(With a grateful nod to the late, great Rod Serling.)
The year: anytime soon. The place: the Capital of The Twilight Zone. The situation: Senator Dick Burns, senior senator from a large farming state in the Midwest has been summoned to the White House for a strategy session with President Batson Belfrey. Present at the meeting are President Belfrey’s senior advisors, National Security Advisor Mike Hunt, White House Chief of Staff Roger Thatt, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Kayoss and Senior Political Advisor Anne Coldshoulder. They are meeting to discuss the latest crisis in America, a severe shortage of red-herring distractions to take the public focus off the actual performance and agenda of the Belfrey administration.
For years it had been an easy task to fool the public, a task willingly abetted by the power-hungry national media. The administration had been adept at challenging the patriotism of any of their critics, even bona-fide war heroes and public servants of unblemished record. And the news outlets had eagerly taken these bogus “news” stories and ran with them tirelessly when Belfrey’s operatives implied that the media was a defacto arm of the government whose power perfectly complemented that of the executive branch. It was a fruitful partnership for years with the great majority of news corporations walking in lockstep with the administration when deciding the direction of public discourse.
Apparently they ran them to death since the character smears weren’t fooling anyone anymore. The internet had become a very popular refuge for writers who thought there were other important issues to be discussed. Inventing threats from nations in no position to threaten the United States was getting too transparent. Even twisting Senatorial arms to fritter away valuable government time voting to censure print ads in violation of the First Amendment was a no-go now. The president was in a quandary as to how to change the subject when discussions of his performance arose. Changing the subject had long been his trusted ally but that time had passed. Independent voices were gumming up the works.
We now join the assembled leaders at their strategy session, a fly on the wall in the inner sanctums of power. Here, presented for you scrutiny are the men and women who reside in that most ethereal and elusive locality, TheTwilight Zone
“Gentlemen, Ms. Coldshoulder, my question is this: It it possible that Lincoln was right when he stated that you can”t fool all of the people all of the time?”
The assembled advisors exchanged uncomfortable glances and squirmed a bit before they realized it was a joke.
“No way, Mister President!” exclaimed Roger Thatt. The whole room burst into spontaneous laughter, considerably lightening the tense mood in the oval office.
Added Anne Coldshoulder: “Who’s better than us at sleight of hand, Mister president? David Blaine is a rank amateur by comparison!”
“We could attack somebody again, sir,” added General Kayoss. “We still have several battalions of National Guardsmen available and some stealth bombers ready to go at a moment’s notice. That always gets the people’s juices flowing. And then we could condemn those that criticize the attack as vile traitors, the good old giving aid and comfort to the enemy schtick.”
“I would strongly advise against that, sir,” said Senator Burns. “The mood in the Senate has been pretty surly since we attacked Switzerland, what with the Swiss having no real army and their long history of neutrality…”
“Did you expect us to bow down and surrender to those cheese-eating, yodeling secret bankers, Senator?” thundered Mike Hunt.
“Mike, Mike, give it a rest, you’re preaching to the choir here…”
“Sorry Senator, old habits and all…”
“Good instincts, though, Hunt,” added the president. “That’s the kind of fire and brimstone we’ve got to recapture if we want to keep doing whatever we feel like. Constitution, Shmonstitution, I say. That piece of paper’s got to be what, 80 or 90 years old by now? Old hat! Old hat!”
“Actually sir,” said Ms. Coldshoulder, “the Constituion was written about 250 years ago.”
“My point exactly, Annie girl! Old hat!”
“The country seems pretty attached to it, sir…”
“They only think they are. Isn’t that what this meeting’s all about? Doesn’t the Bill of Rights say the president is always right?”
“Yes sir, it does!” said Mr. Thatt, “That is, of course, if we repeat that over and over and over until it becomes true. It’s worked before.”
“Yes, it has, many times…” The president grew wistful and his eyes were looking at a far-away place, a different time when the news media and a majority of citizens lapped up every pronouncement of the Batson Belfrey team, no matter how convoluted or far-fethched. Those halcyon days of fear mongering and gutting the Bill of Rights were a comforting memory.
“How about that hatchet job we did on the Pope?” beamed Mr. Thatt. “When we told the cable news networks he was getting paid under the table by the Asian slaves picking our oranges in Florida. Boy, that put the old windbag in his place…”
“Or how we managed to make a fool of that lady who had both her sons killed in our invasion of Iceland?” added General Kayoss. “The whole country was calling her ‘Mother Surrender’ and she even got arrested and sent to jail for a couple of months for disturbing the peace. What peace? We haven’t been at peace for years and years!”
That got a big laugh from the assembled titans, but it soon subsided as the grim reality of the situation sunk in. Mike Hunt cracked the ensuing silence: “All well and good people, and I too could sit here all day and reminisce about our great public relations capers, but we’re in serious trouble here. The newspapers are calling for our heads on a platter, there’s mass demonstrations against us everywhere and even Congress finally found some backbone and wants us gone. And if you can believe it, Will O’Really is thinking of stepping down as our Cable TV Minister of Propaganda, and he’s one guy who remained on board and stayed on message for years no matter what outrageous stunt we pulled. We need some ideas here, people! We’re getting asked too many damned questions by reporters and citizens that we can’t lie our way our of! And we call ourselves leaders? Suggestions, anybody?”
Another uncomfortable silence ensued. Finally, the president himself spoke.
“Mike, how about we admit some mistakes?”
“But sir!…” It was Roger Thatt, completely distraught that Batson Belfrey would even consider any admission of fallibility.
“No, no, hear me out. We don’t admit any mistakes on big stuff, like letting the Brownwater mercenaries loot and pillage Zurich, burning Geneva to the ground or losing track of all that radioactive waste in that new desert we got in Oregon now, nothing like that. We can say we forgot to turn out the lights at night in the Federal Buildings and spent too much on our electric bills, admit that someone forgot to lock up at Fort Knox at closing time and it got robbed so that’s why we’ve got those trillion dollar deficits. Or I can say I made a mistake by appointing O.J Simpson as our Attorney General.”
“Well, sir, he did have extensive experience with our criminal justice system,” chirped Roger Thatt.
“Exactly! You’re getting my gist here, Roger. We say we were so impressed by his credentials that we regret his poor performance in office, stuff like that…”
“Of course he did kill several secretaries…”
“And there was that pardon you gave him…”
“Well, I’ll take the heat for hiring him, but only admit I made the mistake of trusting such a fine and prominent American, make it look like the whole thing’s his fault that he let me down, let the American people down, see? As far as the pardon goes, we just say it would send a bad message to the world community for America to lock up former political dignitaries like some third-world dictatorship. Ask anyone who criticizes us if they think we should open up a gulag for political prisoners. We’ll pull out old Ronnie Reagan’s red paint brush. Never, ever admit things are our fault, Roger. You admit a mistake in a way that places the blame square on the guy who had the nerve to question you. Get it?”
“Brilliant, sir!” thundered Roger Thatt.
“They don’t call you Batson Belfrey for nothing, ” echoed Anne Coldshoulder.
“This just might work, ” said Mike Hunt. “Then we can go ahead quietly with annexing Western Canada and their oil fields and removing the impediment of taxation from our rich movers and shakers who keep the working class working, the lousy ingrates… the real business of this administration…”
“Yes, we’ve been stymied lately, that’s for sure,” said Ms. Coldshoulder. “Those creepy poor people are starting to cry about free medical care again, when only a year ago it was a dead issue when we almost got their food stamps taken away. If we had swung that one they’d be way too busy trying get some food to worry about stealing our country’s medical services. Senator Burns, may I remind you that you promised to deliver the Senate on that one? ”
“May I remind you, Miss Coldshoulder, that we came up only two votes short on a very unpopular issue? Lots of Senators feel that that we should at least feed these people because hungry people tend to get sick a lot and then who would mow our lawns or drive us around? You want to clean your own swimming pool, mix your own Martinis or carry your own golf clubs?”
“Senator Burns,” she replied, “let’s not get all sentimental about 3 meals a day for these slackers. Do you realize how many man hours are lost every day while these people eat lunch? You multiply that twenty-minute work stoppage by millions and millions of peons and the lost production is staggering! It’s a scandal!”
“Well, a lot of these slackers vote…”
“Well, that’s another item on our agenda we’ve been remiss about correcting,” added Mike Hunt. “When this country started, only landowners got to vote. About time we enforce that. And not just any landowners this time around. We don”t need every Tom, Dick and Harry with a dime-sized yard, two jobs and a killer mortgage putting their two cents in. We’ve got to reduce the voter pool to people who have demonstrated that they have a firm grasp on the American dream and a bank account that reflects their dedication to our ideals.”
“Amen to that,” said Roger Thatt. “We wouldn’t be in this pickle if the rabble didn’t get to make decisions they aren’t equipped to make.”
“I’ve got another idea,” said General Kayoss. “We could declare Marshal Law in America. I’ve always wanted to do that…”
“On what pretext?” demanded Mike Hunt.
“Don’t ask me, that’s your job as a political guy. I’m just a soldier, but all I know is that Marshal law is a Jim Dandy excuse to do anything you want and lock up anybody who doesn’t go along with the program. Hell, we can even line up a bunch of people against walls and shoot ’em if we feel like! It’s Marshal Law! It’s real strict and no pesky judges get to interfere.”
“But do we have enough troops still in the country to enforce it?” asked the president.
“No sir, we don’t, but here’s the beauty of it; you folks dream up some dire threat here at home and declare an unprecedented emergency so now we’ve go to end a couple of them wars we’re running without having to build back up all the stuff we blew up. A lot of those place are in really bad shape but our emergency at home gives us just the excuse to just pull up stakes and leave. Let them worry about electricity and clean water and hospitals and the like.”
“General Kayoss has a good point, Mr. President,” said Ms Coldshoulder. “A lot of these places we’ve pretty much stripped bare of resources and treasure so at this point they’re only an albatross around our neck. Why spend good money rebuilding these dumps when we can just leave? The UN can’t cry about it because we say we desperately need our troops at home to fight the enemy here. You can use any excuse, say an influx of terrorists that snuck in here. We can blow some buildings up here and there, all over the map so that we can declare the whole country to be under Marshal Law. It’s killing two birds with one stone, sir, getting out troops out of used-up countries and using them to straighten out this one.”
“Can I suspend elections under Marshal Law?”
“Hell yeah, Mr. President,” replied the general earnestly, “you can do anything you want; censor the news, ban all expressions of dissent, forbid unlawful assemblies, and you get to decide which assemblies are lawful or not. You can even kill your enemies and force people to work double shifts at reduced pay until the threat is defeated, and Marshal Law gets lifted only when you say the country’s safe again. And that could be a very long time…”
“How about stifling that damned Internet, Kayoss?
“Consider it unplugged, sir. There are sedition clauses in Marshal Law…”
“Then we can finally get The World Wide Web into the hands of proper private ownership where it belongs,” mused Mr. Hunt.
“Why not?” agreed Anne Coldshoulder. “Why should my writing have to compete with every leftist traitor out there with a laptop? Who do they think they are, one of us? And the beauty of taking over the Internet is that everybody uses it these days. They’d be happy to pay a monthly bill to use it just like their phone and electric bills. A stockholder’s dream. And we could control its content, too! No more slandering the men and women who make the sacrifices required to rule these insufferable crybabies.”
“Damn, why didn’t we think of this years ago?” said the president. ” General, you’re getting a big raise and a huge bonus! Now we’re getting somewhere! I want all of you to get back to your offices right away and get to work on some domestic crisis. It’s gotta be big, real big, so get all your best people on it pronto. We’ll meet here again in three days time and I want some answers, some real keg of dynamite we can spring on everybody so they swallow it without question. It’s never been done before so people will go along at first because of the huge fear factor that we’ll build into it and by the time they wake up our troops will be back here putting the boot to some necks! Senator Burns, not a word of this to your colleagues! You play your cards right and you look to me like the ideal Emergency Governor of the the entire Midwest. Think you can handle that job, Dick?”
“I believe I can, sir, I believe I can. Of course I’l have full budgetary discretion and law enforcement powers?”
“Of course. You can decide on what the priorities will be in your sector and who are the troublemakers that need silencing, that sort of thing. That thorn in your side John Bertand who the polls say is a shoo-in to unseat you in the next election might just be a prime candidate for charges of high treason. And you can redistribute some wealth, if you know what I mean, just as long as my share keeps rolling in. Are we clear?”
As a bell, Mr. President, clear as a bell.”
Than what are we waiting for? This meeting’s adjourned. And remember, it’s got to be one doozy of an emergency if we’re to pull this off. Good day.”
“Sir, if you don’t mind me saying so,” effused Roger Thatt, ” that this day marks a great turning point in American History and I just want to go on record now by saying that I’m proud to be associated with Batson Belfrey!”
“Thank you, Roger, that means a great deal to me. Now get to work, men! Ms. Coldshoulder, you stick around. There’s some political matters I need to discuss with you. ”
The others returned to their respective offices and the president closed the door. Ms. Coldshoulder regarded her boss and asked: “Why do you keep that sniveling ass-kisser Roger Thatt around, sir?”
“He serves a purpose, Annie. He’d put his ill, widowed mother out in the street without a dime if I told him to. I’m thinking of doing just that. That’d be a kick.”
“Sounds like my kind of fun, sir. Speaking of which, what sort of political advice will you be needing today, Mr. President?”
“Well, you know, Annie, I’ve been a very bad boy lately, a very, very bad boy who just might need a spanking.”
“Yes sir, I do believe you have been very naughty…”
A unlikely scenario? Perhaps. Impossible? Never say never in the smoky back rooms in the Capital of The Twilight Zone.}