were you thinking of?”

“It doesn’t have to be many—half a dozen would probably do it, if they’re made of the right stuff.”

“No problem there. We use nothing but frequently recycled, highly inflammable material. I’m sure they’ll suit your needs.”

“We’ll have them seated right in the center of the audience. Can you make sure the legs bend at the knees and hips?”

“Can do, but it’ll cost you a little extra.”

“Doesn’t it always?”

“I assume you want them with our EZ-Tote lightweight carrying case that takes all the work out of transporting them from one venue to another?”

“Definitely. The president will be using them in eighteen cities in the next ten days, so ease of handling is a must.”

“Gotcha. Do you have any preferences on what you’d like to have come out of the straw men’s mouths? Something on the order of ‘There are those who say Social Security isn’t important enough to worry about in times like these,’ or ‘Some of my opponents say that we can put off dealing with Social Security indefinitely,’ or ‘Some people say that Americans can’t be trusted to manage their own retirement income, but I say…’?”

“Those are all excellent. The president gets really fired up when he can attack extreme positions that nobody actually holds. It’s a lot easier than dealing with the pluses and minuses of real debate.”

“I understand completely. That’s why we’re in business! By the way, how did the last set go over—the ones on national security?”

“Those were great! They went everywhere with the president and argued with him constantly. The straw man who said, ‘We ought to pull out of Iraq right this minute, abandoning our dead and wounded on the battlefield and in the streets of Baghdad…’—the one in the yellow shirt?—he was just super! The president beat on him in fifteen cities, and got tremendous applause every time.”

“I thought he’d like that one.”

“He sure did. I was afraid the president was going to wear him out.”

“Oh, one thing you can’t do is wear them out. They may be made of straw, but they’re unbelievably durable. You can use them over and over again. We guarantee them for a full term in office or until the owner dies, whichever comes first, and we haven’t had to replace one yet.”

“Well, ours have certainly held up well.”

“And how do you want their messages to begin? ‘There are some who argue…,’ ‘Some people say…,’ ‘Some of my opponents believe…’?”

“We’d like to order your deluxe mixture. The president prefers a variety to work from.”

“A wise choice. We’ll have them delivered by 6.”

“Wonderful! Listen, I appreciate everything you do. You know, when the president debates straw men, in speeches somebody else wrote, at conservative Christian universities or military bases, to audiences that have all the questioners and skeptics excluded, it makes everything so simple. God, I love my job!”

© Tony Russell, 2006

Monday, August 07, 2006

“Second Annual Faith-Based Press Conference”

Washington, August 7 –

“Good morning. Welcome to our Second Annual Faith-Based Press Conference. We’re a little late getting started, so we’ll skip the opening prayer and go straight to the question-and-answer session. Our first conference last year got off to a bumpy start, but I feel confident that we’ve got the right kind of religious leaders here this time to ask the right kind of questions. Am I right? Who wants to kick it off?”

“Mr. President, our Bible study group has been focusing on the Beatitudes this month, and it’s generated a lot of questions. It would be a big help if you could explain how your role in starting the war in Iraq, and in supporting Israel’s invasions of Palestine and Lebanon, squares with Christ’s words in Matthew, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’”

“Tom, I’ve found that dropping a few hundred ‘widowmakers’ on the enemy works wonders in converting the survivors into peacemakers.”

“Begging your pardon, sir, but hasn’t our occupation of Iraq had exactly the opposite effect? A lot of our commanders are saying that we have converted Iraq into a breeding ground for terrorists, and that we’ve enflamed the entire Middle East with hatred, not just of Muslim versus Christian and Muslim versus Jew, but Shi’ite Muslim versus Sunni Muslim.”

“Tom, what can you expect? These aren’t people who’ve read the Beatitudes. They don’t follow the script.”

“Well, no, they don’t, Mr. President. But if you don’t mind my saying so, I don’t think it’s our job to make other people do what God wants. I was thinking more along the lines of our following the script. Maybe if we stopped worrying about how we could claim a victory in this war, and started worrying about our mandate to be peacemakers….”

“There’s only one person here with a mandate, and I got mine from forty million voters. Let’s give somebody else a chance. David?”

“Our church has been studying the Beatitudes as well, sir. The opening verse, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’—that’s created an awful lot of discussion. I’m afraid that when we really prayed about it, it just didn’t look as if giving tax break after tax break to the rich, and cultivating them as ‘your base,’ was consistent with the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“What the devil is going on here? I thought we were here to talk about stem cells and gay marriage. Those are the chief religious issues of our times. That’s all you and I have talked about for the past five years. Now, if somebody will steer us that way, I’ve got a great little PowerPoint prepared on stem cell lines.”

“Mr. President, with all due respect, we’ve been heavily involved in scripture study in our church as well, and I’ll be honest with you, it’s disturbing to flip past hundreds of references to caring for the poor and sick and widowed and orphaned, and to establishing justice, and to being merciful, in order to get to the passages on stem cells and gay marriage. In fact we just can’t find any Biblical passages on stem cells and gay marriage.”

“Keep looking, Art. I’m sure they’re in there.”

“No sir, they aren’t. I’ll give it to you straight. We’ve always been ‘strict constructionists’ of the Bible in our church, and there’s a growing sense that as fundamentalists, we need to get back to the fundamentals. We’ve discovered that things like giving a raise to the minimum wage for the poor only if you can eliminate the estate tax for the rich, or spending so much of our budget to wage global war, violate both the letter and the spirit of Holy Scripture.”

“Holy cow! What’s got into you people?! You’ve been with me through thick and thin—never a doubt, never a complaint. And I’ve been good to you. I’ve steered millions of federal dollars to your churches so you could offer social services that attract people like ants to a picnic. I’ve ripped a hole in the wall between church and state that you could drive a church bus through. And this is the thanks I get? I thought I could count on you to keep the faith!”

“We are, sir. But ultimately our allegiance isn’t to the president. We’re accountable to a Higher Power.”

“Dick? Dick Cheney? Since when have you been dealing with Dick Cheney?”

© Tony Russell, 2006

Thursday, August 03, 2006

“Golly, Todo, What If This Were Kansas!”

We’ve been living on pins and needles ever since our legislature here in Kansas passed a law prohibiting virtually all sexual activity by people under the age of sixteen. Sexual activity includes “lewd fondling or touching” done with “the intent to arouse.” The law includes a mandate for educators and health care professionals to report any suspected violations.

Our son Kevin is fifteen, and of course we trust him, but he is, after all, bigger than I am, starts at guard on the football team, and has his learner’s permit. So Patty attempts to provide gentle guidance for Kevin. I got home today just as she was feeding him an after-school snack.

“How was your day?” Patty asked him.

“Fine,” mumbled Kevin, his mouth full of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

“I knew it!” screeched my wife. “You held her hand, didn’t you!”

Kevin gulped and looked guilty. “It was just for a couple of blocks, Mom,” he pleaded. “We let go when we got close to the school. I swear, nobody saw us.”

“Kevin,” said my wife, “don’t you know the risk you’re taking here? You’re putting the whole family in jeopardy. Next thing you know, you’ll be kissing her.”

Kevin turned beet red.

“You didn’t!” she shrieked.

Kevin hung his head. “Once,” he admitted.

“Tell me you both kept your lips closed,” begged my wife. “Tell me you didn’t open your lips, Kevin.”

“Mom, it’s okay,” he protested. “I kept mine pressed really hard together. She opened hers just a little bit, but I didn’t do anything. Honest I didn’t.”

“Your hands, Kevin, where were your hands!”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Mom, you know they were firmly on her waist, where they belonged.”

“You didn’t—you know—move them around?”

“Mom, I already told you, they were on her waist. They may have slid around a little when my palms started to sweat, but they didn’t move at all as long as they were under my control.”

“Remember what I told you, Kevin,” she said. “Just hook your hands on her belt. Think of it as a safety belt. You didn’t do anything else you haven’t told us about, did you?”

“Of course not,” he said indignantly. “What do you think I am, Mom?”

“We’ve tried so hard to raise you as a normal, healthy boy,” said my wife. “We worry about you. Kids get to experimenting with holding hands, and before you know it, it leads to kisses and hugs. You think you’ll just try it once, and then you’re hooked. It’s addictive, Kevin. And it’s not just a prank, it’s a crime.”

“Mom, will you quit worrying?” said Kevin. “I’ve got to go. I promised the army recruiter I’d meet him before practice.”

© Tony Russell, 2006