Beast Fiction: Behind the Scenes With Congressman Jim in a Panic
Note: This column is a work of fiction and a thought experiment on how political permanence is an illusion. The minute you believe history has stopped is the minute you start losing.
We open on a conference room interior.
It’s generic, the type of room you see in a thousand mid-priced airport hotels or regional law offices. The table is covered with laptops, reams of paper, phones on chargers. A constellation of Starbucks coffee cups rapidly approaching room temperature litters the table, their acidic contents already burning in the stomachs of the people around the table.
They’re campaign staff, mostly men, mostly under 30; they look strained, nervous, and pale. They’re struggling to understand the numbers. They can’t quite sort out what’s happening. Their worries have taken flight in the past few weeks as health care, the issue they ran on and fought hard over, had suddenly turned and bitten them on the ass.
The pollster’s desultory presentation is greeted with drawn expressions. Numbers are headed the wrong way, fast. The Congressman’s favorable ratings are in the dumpster, and the public view of House of Representatives itself is roughly on par with the International Child Cannibal Serial Killer Clown Association. Their no-name opponent has suddenly started to appear on television, confidently pushing a crisp, clear message that makes the Congressman look like he is completely out of touch on the issues the voters care about.
Then the consultant stands up. He’s done with this bullshit. He’s tired—he’s always tired—and he’s got a flight to catch. He’s done this a long time, and he’s forgotten more than these 24-year-old kids will ever know. He’s seen 50 candidates like this one; smart but insecure, accomplished but needy. He’s going to calm this down, and he’s going to do it right now. Mr. The Honorable Two-Term Panic had a few angry calls and emails to his office, and his town hall meetings have turned ugly, but the fundamentals are still solid.
Time to stop this.
“Jim, Chris…I hear what you’re saying, but this is nothing to worry about. Let’s go through this one point at a time, and everyone can just take a deep breath,” he says, a confident veteran of a thousand briefings, “Our guy just won a landslide electoral college victory. Our base is rock-solid. We’re the future,” he says confidently. “You need to be the President’s number one cheerleader, because he’s pulling this wagon, and his numbers with the base are in the stratosphere. We’ve got Washington by the balls, and we’re never letting go.”
“Now, I understand you think you’re hearing things at the grassroots. I get it. That last town-hall meeting didn’t end well, did it?” He’s about to play Daddy, and they need Daddy right now. Nervous laughter around the room. Chris, the campaign manager, mutters, “Yeah, if I’d known we were on camera I wouldn’t have rushed him out of there.”
The consultants’ eyes flare with anger. “Yeah, you looked fucking ridiculous pushing him out the door like he was under attack from Al Qaeda. You looked like a goddamned pussy.” He fixes the candidate under a withering stare of utter contempt and says, “Do you want to look like a pussy, Jim? Does the President look like he gets upset at a few hecklers? Man the hell up.”
The candidate’s voice is just an octave below a full whine, “But they were screaming at me. Screaming. They wouldn’t stop talking about health care. I’ve never seen people so mad!” The consultant knows he has 48 minutes to get to the gate. He can already imagine that first cocktail going down as the little people crowd past first class and into steerage. He’s officially bored now, done with this whining.
“Jim. Shut the fuck up. You’re fine. Instead of being a panicky bitch, you should keep raising money. You’re a Member of Congress, for God’s sake, not a goddamned first-term county commissioner,” he says. “Let me tell you about these so-called protests.”
“They’re Astroturf. They’re not real. These aren’t even your constituents. They’re a bunch of paid agitators, sent here to fuck with you and get on the news. The other side has a bunch of billionaires funding these alleged grassroots assholes, and you’re falling for it.
“Remember, the base is rock solid. We’ve changed politics in this country, and we’re not turning back. Your district is safe. You’re safe. I spoke to the President’s consultant just yesterday,” he lies, because it was a text message a week ago, “You know, the guy who just won the most historic election in recorded time?. He told me that their numbers show that worrying about health care overblown. It’s a bullshit issue, and the polling shows it.” The campaign’s pollster stares at the table, even more pale than usual.
The candidate looks slightly mollified, the campaign manager less so, the field director not at all. The candidate knows the consultant’s time is short. He asks, almost deferentially, “So…no more town meetings? Is that okay?”
The consultant is shoving his laptop into his bag, already mentally tasting that shitty airline scotch, but wanting it more than life itself.
“Fine. Whatever. Screw them. They’re fake. They don’t represent anything in this election cycle. Stick to your fundamentals. Stick with the President. You’ll be just fine.”Now ask yourself.
Were these Democrats in 2009…or Republicans in 2017?