Their editing suite wasn’t really a suite at all but more of a closet and the two operatives squeezed into a little room with a several monitors to plan a political ad, a negative ad, a hit piece. Their job tonight was to find something in the public record to use to undermine their candidate’s opponent. They were lucky. They found a long, loquacious interview featuring their opponent.
The two men were now in the shadows of monitors with the interview queued up to play.
“Hold on,” Shadow One said. “Which race is this?”
“Congressional, Washington State,” Shadow Two answered. “You know, the guy with the wife that’s a communist.”
“Right,” Shadow One said. “God it’s getting late. How long until Election Day?”
“In about 5 minutes 92 days, but who’s counting?”
“How’d we get this job? It’s gotta be the worst job in politics.”
“No, your girlfriend has the worst job in politics.”
“Fuck you, dude! And by the way, she’s pissed. Let’s get through this so I get home.”
The show begins with Beethoven’s Ritterballett, the Romance, playing in the background of the opening credits. It’s a rather spare set with the Congressman and a male interviewer. He begins with a long introduction.
“The Congressman began his career in academics aspiring to be a professor, but tiring of academia’s tireless dance around the fire of politics, he chose to jump right onto the pyre. First, he managed campaigns, then worked for the Mayor of Seattle during the “Battle in Seattle,” a protest turned riot that became ebulliently personal for him with his wife and young daughter on the other side.”
“Jesus,” said Shadow One stopping the tape, “Is this guy the most pretentious asshole ever?”
“Wait until our friend the Congressman starts to talk,” said Shadow Two. “But let it play or we’ll be here all night.”
The screen filled with the interviewees smiling face, an expression that gained momentum through the rest of the introduction.
“His personal life is complicated. His own daughter was famously photographed raising a digital insult to the police and later finding herself in a federal prison after robbing a bank, accused of doing it in support of domestic terrorism. His wife has made her own name for herself, mirroring his complicated conservatism with an equally nuanced radicalism, matching stunning good looks with an even more impressive ability to rhetorically humiliate her husband’s acolytes like Artemisia might dispatch some hapless Greeks.”
“Fuck,” Shadow One said. “This reminds me of falling asleep in those stupid lit classes.”
“You fell asleep?” said Shadow Two. “Yale is an expensive place to take a nap. Let’s keep listening to this shit.”
“Can we use a picture of the daughter?”
“I’ll try to find it,” Shadow One answered. “But the family is off limits unless things get ugly. Hit play.”
“The two of them have taken what appears to be their insatiable appetite for abusing each other in private into the public sphere, a routine that has a great precedent in American life; think the Honeymooners meet the Mitchells of Watergate. The fact that they are close relatives has for the moment subsided as a controversy, succeeded by other ones. But he’s here tonight before a difficult reelection campaign to do a dangerous thing: talk about faith, family, politics, and what he really believes.”
By now the interviewee is laughing.
“Why are you laughing?”
“Well, I’m thinking about the hell I’m going to catch later about the Martha Mitchell thing. It’s true, she has the timber of a warrior but somewhere the fragility of poor old Martha. She is something of a Cassandra.”
“And you a Laocoon?”
“I’ve suggested that about myself, sure,” he said. “I wonder why they never got together”
The video stops.
“I need an air sick bag,” said Shadow Two. “Why don’t we just download this garbage onto YouTube and e-mail a link to every voter?”
“It’s an idea,” said Shadow One. “That might backfire. They are pretty fucking entertaining.”
“C’mon,” said Shadow Two.
The video starts again.
“Congressman, would it be correct to say that you are the first theologian or philosopher to be mentioned for high office in this country.”
“I would have to protest that designation. I’m not a theologian. I don’t belong to that circle.”
“But your degree is in religion is it not? And you are a politician. And you are hardly a preacher or evangelist. We’ve had those run before.”
“A degree is like a driver’s license, a form of identification we’re forced to carry.”
The video stops.
“None of his shit fits into a Tweet,” said Shadow Two. “Fast forward to the part about his daughter.”
The Video speeds ahead.
“Let’s talk about your daughter. She’s in federal prison for domestic terrorism, and…”
“She’s charged. Charged.”
“Yes, sorry, accused of domestic terrorism. How did this happen? Will this impact you politically?”
“Of course, it will be used against me in the obvious ways. It’s fair. Voters want to understand whether the apple falls far from the tree, right? Or was it my neglect…”
The video stops.
“Can we use that? Apples? Trees? Neglect?” asked Shadow Two.
“Mmmmm. I don’t know,” said Shadow One. “Like I said, the boss has been reluctant about burning him on the kid and his family. And his wife or whatever she is, probably has some influence over the left side of our guy’s base. You know. She’s a woman. A lefty. That’s a lot of our guy’s voters. We really don’t need her on our ass or supporting an opponent from the left.”
“Yeah,” said Shadow Two. “She is hot. She’s got a following. And she’s smarter than our guy.”
“It’s a trap we have to avoid.”
The video flickers back into life on the screen.
“The politics of your family are complicated, aren’t they?”
“Every family is complicated and gets more complicated with politics and religion. Think about your last trip home for the holidays. And as for my daughter, redemption is possible for everyone. Even me.”
The video stops.
“When I first skimmed this transcript, I remember something about Burke or some shit like that,” said Shadow Two. “He’s always going on about how the left is making government ‘a consideration of convenience.’ And here’s his kid running around with anarchists and knocking over banks. It’s beyond socialism. I mean what the fuck?”
“You’re right,” said Shadow One. “Wait, he says some shit in here about, tradition and the American revolution. Let me see. Lemme find it.”
The video speeds back and forth.
“Tere it is,” said Shadow Two. “Right at that time stamp is where he says it.”
The video plays.
“The American Revolution was neither… “
“Now wait, what does that mean.”
“It was more English than anything and it was hardly a revolution. More like a tantrum. American colonists were taxed at a fraction of their English counterparts. They had representation from Edmund Burke and Charles Fox — they were champions, champions of the Americans”
“You’re saying that the old ‘no taxation without representation” slogan was…”
“…illegitimate. Well, wrong word. It was an exaggeration. Propaganda. Still, Burke supported the Americans because they were pushing evolution, not a revolution, of the settlement of 1688. It was that settlement, the Glorious Revolution, that was really the issue.”
“Are you saying you wouldn’t have supported the American Revolution?”
The video stops.
“Now that we can use,” said Shadow One. “He’s supposed to be a conservative. Aren’t conservatives flag wavers. You know, ‘Freedom isn’t free’ and shit like that?”
Shadow Two shrugs and hits play again.
“I likely would have been with Burke, that the protest by the colonists was Englishmen saying, ‘The King has broken the social contract.’ Remember Hobbes? But they really didn’t have that much to complain about. The whole revolution for independence thing didn’t need to happen…”
The video stops.
“Now that’s good,” said Shadow Two. “The whole revolution for independence thing didn’t need to happen.”
“Right,” said Shadow One. “But doesn’t this just make him – them – sexier?”
“C’mon,” said Shadow Two. “The guy doesn’t even believe in the country he’s wanting to govern. No wonder his kid is ready to blow it up.”
“That’s an ad right there,” said Shadow One. “If this guy had been in Philadelphia in 1776, we’d all be British right now.”
“Right,” said Shadow Two. “We’d all be speaking English!”
At that they both laughed for a minute.
“I’m thinking something like the dollar bill, with Washington dissolving into the Queen’s face with his comment about the “independence thing” as a voice over,” said Shadow One.
“Yes. Yes. I love that. That “independence thing” will fuck with him all day long. He stepped in it there,” said Shadow Two. “Now you can go home to momma.”
“She can wait,” said Shadow One. “We’re going to get a drink. This is good. But I still wonder.”
“I don’t think so. Let’s get out of here.”
They leave, and in their hurry, they leave the video on pause, but it starts to play alone, flickering in the dark.
“You said earlier, I’m a theologian turned politician. I’m not much of a politician either. I mean, listen to me and look at my family. But I can’t say I’ve made a mistake. I’ve followed my path.”
“And your path is controversy? What is that path?”
“Hannah Arendt wrote something, the preface to Between Past and Future, about Kafka. I’m paraphrasing here, but she describes a man on a path, and he is a battleground where the forces of the past and the future fight. He fights, the past and the future, and they fight with each other. I don’t have my wife’s memory, but I do remember the phrase, “without the presence of the man . . . the forces of the past and of the future, one suspects, would have neutralized or destroyed each other long ago.”
“And as Nathan said to David, “Thou art the man?”
“Yes, that is the role we play when called into politics, the treasure we seek, it is tradition. Faith. Perhaps faith in tradition. And faith isn’t a belief. It’s trusting in something outside of oneself, the Universe, God, the people who lived before us, even the people who will come after us.”
“And how will that play in Peoria?”
“Exactly. Who am I? Why am I here?”