The third Jack and Coke kicked in with all the subtlety of a knee to the groin.
He was hammered. Lit. Destroyed. He stumbled from room to room, tripping over interns and ogling the furniture. Occasionally, in his alcohol-fueled haze, he would grab a staffer and hurl them down a flight of stairs (he enjoyed the way they’d protest half-heartedly when he lifted them over his head). What the hell were they going to do? He was the president.
George W. Bush made his way toward the guarded videoconference room; outside stood the White House Midget dressed in his Mini-Me uniform. (Must be Thursday, Bush thought.) “Watch yer step, Stretch!” Bush yelled at the little man, laughing uproariously while punching his Lilliputian comrade in the shoulder.
Everything was sliding out of focus.
An aide opened the door and Bush stepped through. The sight was, as always, impressive. Bleeding-edge conferencing technology filled half of the room and cameras and lighting equipment were directed toward an ornate mahogany Presidential lectern. A massive television screen stood opposite. Flags were everywhere. Should any member of the President’s staff need visual contact with anyone anywhere in the world, this would be the place to do it.
“Hey!” Bush slurred out at the nearest technician. “You saved my SOCOM 3 mission before you set all this crap up, right?!”
“Of course, sir,” came a nearby reply. Bush spun his head; he hadn’t been talking to a person, he’d been talking to a fountain pen.
“Oh. Good,” he said. “Emememember, our Navy SEALs are relyin’ on me to beat that Columbian overlord!”
“Who’s hella tight at war games, techboy?”
“I DIDN’T HEAR YOU!”
“The president!” came the chorus of technicians setting up for the conferencing event.
“Damn straight.” Bush slumped into a nearby leather chair and waited for White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan to head on in.
· · · · ·
McClellan began briefing the president for his scheduled conference.
“I can barely see,” Bush groaned. “I’m tastin’ aromas and smelling sounds.”
“Concentrate, Mr. President. Concentrate,” McClellan replied. “We’ve set up this conference so you can speak as an American who still believes staying the course in Iraq is the best use of our resources and military strength.”
“Why do I always have to make dumb ol’ speeches?!” the president whined. “Princess Toadstool never has to give speeches when Bowser takes over… ”
“It’s all set up, right? These bastards know what I’m gonna ask them and they’re gonna behave like good little monkeyboys?”
“Well, let’s get this rodeo started!”
There’s a phrase people like to use — “poetry in motion.” It describes graceful, almost ethereal movements one doesn’t expect to see every day.
Scott McClellan was witnessing one just then. Near-comatose and staggering, the president tripped over himself and spun through the air like a drunken slow-motion Raggedy Andy. Twisting, careening out of control — yet never spilling a drop of the precious Jack Daniels in his right hand. Bush landed on his feet with precision, straightened his tie, set down his cocktail and made his way to the podium.
But such finesse breeds insecurity as the president, shaken, was about to admit.
“I— I’m not ready for this, Scotty,” he said sullenly. “I can’t remember what I’m s’posed to say. Can I get the focus group first? They always set me at ease — them and Jesus.”
McClellan signed and walked over to the technicians. After a few moments of heated argument some adjustments were made. The President looked warmly at the television screen as it flickered to life.
Twelve 5-year-olds sat slumped on their school’s gymnasium bleachers.
“Hey, lil’ partners!” Bush exclaimed. “Got a minute fer Uncle Georgie?!”
“NAP TIME FOR JIMMY!” one little boy yelled out.
“UNCLE GEORGIE IS A DOO-DOO!” yelled another.
“DOO-DOO IS A DOO-DOO!” screamed a third.
Bush’s eyes widened. They’d turned. They’d turned.
“Shut it off!” McClellan hissed. Too late — the damage was done. The president relied on the one innocent demographic free from his multitude of failures. He had the Play-Doh and the Legos and he shared them freely. But it appeared that was no longer enough.
“Sir!” McClellan yelled at his shell-shocked Commander-in-Chief. “It’s a minor setback. We need to get back to our A-game!”
Nothing. Just the deadened smirk that had driven millions insane.
“Sir! Snap out of it! For God’s sake, they’re little kids, they’ll fall asleep in no time!”
“But who woke them up in the first place, Scotty, ” came the monotone reply.
Scott no longer had time for games. It was time to cross the Rubicon. He picked up Bush’s glass of Jack and slowly poured the sweet brown nectar into the Persian carpet. It worked; Bush’s eyes zeroed in on the travesty like someone who wasn’t self-medicating to kill the pain.
“That was a bold command decision, Scotty,” he said. McClellan could hear the gravel in the President’s voice. “All right, let’s do this.”
“Excellent, sir. Now, remember, everything about this conference has been staged. The troops will introduce themselves and answer the pre-determined questions in the proper order. Nothing, sir, about this teleconference is real. Some of the troops may even be animatronic puppets from the Henson labs.”
“Scotty, what if the press gets wind of this? It’s one thing to bribe journalists to write favorable columns or produce news segments about our policies, but forcin’ GIs to memorize dialogue? Iraq ain’t the Globe Theater, Scotty!”
McClellan took the president by his hand. His skin was soft and supple, not the skin one would find on an experienced farmhand. “Sir, no one believes a word you say anymore. The least we could do is make your staged public appearances as staged as possible. We’ll get in a few ˜stay the course’ mission statements, congratulate the kids on not dying over in the Middle East and promote our rigged Iraqi elections.”
“Then back to SOCOM?”
“Then back to SOCOM.”
“Great,” the president said with a smile. “But what about the press? Say they call us on our obvious propo— propa— pripo –”
“– propaganda. What’s the plan, Scotty? WHAT’S THE PLAN?”
“Simple, sir,” McClellan replied. “Refer the obvious lies to the Department of Defense and question the patriotism and loyalty of any reporter who strays outside party rhetoric.”
“Solid, BRUVA!” And without further ado, the president himself tuned in to the one audience he knew he could count on. Bush preferred these moments of quiet staged conversation over real discussion. While it was difficult to read the words on the prompter at times, pangs of illiteracy were a small price to pay to avoid thinking off the top of one’s head.
“I am convinced that when we look back at this time in history, those who follow us — whether it be in the armed services or in the political process — will say, thank goodness the United States of America didn’t lose our nerve or will; that we’ve put in motion something that can’t be stopped, and that is the march of freedom.
“So I want to thank you for giving me a chance to visit with you. You just got to know the American people are proud of you. You’ve got tremendous support here at home. And there’s nobody more proud of you than I am.
“By the way, you’re in Tikrit, as I understand it, as well. It’s kind of an interesting place to be. It’s Saddam’s old stomping grounds…”
And then the fourth Jack and Coke kicked in. Smooth sailing…