Swarming Horde: (An Unfinished Short Story)
The man calling himself Jaime McNamara stood with his arms folded among the enclave of the audio/visual crew at CFBG Cable Network Studios in Palmerton City, New Jersey. Jaime was a producer at the station which was hosting a senatorial campaign debate. Republican Congressman Charles "Chip" Laurel versus the Democratic mayor of Palmerton City Douglass Quick Jr. Presently they were talking about immigration reform.
To Jaime the talk of the supposed need for 'Immigration Reform' bespoke the right-wing paranoia. What are we going to do about all these papaya-eating Mexicans swarming across our southern border like hosts of locusts? Devouring everything in their path? Taking American jobs away from American workers? Causing crime rates to spike dramatically? Not even bothering to learn English, while demanding services from an already overextended national infrastructure?
Representative Laurel came from this school of thought on the matter. He was not one of those pragmatic conservatives, who at least had the intelligence to recognize the paradoxical nature of the situation, and attempted to grapple with the issue with a modicum of intellectual honesty. Yes, undocumented workers are present in the United States. But these people do the dirtiest, most grueling, thankless grunt work necessary to keep the American social and economic system afloat.
"Of course," said His Honor Douglass Quick Jr., "it remains a separate question whether this system deserves to persist in exactly this current form."
Sacrilegious blasphemy! Congressman Laurel jumped all over that off-hand remark. As was to be expected, he said the remark was evocative of Socialism. He used that commentary as a wedge to further question the free market bona fides of his opponent. Furthermore, Mr. Laurel associated the statement with another of-hand remark made by Rosanna Sanchez, the wife of the spectacular, the phenomenal, the awe-inspiring, and indeed supercala fragalistic expialadocious senator from Kansas, Henry "Stalking Wolf" Clipper.
The senator is running a historic presidential campaign. He's just about sewn up his party's nomination. And from the looks of the flabby competition on the other side, America may very well elect the first Native American president of the United States of America. Henry Clipper, a full-blooded Chippewa, is a Republican.
Jaime had expressed astonishment at this fact in the presence of his two best friends, colleagues, and near constant companions. One was calling himself George Gamble, a photojournalist with CBFG's Internet division. The other was calling himself Kurt Vegas this time. He was a staff researcher at CBFG.
"How can you be a Chippewa Indian, raised on a reservation and grow up to be a Republican?" Jaime had asked.
The three men had been huddled around a computer screen in the Bat Cave that was the basement of George Gamble's home.
"It was a Democrat, Andrew Jackson," Kurt Vegas said, "that put Native Americans on the reservations, having marched them westward on the 'Trail of Tears'....."
"What contortions of the soul can make such a creature?" George Gamble said.
"What's that from?" Jaime asked.
"That line about the contortions of the soul."
"From my mouth to God's ear," George said.
"It just sounded like you were quoting," Jaime said.
"Well, it was very elegant."
"Thank you," George said.
".... and," Kurt said, "a Republican, Lincoln, freed the slaves."
Jaime laughed. "But what have you done for me lately, as the song says. It was a Republican, Hoover, who let this country slip into Depession after the stock market crash in the late twenties, and the Democrat, Franklin Roosevelt, who pulled us out of it, telling us we had nothing to fear but fear itself, and gave this country The New Deal."
"It was also the Democrat, Truman," Kurt said, "who went to war in Korea, dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, and started the Cold War. It was the Republican Eisenhower, who warned this country about the build up of the military/industrial complex and international overreach."
"I think you two have gone off on a tangent," George said.
Kurt continued. He said that Kennedy took us into Vietnam and Johnson escalated the war with his so-called 'Gulf of Tonkin' incident. Jaime said what about the unilateralism and cowboy diplomacy of George W. Bush.
Kurt acknowledged this, but claimed that America's aggressive, bullying foreign policy, in modern times, can be traced back to another Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, "making the world safe for democracy," and all that. Jaime pointed triumphantly to the Democratic administration of William Jefferson Clinton, and spoke of the nineties as a kind of renaissance of American culture.There was prosperity, the greatest known for generations, and peace. America was admired abroad, almost universally. Now, America is almost universally feared and hated.
"Apples and oranges, gentlemen," George said. "Apples and oranges." To Kurt he said, "I think the point Jaime was trying to make originally, was that the Republican party is not generally perceived to have the best economic interests of the lower classes at heart."
"There are other interests," Kurt said.
Jaime sighed, folded his arms, and let the matter drop.
It had been a three day weekend. Jaime and Kurt had dropped around that Monday, President's day, to see if George wanted to go play paintball. George said that he couldn't, he had too much work to do. Take a break, they said, and let's go play paintball! George said he couldn't. He was pulling his hair out trying to meet a deadline.
Was he sure he didn't want to play paintball? they asked.
He was sure, yes. He didn't want to play paintball.
Did he want to go fishing?
Go to a movie?
Play hacky sack?
Go for a drive?
Take a walk? It was a beautiful day.
Paintball was definitely out of the question?
George threatened to club both Jaime and Kurt like baby seals.
Jaime and Kurt looked at each other, sighed, and shrugged. They then strode past George into his house, where they raided his refrigerator and cupboards, stuffing their faces like hungry Gremlins. They had arrived at the brunching hour. The two tied themselves around George's neck like an albatross, kibitzing with him, hanging over his shoulder, chewing over office gossip, distracting George, lest he hazard his health by working too hard, as he was prone to do.
"How long you been sitting in this basement?" Jaime asked George.
"You are looking kind of pale," Kurt said.
Finally, Kurt and Jaime insisted that George take a break from staring at his computer screen working..... to stare at his computer screen, playing for a few hours, the latest rage of an online role playing fantasy game. Afterwards George still hadn't wanted to go to a movie, so they ordered a couple of pizzas.
George had been in the process of researching the life and public record of the senator from Kansas, Henry "Stalking Wolf" Clipper, in preparation for an upcoming interview he had with the lawmaker. George was also writing a long profile of him for the CBFG online magazine. In a roundabout way, George managed to get back to work.
Jaime and Kurt took an interest and made themselves useful. When Jaime had expressed his surprise at the fact that Henry Clipper was a Native American Republican, and George had made that remark about the "contortions of the soul," the three of them had been viewing the facts bout te senator's public record.
Henry Clipper was a brilliant man, who had run his first political campaign during his second year of law school. He won and served in the state assembly while continuing to study for the bar exam, which he'd aced on his first try. From the assembly he moved on to the state senate. At thirty-three he won election to the U.S. House of Representative, where he served for eleven years,l before transitioning to the United States Senate, where he'd resided for the last ten years.
He'd served with distinction in the Foreign Service Committee, the Intelligence Committee, the Health and Education Committee, and Agricultural Committee. He had a nice, well-rounded resume. He had enough experience to be seen as admirably qualified for the top job in the U.S. government, but no so much, especially not in one position, to possibly be seen as encrusted, ancient, and tired.
Jaime was pointing at the screen with a ballpoint pen. Furrowing his brow he said, "It looks like the votes with the Democrats at least fifty five percent of the time on education issues... even more than that, almost sixty percent on the environment, tax policy, ninety five percent of matters of gay rights, affirmative action, and other areas of civil rights..."
"And I see he has an eighty nine percent approval rating from the ACLU," said Kurt, pointing at an item in another displayed window of the very wide screen.
"..... looks like he's not too fond of guns," Jaime said. "A liberal Republican."
"Relatively liberal," George said.
"I thought I'd never see such a thing in my lifetime," Kurt said.
"Like the last Dodo," George said.
Henry Clipper had had a very good couple of months. His wife, Rosanna Sanchez, gave a speech at a rally in Wyoming, in which she said words to the effect that as a second generation Hispanic-American, she was truly proud of her country in a way that she had never been before.
A slip of the tongue?
In the cosmic scheme of things, yes.
But the media couldn't, wouldn't, and didn't let it go.
The remark was widely reported by all the news networks and cable stations and all the print media. Right-wingers pounced. Did you hear what she said? they gasped. At a news conference, Mrs. Sanchez felt compelled to follow the long, sad tradition of "clarifying" her remarks. She basically said that she didn't mean what she said the way it sounded.
"Why shouldn't she have meant it the way it sounded?" Jaime said the next day over lunch in the CBFG Studios cafeteria. "The trouble is there is no sense of history, a blackout of human empathy...."
George said, "I think she indeed meant it the way it sounded. But she backpedaled and took it back when she saw it didn't go over well with the American people."
"She took a pounding from the conservative echo chamber," Kurt said, blowing on his soup. "That gave the campaign the idea that the American people, at large, were somehow outraged."
"Are you suggesting that a politician's wife is a political opportunist?" Jaime asked.
His friends laughed and Jaime was pleased. Few people appreciated his understated sense of humor.
George persuaded his two companions to his point of view. They all agreed that the presidential campaign of Senator Clipper was dynamic, inspiring, and highly symbolic. The three of them agreed that the election of Mr. Clipper to the presidency would be a tremendous... vindication, for lack of a better word, of America.
".... so you're saying that her original statement was no mistake or slip of the tongue, or lost in translation; but deliberate and the result of an initial political miscalculation," Kurt said.
George, his grilled cheese and tomatoe sandwich half way up to his mouth, nodded before taking a bite.
"I can see that," Jaime said.
The three of them engage in what could only be wild speculation about the motives of another person. But within their tight and confidential community of three, Jaime, George, and Kurt felt at liberty to indulge themselves. The view that emerged was that Rosanna Sanchez had been trying to stimulate, in her way, a "national conversation" about race and class, and so forth, set off against the success of persons of color such as her husband, the senator, and herself, a Yale evolutionary biologist.
Their advantages (Mrs. Sanchez had come from a wealthy family), opportunities, luck, and success was a counterpoint to the large plurality of blacks and hispanics in prison, on drugs, on the streets, living in poverty; and in some way, Mr. Clipper's prominence could have opened a door into such a badly needed "national dialogue," and so forth. But Rosanna Sanchez, having only opened the door, as it were, a slight crack, had had it slammed in her face, taking off her fingertips in the bargain. She had dipped her toe into the water and found it far, far too cold.
The Republican Representative said, from across the coffee table -- the main prop piece on the stage, which was meant to convey a feeling of cozy, unthreatening intimacy, complete with a bland, inoffensive anchorman tpe hosting this "discussion of the issues" -- I want to axe you something." The congressman said 'axe.' His syntax tended to slip when he became excited. "Are you proud of this country? Cause any man who's not has got no business running for high national office."
The mayor blinked several times, rapidly, almost audibly. If blinks could kill....
"Mr.Mayor?" the bland, inoffensive anchorman type said.
They both looked at His Honor, waiting for an answer, as though there might be some suspense about what the answer might be. Mr. Quick concealed his annoyance. He gave a reliably centrist Democrat response. He began by mildy chastising the congressman for asking such a question.
(To be continued...)
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