Campaign Trails: Decisions

To celebrate the 2016 Presidential Election, I’ve elected to write a series of short stories retelling the campaign. I hope you enjoy it.

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One cold day early in 2015, Bernie awoke to a surprise: the fancy new digital clock, the kind that told the date, told the wrong date: January 12, 1942. He fumbled for his glasses and looked at the calendar on the wall, which also said 1942, and had a portrait of FDR instead of the snowy field he recalled for January.
Bernie grumbled out of bed, shivering. He knew it wasn’t 1942; he still had his smartphone. But the fact that the smartphone said “January 12, 1942″ was worth considering. He tried fixing it, but the year wouldn’t budge. Increasingly excited, he pulled a map of the US out of his desk drawer. 1942: FDR was President, the Nazis had invaded Soviet Russia, fascism was hurting the world. We had to stop it. He took a blue marker and drew a line on the map southward from Maine, planning his strategy. And FDR had vision, real vision. Bernie thought he knew what it all meant.
He put on his black trench coat and pork pie hat. He drank black coffee, smoked a cigarette, and caught a bus to Maine. He had to start somewhere, and he figured the best way was the old-fashioned way. He would begin in Portland, Maine, working southward to Florida, then northwest into the South, then westward into the Midwest, and in a year and a half, he would end his journey in Portland, Oregon. Naturally, due to budget concerns, he would go on foot.
It was cold in Portland, so Bernie buttoned his coat. He started on Brighton Avenue, hoping to work his way door-to-door southward. He could hear the jazz music of the early ‘40s in his head as he knocked on the very first door.
“Hello,” he began when it opened. “My name is Senator Bernie Sanders. I’d like to tell you about Democratic Socialism, and I’d like to be your candidate for the 2016 Presidential Election.”


John was delivering a speech on public school policies to a group of Ohio teachers when, in the heat of his modest passion for the subject, everything around him turned black and white, like a 1950s sitcom. He looked around; he was pleased. People looked cleaner, sharper, richer. The police sirens that had been outside stopped.
“Now this is beautiful,” he said, and the audience agreed.
“It’s a shame,” said an elderly lady in the audience, wearing an apron and pulling a fresh apple pie from her purse for a snack, “that so many Americans these days don’t have this. . . this. . . oh, fiddlesticks, what’s the word, Mr. Kasich?”
“Gee, I don’t know,” John said. “But I sure know it’s a good feeling. I wish I could share this feeling with everyone.” He paused, smiling.
“It’s time somebody did something about that,” he said. “We can make this country. . . good again? Not good. Better.” He remembered hearing somebody say something like that recently, using a bold, daring word. John was neither bold nor daring, but he had heart. He wanted this for America, this simplicity. He hadn’t noticed that most women and all people of color had vanished from the room while giving his speech; all that mattered was his sense of American. . . better-than-goodness? Who had said it the other day? Make America better than good again.
“Sure sounds like a good idea,” he said. “Maybe I. . . well, shucks, I really can do it. Maybe I can make America better than good again.” He paused. “And that’ll be my campaign slogan! You know what, folks? I’m going to run for President to make America better than good again!” They cheered pleasantly.


Ted stopped kissing babies’ foreheads at campaign rallies once his curse began to spread. He froze in frustration when the forehead of a Midwestern mother’s infant sprouted a starchart of the Zodiac constellations, spreading slowly down the baby. He knew, from his own tattoo-like curse, that it did not hurt. The real problem was that it glowed in the dark. First the stars glowed in bright shining obsidian on the baby’s skin, and then lines grew to connect the stars. Within seconds, the baby’s body was a pudgy, giggling map of the sky.
“You’ll want makeup to cover that up,” he said as the mother gaped at her child. “Sorry. I still have your vote, though, right?”
He moved on to the next patrons in the crowd, frowning but still positive.
It started when he was thirteen after a family argument. His father cursed him, citing the verses of the Old Testament in which Noah cursed Ham for stumbling in on him drunk. A young Ted had always been a misfit, struggling to fit in a dominionist church that he felt suffocated his social standing. One night, he declared himself free of his family’s deathgrip in order to go to a popular kid’s birthday party, so his father cursed him, making the Zodiac constellations appear across his body. He hid it with makeup and conservative clothes, but lived in continual fear that his sweat would reveal the markings.
If he could win the White House, he could prove that he was more than a misfit. But now that his curse was spreading, he refused to even shake voters’ hands, which was immediately suspicious among conservative voters. To win the nomination, he would need a scapegoat from the GOP, somebody even worse than a perpetually awkward man covered with infectious Zodiac tattoos. Fortunately, there would be plenty to choose from.


Hillary slumped into an armchair and made up her mind then and there: she would not run for President.
Instead, she wanted peace. She had just returned home from the Senate where she spent thirteen days listening to a prolonged character assassination attempt. Each day, a GOP leader stood before her and made fabulous accusations about her and Benghazi, and at the end of each lecture, the GOP armed guards let her speak a few words. When she did, calmly, the GOP leader of the day coughed and sputtered, and his (always his) face turned a deep shade of blue. They never choked to death, but briefly lost their ability to speak when she disproved them with a few easy, cutting rebuttals. Such a talent took decades to cultivate. The problem she faced were the sheer numbers of people trying to dismantle her not even as a politician, but as a human being. It was nearly impossible to keep up.
Now she leaned her head back and closed her eyes. Such endless cruelty, and the GOP armed guards condescending her more than usual when she went in and out of the Senate. Enough, she thought.
And then it happened. A bird rested on the windowsill across from her and pecked gently at the glass.
“Not again,” she mumbled, rising sorely to open the window.
The bird met her long ago. In college it brought library cards for sources that helped her research papers or scraps of newspaper articles about successful social movements. Here it was, again, a little bird looking up at Hillary with round, eager eyes.
“What?” she asked. It scratched its feet back and forth. “Run?” It nodded its head. “No. I’m sorry. I need a break. Please.”
The bird shook its head.
“Why?” she asked after a moment. “Why me?”
The bird’s neck bulged, and it coughed up a newspaper clipping. She unrolled it like a cigarette and read, “Secretary Clinton Pushes Back Against GOP Military Occupation of Congress.”
“You really think I should?” she asked. The bird nodded vigorously, and choked up another clipping, a list of GOP leaders who declared their candidacy. She knew each one; many of them were present at the Senate hearings, and she knew how to silence them. The bird began hopping up and down.
“Dammit,” Hillary mumbled, pacing around. “You really think I can?” Nodding. “Do you know the ugly things they’ll say about me?” Solemn nodding. She sighed. “Fine. I’ll run.”


Donald was about to make the announcement, but stalled, pacing back and forth backstage. It was all too much, the crowds, lights, cameras. So many distractions, so many possible ways to mess up. panicking, he called his mentor, a public speaking professor from his Ivy League days.
“I’m, uh, I’m. . . I’m scared,” he said in a hushed voice into the phone. “I don’t know, even, like, what am I even supposed to, y’know, even say out there?”
Professor Huntington cooed for him to calm down.
“It’s okay, Donald. Just breathe. You know what to do. How do you give a speech?”
Donald recalled his training.
“Be confident,” Donald recited, “show them your confidence, and use lists.”
“What are you going to list?”
“Things I’m great at. Things I’m spectacular at.”
Calmed, he hung up.
Donald breathed in, told himself he was wonderful, he deserved this, he wouldn’t let anybody take it away from him. He’d seen politicians use speeches to move people to tears, laughter, enlightenment. He had seen politicians make flowers grow from listeners’ heads. He had once seen Nancy Reagan tell a joke that made everyone in her audience each sneeze an entire cup of Earl Grey tea. Bill Clinton famously made doves fly from his saxophone at his inaugural address. Jon Stewart had made the sun shine out of people’s ears. Donald, however, had never once accomplished such feats with his speeches. They stumbled along, barely arriving at a conclusion.
But he went on stage to announce he was running for President, to prove you didn’t have to know such verbal magic tricks to win. He could not impress anybody with any fancy speeches; instead, he did the best he could with the only real skill he shared with the other candidates: self-commercialization.

-jk

One thought on “Campaign Trails: Decisions

  1. Pingback: Campaign Trails: Debates | Pens and Pencils

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