Monday, November 30, 2054

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Morty Hanson was not a happy camper. He was supposed to have had the day off. He'd planned to sleep in and then finish building the deck in the back yard. His wife was already shopping for patio furniture and planning to have friends over as soon as it was done. They both loved the idea of relaxing summer afternoons on the deck, with visions of blender drinks, barbecues and all the gathered rugrats careening around the back yard.

His plans had gone into the dumper when his phone rang at 4:45 that morning. It was the news manager at WHSE-TV calling to inform him that Harley had called in sick, and Morty was needed to cover for him.

So, now, instead of still being in bed, or maybe having his first cup of coffee at his own kitchen table, he found himself sitting in the back of one of the station's news vans, preparing to tape a speech to a bunch of nobody businessmen by Paul Harknesss. "I mean, shit! If I've got to work on my day off, at least they could send me to cover a fire or a crash or something exciting. I mean, Paul Harkness? He's so over!", Morty thought.

"Give me a white balance", he called to the cameraman over his wireless headset. "O.K., got it." The two of them bitched to each other for a few more minutes, until Morty saw someone getting the crowd organized and quiet. "Rolling tape now", he announced to the cameraman.

The first guy said a few boring things and introduced Harkness. Morty forced himself to focus on what Harkness was saying. In addition to running the equipment, it was his job to note the time-code if Harkness said anything the news director might want to air. "Fat chance of that", he thought.

"Good morning", Harkness was saying, "thank you for inviting me. I know you're all expecting me to speak about my company, or possibly about being awarded the Medal of Freedom. I will not be speaking on either of those subjects today. I hope you won't find my chosen topic too dull."

Harkness took a fairly long pause, then continued, "I'm here, this morning to announce my candidacy for the office of President of the United States of America."

Morty would have fallen off of his chair if it wasn't for the fact that he had a size 60 ass jammed into a size 50 captains chair. He immediately speed-dialed the station while starting to run up the antenna and power up his uplink. "Dan, you're going to want to break in live with what I've got. Harkness is announcing for President" he said as soon as the news director came on the line. "No, not of the fucking Eastern Virginia Businessman's Association, of the United fucking States." He shouted. After a moment of listening, he said, "How should I know if he's out of his mind, but you are if you don't get this on the air. We're the only ones here, so it's exclusive. You'll have the signal in another 20 seconds or so." He hung up and adjusted the mast until he got a signal from the satellite then turned back to listen to the speech.
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Sunday, November 29, 2054

Chapter Twenty-Nine

As soon as the crowd calmed down, I continued speaking. "First I want to tell you that running for president was not my idea. The idea was first proposed to me a few weeks ago. It would be an understatement to say that I was resistant to the idea. Since then, I have become completely convinced that it's an excellent idea".

"So, here I am to announce that I want to be your next President. I'd like to take you through some of the reasoning that brings me to this moment and this announcement. A few weeks ago, I made an appearance on Jackson Duffield's Sunday morning show. I said on that show, that if I ever decided to run for office I'd out myself about everything I've ever done that might be considered embarrassing to a public official. I probably wouldn't have said it if I'd known I would be standing here talking to you this morning, but here goes".

That got a polite laugh, which gave me the pause I needed for a sip of water. I continued, "Here are some reasons you might not want to elect me President. I have never served a day in public office and I haven't got a clue how politics work. Don't get me wrong, I understand politics as well as any other American who's not directly involved in it, but I'm smart enough to realize that it's a whole different game on the inside."

"I'm not sure it's a great idea to elect a President who will probably have difficulty qualifying for a security clearance." Another laugh

"More to the point, I've got a number of skeletons in my closet. As I said before, in my role as an auto-parts retailer, I don't believe they were any of your business, but as a candidate, I guess you should know everything there is to know about me."

"O.K., so here we go. I smoked pot in college, and yes I inhaled. I didn't really like pot all that much, but it took the edge off my buzz whenever we could afford some coke. It also gave a really good kick whenever we dropped acid. I haven't done any drugs since I was 23 years old, but hey, I did pretty much everything offered to me before that.

"I went seven years without filing an income tax return. I did settle it, including fines, so I'm good with Uncle Sam now".

"I stole a car with some friends when I was fourteen...while blind drunk on Ripple. We didn't hit anyone and we left it at a mall about 3 miles from where we took it. I'm not proud of that one, but I promised to tell all. I'm assuming the statute of limitations has run out on this, otherwise, this may be a very short campaign".

"I slept with a couple of hookers when I was younger, with four women who were married when we met, and with one man. I won't even try to figure out how many single women I've been with. I was faithful to my wife during the years we were married. I enjoyed every partner I've had immensely."

"Now you and I know that any single one of the things I've just told you should be enough to eliminate me from consideration for your vote. Personally, I think most people have a history that includes some things they're not proud of or things they've grown out of, but I won't make excuses. You'll just have to judge for yourself."

"But before you judge me, I'd like to tell why you should think seriously about voting for me. In a few months, someone is going to stand up in front of the nation and affirm an oath 'to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, both foreign and domestic'."

"I'd like to talk about the significance of that promise, because the Constitution is the only thing that makes us all Americans. It's the only thing that makes us one people. We don't share any common ethnicity or religion. Our ancestry encircles the globe. Some of our families pre-date the revolution and some of our citizens are being newly minted right now while I'm talking to you. The one thing we hold in common, all of us, is the dedication to continue the experiment begun by our founding fathers more than 200 years ago."

"Our founding fathers were not perfect. There are contradictions in their public and private lives that I have difficulty fathoming today. How, for example, could they found a nation based on inalienable rights, yet at the same time maintain the institution of slavery and withhold those rights from women."

"I don't understand those contradictions. I only know that the documents they penned, and the ideas they espoused forced their descendents to realize the contradiction...and to repair some of the problems that had been overlooked or ignored. Our founding fathers created a system which invites us to look at ourselves and say, 'we can do better, we can be better'. A system that is flexible enough to allow us to act on those thoughts."

"The first sentence of the Constitution uses the phrase, 'in order to create a more perfect Union'. At the time, the reference was to the idea of making thirteen loosely confederated states into a single nation. However, the phrase has reverberated throughout our nation's history...'a more perfect Union'. I submit to you today, that the history of the United States is the continuing process of the effort to "create a more perfect Union."

"That work is not complete. It will never be complete. We, as mere human beings are incapable of perfection. We are, however capable of the struggle. In a nation founded on the principals of basic human rights, rights that some of our citizens are still fighting for today, the effort is our greatest duty as a nation."

"During the campaign, I'm going to try to avoid making many promises. Things happen that need to be reacted to, and when they do, promises get pushed aside. When I finish this speech, my staff is going to pass out two versions or my "platform". I hope you'll read the longer version. It'll give you a good view into what my beliefs are. The short version works too, but hey, we're talking about the next leader of your country. Invest an hour or two into researching your vote."

"During the course of this campaign, I will take every opportunity to tell you my ideas for governing the nation. I'll tell you what I believe makes this nation great. I'll tell you what I believe our problems are. When I think I've got solutions to those problems, I'll tell you that. I'm sure I'll spout off about a lot of things, that's the nature of the game. But remember, I'm one of you. If, I'm wrong, convince me.

But now I'm going to make the only ironclad promise you'll hear from me during this campaign. If you choose to invest your confidence in me and elect me as your next President, I promise that when I leave office, regardless of my success or failure, every American will be able to truthfully say that my term of office was a sincere and vigorous effort to create a more perfect union."

"Thank you"

I suffered through a moment of silence followed by thunderous applause.
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Saturday, November 28, 2054

Chapter Thirty

The announcement got all the attention they could have wished for; just not quite how they'd planned. WHSE had broken in and covered the speech live. The network had picked up the feed within minutes. Other networks quickly arranged to share the feed for a price.

So, the first people to see the speech on T.V., were introduced to the notion of a Harkness campaign, thusly. WHSE interrupted the network morning show shortly after 8:00 a.m. An announcer popped up on Washington D.C. screens and said, "We're breaking into our normal network programming to bring you a breaking story. Paul Harkness, in a speech to the Eastern Virginia Businessman's Association, has just announced that he's a candidate for President of the United States. We take you now, to the speech, in progress".

They picture cut to a head and shoulders shot of Paul. The first thing the D.C. audience heard from him was, "...didn't really like pot all that much, but it took the edge off my buzz whenever we could afford some coke."

The audience who were present where Paul was speaking, at least had some context for this bon mot. The home viewers were almost unanimously struck with variations on the thought, "What the fuck?" By the time Paul finished speaking, he was being carried live on most every broadcast station in America. Further, every cable station not dedicated to cartoons or home makeovers had picked up the feed. Having missed the beginning of Paul's speech by varying degrees, most of America had no idea what to make of his announcement.

In the meantime, Morty Hanson had transmitted the entire tape back to WHSE and the news director was now going through an entirely new set of negotiations to provide coverage of the complete speech to the nation's broadcasters. Actually, negotiation wasn't a strictly accurate description. He'd name a price and anyone who wanted to haggle quickly found themselves talking to a dial tone.

So, shortly after the end of the live coverage, practically every television in America and Canada that was turned on was playing a repeat of the speech from the beginning. Reaction to the complete speech, in its proper context was considerably more positive than it had been to the live feed.

Gallup, Harris and Quinnipiac immediately began calling households, polling for reactions.

Back at the breakfast meeting, Paul was shaking hands and speaking to all comers. Judging by the reaction in the room, Paul was off to a strong start. A very few people had left the breakfast immediately, apparently grossly offended by Paul's announcement. The majority remained, milling about and speaking to each other, mostly unsure what to make of the whole thing; and a respectable minority were visibly enthusiastic about what they'd just heard and vied for Paul's attention.

After ten or fifteen minutes of greeting his new supporters, Darrell and Addie guided him out of the room. Other reporters and cameras had arrived by now and were jostling for position. Paul waved to them while interns from the campaign handed out copies of his policy statements.

To universal disappointment, Addie announced to the press that there would be no further statements today. They quickly got into the car and sped off to campaign headquarters.

Addie and Darrell were laughing as soon as they had turned the first corner. Darrell said, "Wow! You weren't kidding when you said you were going to set a tone for the campaign. I'm just not sure admitting felonies is the best way to announce a candidacy. Don't get me wrong, Paul; that's a speech people will be talking about for decades. You've just permanently changed the playing field. I'm just not sure we're going to like the reaction"

Addie said, "Well, you were certainly right about us knowing right away whether or not this campaign has wings. Our pollster should have some detailed results by shortly after noon." Paul exploded.

"Addie, we've just spent two weeks inventing a new kind of campaign. Hiring pollsters is not the way we want to operate".

"Get real Paul, don't be ridiculous," she said. "I don't care how different you want to be, you still need to see how the public is reacting."

Paul said, "Give me your blackberry."

She handed it over and Paul fiddled with it for a minute or so. He looked up and smiled. " shows 6% highly favorable to the announcement, 8% mildly favorable, 62% neutral/undecided, 21% highly unfavorable and 3% with no opinion. That's how the public is reacting. Do you need more than that?"

"Yes, of course we do," she said. "We need reaction to each individual part of the speech. Our pollsters were in contact with 1000 people while they were watching the speech. They'll let us know exactly which sentences struck a chord, which sentences pissed people off, and finally reaction to the speech as a whole."

Paul was quiet for a moment. Then he said, "Pay them for the poll, but no-one, and that includes you and me, is to see the results. Have them destroy it. Then, thank them for their work and let them know we won't have any further need for their services."

Darrell said, "Paul, I'm with Addie on this one. You just can't run a campaign without knowing how your message is being received."

Paul replied, "Enough polls will be taken without us having to run them. They're more than enough. What do you intend to do with the poll you commissioned? If we find out that 80% of likely voters don't like the fact that I smoked pot, should I issue a statement saying I was only kidding? "

"It's more complicated than that", Addie replied. "I know there'll be a mostly negative reaction to the first half of your speech. It's a question of how negative the reaction is. And whether or not the second half was positive enough to counterbalance it."

Paul was quiet for a moment. Looking from Darrell to Addie and back again, he said, "Listen to me carefully. The only use of a poll like the one you're talking about would be for me to adjust what I'm saying or how I'm saying it. I'm not going to do that. I know that this campaign was your idea and I'm thankful to you for that. But you need to know that, as of now, the object of this campaign is not to get me elected no matter what. The object is to get me elected because what I say makes sense to people. If I get elected, I'm not going to set policy to get better poll numbers, so I'm not going to try to get elected by playing to polls."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mackinzie Harper hit the mute button on the T.V. remote and turned to Tom Douglas. "You sure called that one right," he said.

Douglas said, "You're not honestly worried about this guy, are you?"

"I wouldn't say exactly worried, but the son-of-a-bitch sure as hell surprises me every time he pops up. Schedule a sit-down with Elgin this afternoon. Have him work up an assessment by then."

"I'll set it up, Mac," said Douglas, "but don't let this get you worked up. He's a gnat on an elephant's ass. He can bite all he wants and we'll never feel a thing."
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Friday, November 27, 2054

A Note to my readers

To this point, you've read a little over 40,000 words. That makes this about 40% of the average novel. Since there's no hard and fast rule on that, I may write more than average, I may write less. Whatever the case, from here on in, you'll be reading brand new chapters. Yes, I'm done rewriting and editing what I've written along the way, and now I've got to start creating the rest of the book.

I'd appreciate it if you let me know if you start seeing a difference (good or bad) between what starts showing up now and what was posted before. And in case you're not a Polybloggimous reader, you should know that I intend to take a scalpel to Chapter One. Read the link for my reasoning/surrender.

So, anyway, I doubt I'll be getting chapters posted as quickly from here on in, but I hope to be steady.

Once again, your observations will be most welcome. Read more!

Thursday, November 26, 2054

Chapter Thirty-One

When we got to the office, the entire staff stood and cheered our entrance. I knew I was in for a bumpy ride, but I’ll admit it; this felt great. Nothing had leaked and we’d taken the entire world by surprise. As many of us who could fit, jammed ourselves into Addie’s office and spent most of the day watching the reaction on Addie’s Wall-o-Vision. We had a blast.

Every talking head had an opinion. At one end of the spectrum, the prevailing thought was that I was completely deluded. Clearly I was a dangerous man with no qualifications for office. My history was emphasized and the world was told that even if I shut up and just went back to selling auto parts, I wasn’t “fit for proper society”.

The majority opinion was “Wait and see”. They tried to be even-handed about everything without taking sides. All very honorable and very professional. And very boring.

At the far end of the spectrum was a tiny minority who thought my campaign was going to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. They hadn’t read my position papers, so they weren’t basing any of this on what I wanted to achieve, but only on the fact that having me in the race would make things interesting.

We had the most fun watching the first group.

The phone, of course, didn’t stop ringing once all day. Addie’s standing instruction was that everyone who called should be told, “We’re not entertaining any interview requests today. Please leave your number and we’ll get back to you in a few days.”

At about One in the afternoon, Addie turned the sound down, hushed us all and picked up her phone. She dialed and we all waited for whoever it was to answer. We only heard Addie’s side of the conversation. “Hi Jon, this is Addie Rotholz.” A pause, a smile, “Yes, that Addie Rotholz. So listen, let me get right to the point. I’m not taking anyone’s calls today and I’m offering you Paul, but only if you put him on tomorrow.” Pause. “Yeah, I thought you’d be okay with that. Well see you tomorrow.”

All of us just looked at her as she hung up the phone. She smiled.
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Wednesday, November 25, 2054

Chapter Thirty-Two

The next day, Paul flew up to New York City. Addie, Nicki, Darrell and Jesse were along for the ride. Paul would be appearing on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Addie thought Paul would do better with a younger audience until the campaign had built some traction. She also privately didn’t want to place him in any hostile situations this early in the game.

The one thing none of them were completely comfortable with was the fact that The Daily Show would purposely be looking for the comedy in the situation. While that could work to their benefit, it also introduced just enough of an element of unpredictability to make them all just a little nervous.

On the whole, Paul was feeling pretty good. When he’d checked his email just before leaving he’d found a note from Tom Selleck. It was just a short note saying he’d thought the announcement was terrific. No promises of support, but an assurance that he’d be watching with interest. Just like a regular guy.

From the moment they’d left his house, things had been different. The State Troopers who had never completely abandoned their overwatch on his house were formally back. Without anyone’s prompting, they offered an escort to the airport and then led his two car motorcade with lights and sirens the whole way. When they checked in at the airport, they were shown to a private room to await boarding and then ushered onto the plane moments before closing the door and leaving the gate.

Paul hadn’t had any complaints about how he was treated at Letterman but his arrival the Stewart’s studio was treated entirely differently. Jon Stewart and his senior producer met Paul at his car and then escorted him to a private dressing room. There was a separate room supplied for the rest of his party. Jon thanked him for picking The Daily Show first and assured him that they were expecting a great show. While the two of them were schmoozing, a make-up artist and a hair stylist made quick work of him. There was a constant stream of Production Assistants offering coffee, soda, whatever Paul might want. When the fourth one showed up, Paul started to say he was fine and then said, “Do you think you could find me some wristbands?” The P.A. said he was sure he could and he’d get them right away.

Paul was scheduled to be on after the second commercial break, so he watched the opening segments from the dressing room. Shortly before they ended, a P.A. came to fetch him. A few minutes later, he found himself standing in the wings waiting to be announced. While he was waiting the P.A. from earlier came running up, out of breath and handed him a brown paper bag. Paul looked inside to find it was full of fluorescent yellow wristbands. He thanked the P.A. who smiled and said, “I had to go ten blocks to find them and I didn’t think I’d get back in time.”

They finished prepping for Paul’s segment and Jon was cued that tape was rolling. He began, “Before we bring out tonight’s guest, I’d like you to take a look at these clips.” He turned to the monitor behind the news desk where a clip from the announcement speech ran. It was purposely cut so that the audience would know it was a hatchet job. The only portions of the speech that played were the ones in which Paul had enumerated his many vices and transgressions. When the clip was over, Jon turned as if speaking to someone off-screen and said, “Wasn’t chopping that up a little redundant?”

He turned back to the camera and said, “Yesterday, Paul Harkness stunned the nation once again by announcing that he’s running for President. Tonight, he’s here to explain himself. C’mon out here, Paul.”

Paul made his entrance to enthusiastic applause, took a seat at the news desk and shook Jon’s hand. Addie, it seemed, had chosen a receptive audience for his first post-announcement appearance. Jon stepped right in with, “Is it ok for me to call you Paul? I mean you only just started to be big deal, right?”

Paul smiled and said that would be fine.

Jon continued, “So are you, like a really real candidate or just a kinda sorta candidate? I mean you chose a fake news show to go on first, after all.”

“I’m really a real candidate Jon. And don’t sell yourself short. You’re more real than a lot of shows that claim to be real.”

Jon had noticed the paper bag when Paul made his interest and asked about it. Paul said, “Oh, just some props. Do you mind if I talk to the audience a little?”

Jon took this in stride and said, “Well we did have a script, but by all means, go ahead. I’ve always thought restraint was overrated anyway.”

The audience laughed and Paul turned to face them directly.

When they quieted, he said, “O.K., if you were old enough to vote in the 2002 mid-term elections, I want you to stand up.” All but 7 people stood. Paul gestured to a P.A. in the wings and tossed her the bag of wristbands. “Could you please give one of these to each of the folks still sitting? They get a pass” He turned back to the audience “If you’re not a U.S. citizen, you get a pass, too. Go ahead and take your seat.” Two people sat down and the P.A. quickly moved to give them wristbands. “O.K., now, for those of you standing, if you have a problem with anything our government’s done since that election, keep standing.” No-one sat.

“Now, everyone who actually voted in that election, go ahead and take your seat.” About a third of the audience sat down. “Great! Those of you who are sitting are all invited to come out for a drink or a cup of coffee, whatever you want when the show is over. Grab a wristband when the bag comes by. I’d like to discuss with you what I’ve got in mind if I win this election. I’d also be interested in hearing any opinions you might want to share.”

“And I’d like to say something to those of you who are still standing. Every one of you could have voted in the last election and you didn’t. The next time anyone is talking politics or finance or anything else related to how your city or state or federal government runs, you should just keep your mouth shut. If you don’t vote, nobody gives a rat’s ass what you think. I’m not telling you this because I want you to vote for me; I’m telling you because you need to vote for somebody. Voting doesn’t hurt and it doesn’t take long. In November, you’ll get your next chance to do the right thing, but until you participate, just shut the hell up.”

The standees were shocked into silence. The ones who were seated made enough noise to make up for them.
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Tuesday, November 24, 2054

Chapter Thirty-Three

I knew I was in trouble as soon as we got into the car. Nicki was busy on her phone dealing with some scheduling conflict in tomorrow's schedule. Jesse and Darrell had discovered their shared membership in Star Wars Geekdom and were arguing some arcane points to bolster their personal opinions about which were the most annoying characters in the series. Addie's arms were folded over her chest and she was staring silently out the window. She didn't say a word all the way back to LaGuardia.

When we got on the plane, Addie claimed the seat next to mine and asked Darrell to make sure that no-one sat in any of the seats immediately around us. The flight attendant tried to enforce the assigned seating rules but thought better of it after the withering look she got from Addie. As soon as we were in the air, Addie turned to me.

"You've gotta stop doing that," she said. I was about to respond, but she just continued. "I don't expect you to necessarily change what you're going to say, but I really need to be warned up front. Where the hell do you get off telling half the people in the country you don't give a shit what they think?"

"Well, I don't give a shit if they're not voters. Why should I?"

"Just because they don't vote doesn't mean they don't talk. Loudly. And people listen to them. You don't get elected by announcing that you only care about half of the country." With that, she seemed to have expended most of her actual frustration.

"I didn't say I only care about half the country. I said I didn't care what they had to say about how things run if they don't do anything besides yammer all the time. There's a difference."

Addie responded, "O.K., there's a difference, but what you say and what people choose to hear won't always be the same thing. You just gave our opponents a perfect set of sound bites. Those words are going to come back and bite us in the ass big time. I need to know, in advance, when you're gonna pull this shit."

I gave her the closest thing she was going to get to an apology. "I'll try to behave better, but believe me, I didn't know what I was going to say until about ten minutes before I went on. I'm sure if this is as big a deal as you think, I'll get asked about it and have a chance to clarify what I said. I was really just trying to change the subject and get people talking about something other than my arrest record."

"Well, that's a fine goal, Paul," she said. "Maybe next time we change the subject, we could try to get them talking about something that actually does you some good."

I've always been a blurter. Things come into my head and the next thing you know, they're tumbling out of my mouth. As much as I intended to try controlling this part of my personality, I predicted an uphill battle for Addie.
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Monday, November 23, 2054

Chapter Thirty-Four

As the remainder of the week spun out, they soon discovered that Paul's instincts had struck a nerve again and Addie's dire predictions were proved baseless. The mainstream media refused to be distracted. They hadn't finished debating Paul's past indiscretions and continued harping on that one subject whether anyone was paying attention or not. The far right screamed that Paul was too tarnished to be taken seriously. The far left claimed his past was nothing, but have you looked at some of the crap in his platform? Since nobody was ready to talk substance yet, his platform was brushed off as soon as it was mentioned.

What the media soon discovered was that they were the only ones discussing it. The public, at large, was mostly just ignoring the subject; not condemning or excusing, just mostly ignoring.

The campaign's website had posted the complete party platform, and while they had no way of knowing how many people were reading the complete document, they had registered a little over 60,000 hits on the page in the first week.

Another development was that people were making donations to the campaign through the website; not large donations, but an awful lot of small ones. At the rate things were going, the campaign would qualify for federal matching funds within 6 weeks. Not that money was a problem at the moment. Paul's silent backers had reaffirmed their support following his announcement and release of the party platform. They were limited by campaign finance laws to donating $20,000 to the campaign directly and another $50,000 each to the newly established party. Since Paul was the only candidate, this amounted to a distinction without a difference. His backers were out of the closet now, since donations this size were a matter of public record. Now, they openly solicited donations from other people in their social spheres. No, the campaign was not hurting for money.

By the end of the week, Paul discovered that if he wasn't a rock star himself, the music world had noticed him. The Dixie Chicks had appeared before a sold-out crowd at the Shrine Auditorium in L.A. wearing T-shirts emblazoned "Vote or Shut the Fuck Up". His original wording would be completely forgotten and this would be the quote attributed to him. He wasn't unhappy with the prospect.

The T-shirt quickly became 2004's pet rock. Schools all over the country tried, unsuccessfully to ban them, but soon bowed to the underlying sentiment and contented themselves with making kids put two-inch masking tape over the offensive part. And then variations on the theme appeared. The League of Women Voters made a fortune selling a shirt reading, "If you haven't voted, kindly hold your peace". Baby Gap had a tiny little shirt that said, "Vote or my mommy will say a bad word".

And people weren't just talking about it. They were acting on it. In at least five documented cases, bar fights had broken out when one yahoo yelled at the TV and then was shouted down by his bar mates who knew he hadn't voted since 1988.

Even though Paul wasn't watching the polls, other people were, and Paul was showing a respectable 6% support only a week after announcing. Considering Ross Perot had one of the most successful third party runs in history and hadn't cracked 20% of the popular vote, Paul's campaign felt they were off to a good start. The trick would be to build on it.

The campaign reached another milestone in its first week. On Friday, a columnist for the Washington Post forwarded a death threat for Paul he'd received that morning. It read, in part, "YOU WILL NOT ROOIN (sic) THIS COUNTRIE (sic) BY INFECTING (sic?) YOUR FOWL (sic) LIFESTILE (sic) ON THE BLEEDING MASSES!!! YOU WILL DIE IN A BLAZE OF GORY (sic) THAT WILL WARN OFF OTHERS OF YOUR ICK (sic?)" Nobody got overly worked up over the threat since, a.) the guy apparently couldn't find either Paul's or the campaign's address to mail the letter to and b.) he'd signed his name and address in Duluth, GA. They forwarded the letter to the FBI and asked Senator Bolling to look into Secret Service protection. In the meantime, they'd hire a private security firm and Darrell was put in charge of finding a firm.

On the Monday following Paul's announcement, they held their first press conference. Addie purposely set it up to be highly informal. Instead of standing at a podium, Paul was seated at a table with a microphone, much like an NFL coach might field questions from the press. She also, purposely rented a banquet room that was too small to accommodate all of the reporters who said they'd be coming. Better to feel too crowded than sparsely attended. The press was told that no subject would be off limits as long as every question related only to the policy statements they had released. They were not required to submit questions in advance.

Addie gleefully told twelve latecomers that they should have come earlier, there was no more room for them. When they threatened to retaliate by not covering Paul's campaign, she just smiled and said that would be a neat trick. When Paul entered the room at Ten a.m., the room was filled to bursting. He took his seat and said, "Good morning. Thank you all for coming. I'm sorry, except for the TV types, I don't know any of your names yet. We'll rectify that in the weeks to come. Please forgive me for just pointing today. Just so you know, we've scheduled this thing for an hour, but I'm prepared to stay and answer your questions as long as it takes. In the interest of full disclosure, I just want to let you know that this camera behind me is recording the questions and that one at the back of the room is on me and my answers. If I say anything stupid, it'll be fair game, but if I'm misquoted or quoted out of context, I intend to be able to shoot back. So, who wants to be first?"

Every hand in the room went up.

Paul pointed to a woman in the front row. She stood and said, "I'm Roxie Schaeffer, Associated Press. I'd like to hear more about your plan for Universal Military Service. Do you really think people are going to stand for that?"

Paul said, "Actually, you can't take that issue by itself. Its related to and intertwined with some other parts of my policy. Lets start with the 2nd Amendment. It says, and I quote, 'A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.' So, what I'd like to see is every U.S. Citizen to serve a period of time in uniform, say three years, and then periodically return for a couple of weeks of training, say until they're 35. They'd be available for recall until then in the event of National Emergency. So, I want everybody in the country in the militia and I want to regulate the hell out of it."

Another reporter raised his hand. After being recognized, he stood and said, "Malcom Risso, Telemundo. Surely you meant to say, 'able-bodied".

Paul, replied, "No, I mean every U.S. Citizen. Certainly there will be deferments, but they're going to be the exception. First of all, understand that the core of the military will be the voluntary forces we have now. But the militias will have the same table of organization, meaning that in addition to combat arms, there are a whole lot of jobs that need to be filled in a functioning military. If there is a job that a person is capable of performing, that's where they'll be slotted. So, yes, a paraplegic who can type with voice commands will get a clerical job. A nineteen year old with Downs Syndrome will work in supply helping load trucks. And before anyone asks, 'Yes, that means gays, too'. I don't care who asks and I don't care who tells, military service in the U.S. will be as universal as humanly possible."

Roxie Schaeffer was signaling for attention, crying, "Follow up, follow up". When recognized, she said, "This goes back to my original question. Do you really think people are going to stand for that?"

Paul said, "Ultimately, yes, I think they will when taken together with the other related policies. First of all, you may not have connected these things, but if you read all of my policy statements, you'd know that I want to completely eliminate Federal Income Tax. In its place we'd have a consumer tax, based strictly on purchases with a sliding scale for luxury goods. Any active duty military would be exempt from paying Federal sales tax, just by showing current I.D. I think that's going to make sense to a lot of people and appeal to just as many."

Another reporter vied for attention. "Pete Ainsley, ABC News. You prefaced this by connecting it to the 2nd Amendment. Is there some gun connection I missed?"

Paul said, "Its right there in the handouts. As members of the military, active or reservists, there will also be universal mandatory gun ownership."

The room erupted into a chaos of shouted questions.
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Sunday, November 22, 2054

Chapter Thirty-Five

The rest of the press conference was…noisy. I explained that, of course there would be exceptions to the gun ownership law, but that most people would have had basic weapons training as part of their service. After they finished their active duty service, they’d be expected to have their weapon in serviceable order and available on short notice as members of the inactive reserve. Furthermore, I’d told them, I was looking into whether or not I could enact a law requiring all inactive reservist to carry their sidearm at all times. Openly.

I think too few people get irony. In the next two days, I received 172 more death threats. Almost 70% said something along the lines of ‘I’ll kill you before I let you force me to carry a weapon.’ Needless to say, our search for a security firm went into high gear. There were, after all, throngs of unarmed assassins lurking.

On Thursday I came into the office early. I like getting in when things are quiet and there aren’t any distractions. Even if I just use the time to organize what I’ll be doing that day, it feels like time well spent. Unfortunately, Darrell does the same thing. We’d given up trying to beat each other in, and usually just ignored each other until the rest of the staff started showing up. On this particular morning, there were gales of childish laughter coming from Darrell’s office when I got there. I looked in to find two small, very sticky children looking up at me from the floor. They were surrounded by what had been a box of assorted doughnuts.

Darrell rounded the corner with a roll of paper towels and a damp sponge. “Yours, I take it?” I said.

“Yeah,” Darrell replied, “This morning, I’m thinking of trading them in for a dog, though.” He went on to introduce me to his daughter Glennis, 3, and Darrell, Jr., 5, while starting to clean up the kids and his office.

I said that I didn’t even know he was married. He told me about how his wife had been killed in a car accident 2 years earlier. His mother and mother-in-law usually took turns caring for the kids during the day, but something had come up and he’d decided to just bring the kids to work with him that day. I made a mental note to have Nicki find out how many of the staff had kids in day care and to look into setting up one nearby if it seemed like there was a need. I’ve found that parents who get to see their kids every now and then, tend to be happier employees.

Darrell reminded me I was supposed to meet with a possible security firm later that morning. While looking at various companies, he’d discovered that someone he’d known in the Marines had retired a year earlier and was now heading up a company called HSLD Security Associates that had an excellent reputation in personal security. I told him it was on my agenda and made my way to the break room for a cup of coffee.

I settled into my office and did busywork for about 45 minutes and then started marking up a speech I was scheduled to give the following night. This one was going to be at a Jewish Community Center in Chicago and Adelaide, of course, wanted me to work Israel into the speech. I’m a big supporter of Israel, but I think they’ve missed a few opportunities in the past. I was trying to figure out how to not completely piss off every fellow Jew in the country while saying that Israel, too, might need to make some sacrifices if the violence there was ever going to come to an end. Adelaide wasn’t going to be happy if the first Jewish candidate for President came out and lost the Jewish vote this early in the campaign.

At 9:30, with the office in full swing, Darrell knocked on my door. He came in and was followed by a fairly small wiry man he introduced as Chief Warrant Officer Gil Shefflin, (ret.). Shefflin looked like he’d just forgotten to put his uniform on that morning as opposed to really being retired. He still had the regular Marine issue buzz cut and piercing brown eyes. He wore a crisp suit that was not off-the-rack. We shook hands and took seats around the coffee table.

I hadn’t been putting much thought into the whole idea of requiring protection. I guess I’d avoided thinking about it. Guess I couldn’t do that any more. Hey, we all live with the possibility of random violence happening anywhere or anytime. But that’s random. You can’t do anything about it. You can’t predict it. All you can do is try to pay attention to your surroundings more often than walking around with your head in the clouds. But, now, there were people out there who had a personal beef with me. This was not a happy thought.

At first, Shefflin tried to hand me a brochure and his resume, but I asked him to just tell me about himself for a start. He related his military history. 28 years in the Marine Corps, 15 as a Chief Warrant. He’d been spotted for a number of specialties, but had spent his last few years as an expert in Embassy Security. He was tapped 5 times to go in and deal with Embassies that for one reason or another, were suddenly high profile and high risk. He spent his last year on active duty as an instructor at the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group.

He went on to tell me, “We’ve assembled a fine team of operatives and we can tailor your teams to your needs once they’ve been determined. Most of our operatives are ex-military with some out of other government agencies. There’s not a man or woman at HSLD who hasn’t had extensive weapons training and frontline experience. Most have counterterrorism training and experience. In some job slots, we’ve got Intel specialists. Every person working for me has had, at one time or another a ‘Secret’ clearance and most had higher levels of clearance. And I’d be personally heading up your teams.”

I tried to digest this for a moment and I noticed that although Shefflin kept eye contact, there was something that he wasn’t saying.

I said, “You don’t like me very much, do you Mr. Shefflin?”

Darrell winced. Shefflin smiled for the first time since walking in the door. “No sir, I don’t. Frankly, I think you might be the most dangerous man in the country at the moment.”

I laughed and said, “Well, at least you don’t mince words.”

Shefflin’s expression grew serious again. “Warrants aren’t paid to talk nice. They’re paid to get things done. Do you have much first hand familiarity with the military?”

“Practically none,” I said.

“Well, let me tell you a little about what a Warrant is. When you’re on a ship, everyone on the ship will go through the chain of command to the XO before they ever disturb the Captain. And even then, that person had better get to the point and have a good reason. When a Warrant has reason to talk to the Captain at 4:00 a.m. he knocks on the Captain’s door and the Captain says, ‘what can I do for you, Warrant?’ They’re not outside of the chain of command, but operate kind off to the side of it most of the time.”

He continued, “When you see a regular Officer leading an outfit, its because that outfit will be facing a normal situation, the type they all train for. When you see a unit being led by a Warrant, I can garuan-damn-tee you that you’re looking at a unit heading into shit. That’s what Warrants are trained for. They’re paid to solve problems. If they can do that by the book, fine. If not, the result is what matters. So when the Marine Corps looks for people to groom for Warrants, they look for people who thrive on the sharp end of the stick. They’re not looking for go-along-to-get-along-types.”

“So, why do you want to put all that experience to work for my benefit if you think I’m so dangerous?” I asked.

“First, its what I do. Nobody ever asked me whether or not I liked any of my superiors; they just told me to follow orders. I don’t have to like you to keep you alive and take lots of your money for doing it. Second, I don’t think you’ve got a chance in hell of getting elected, so there’s really no downside to keeping you alive.”

I laughed so hard I thought I’d choke. “Darrell, hire Warrant Shefflin and I’ll expect both of you to brief me on the arrangements once their made.” I figured Shefflin was going to do as well, if not better than anyone else could. He’d sure as hell keep me from getting too full of myself.
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