February 14, 2008
There are few career boosters like serving as a speech writer for a successful candidate. Look at how the likes of David Frum, Michael Gerson, Peggy Noonan and Pat Buchanan prospered after their associations with presidents. I’ve a friend who spent what he still calls “ the worst months of my life” working in the rhetoric sweatshop of the GW Bush White House”in order to burnish his credentials for future jobs. It worked like a charm, and I’m happy to report he can now support his burgeoning family in style.
Now, I’m not married yet, but I hope to be soon, and I do have two hungry beagles to feed. It’s true that my last stint in actual politics, serving as press secretary to Louisiana governor candidate Mike Foster, didn’t go quite as planned. You see, instead of poring over the writings of Woodrow Wilson (Michael Gerson), Abraham Lincoln (Peggy Noonan), Wilhelm Ropke (Pat Buchanan) or Machiavelli (David Frum), I steeped myself during the Foster campaign in the novels of Robert Penn Warren. Indeed, like the fictional Jack Burden of All the King’s Men (who served Willie Stark, Warren’s stand-in for Huey Long) I was in graduate school at the time. I was tickled by the similarities between our situations: each a broken-down journalist living in Baton Rouge procrastinating on a dissertation, each working for a populist candidate facing down corrupt elites…. So I spent the time between writing press releases or answering calls lying on the couch drinking bourbon and re-reading All the King’s Men. And I’m afraid my sources of inspiration had their effects. When the first call came for me to write a speech for candidate Foster, the occasion was an address he was to give to the New Orleans Jewish community. I saw this as an opportunity to vaunt my rhetorical gifts, and”head still stuffed with Warren’s language”I sat down to write a speech worthy of Willie Stark. I dove head-first into Old Testament metaphors, invoked the names of (and freely quoted from) Hebrew prophets from Micah to Jeremiah, and even employed somewhere, somehow, the metaphor of a Pillar of Fire leading people through the desert to a land of milk and honey….
Oddly enough, the speech was never delivered. I did hear back from the head of the campaign, who thanked me for giving everyone “something to read out loud every time things go South and we need a good laugh. The candidate damn-near pissed his pants.” Thus ended my access to the water closets of power.
But now I’d like to give it another shot. It’s true that I haven’t been the most steadfast supporter of Senator McCain. I may, in offhand moments, have averred that he’s a unstable, jingoistic crank, who if elected should not be trusted with the country’s nuclear codes. I may even have suggested something about creating a “rubber button” which he could push whenever the mood for global annihilation came upon him, and a “hotline” phone which was connected not to Moscow or Beijing but to Peter Ustinov, who would render whatever accent was appropriate, and talk in soothing tones to President McCain until he calmed down. I may have said such things. Or I may not. To quote Scooter Libby: I do not recall.
My past is, as they say, history—and hence of no significance. Now that Rep. Paul has announced he won’t make a third party run, and with the approach of tax season, I am done with Quixotic causes, and have embraced my inner Sancho. I know now who in Republican circles will be dispensing the jamon and sangria, and would like to earn my portion. So in the spirit of Stephen Colbert’s (alas, rejected) appeal to President Bush to hire him as press secretary, I would like to offer the presumptive Republican nominee my services as a speechwriter. He will need some effective rhetoric, running as perhaps the Oldest, Scariest White Man in America against a slightly tanned John F. Kennedy: (“As a first-term, junior senator I bring with me to policy questions the disinterested objectivity that comes with near-total ignorance. But I am more than a pretty face, my fellow Americans. I am not just the son of a polygamous son-of-a-bitch whom I’m obsessed with and a loyal, long-suffering mother I ignore. I am also a member of a victim group which has never before had a president of its own, with a long list of real grievances and millions of members who will turn out and vote as their pastors tell them”early and often.”)
Facing the electoral equivalent of Denzel Washington, Senator McCain will have a hard time distinguishing himself from Rutger Hauer”and we all know who turns out to be the villain in that movie, and ends up hanging from his heels by page 119 of the script.
I think I can help the senator avoid this fate, by adding my own brand of organic biofuel (piled high and deep) to the tank of his Straight Talk Express. So here’s my proposed Convention Speech for candidate McCain to deliver, once all the balloons have dropped:
My fellow Americans, this campaign has been long, expensive, and confusing. You have heard a wide variety of messages from my opponents. Indeed, some of them have delivered multiple messages, depending on their audience. You have heard from Governor Romney that what America needs is someone with solid business sense, with the hard-headed realism needed to reopen dozens of shuttered auto factories and staff them with union members to produce enormous SUVs in Michigan. Mayor Giuliani argued, with some cogency, that what we require is a president who’s ready to live every day of the year as if it were September 11. Senator Thompson honored America’s seniors, by offering to retire even before he was elected. Governor Huckabee promised to further equality in America by funding our government through a sales tax and scratch-off Lotto tickets. And Congressman Ron Paul…. (Here just cackle hysterically, pounding on the lectern in a vain effort to control the hilarity, as the convention crowds joins in with the Fox News laughtrack, for a full 10 seconds.)
But seriously…. I would like to thank my colleagues for their ideas, and promise them that I will take them fully into account”and reach out with open arms to work alongside their erstwhile supporters in my administration. I don’t believe in hard feelings, or the kind of slow, relentless retribution that ends careers and drives men to take their own lives. (Smile broadly here, and try not to look like a hungry bobcat.)
I’ve made my name in two national campaigns by offering Americans Straight Talk. I’ve won a grudging respect from liberal journalists who spent the Vietnam years in Toronto broadcasting agitprop for Pacifica, by looking them straight in the face, and telling them what I think of them”then waiting to see what they had to say in response. A good long stare, no blinking, works wonders with those veal calves NPR and ABC send to cover me. They usually mutter some kind of apology, and scrawl something on their pads. And that’s how I break through the liberal media bias. I call that look my “Christopher Walken.” (Here point out Walken in the audience, and give him a friendly wave.) Hi Chris, thanks for coming. Loved you in The Deer Hunter.
And now it’s time for me to turn that look upon America as a whole, to offer my fellow countrymen and women the same unblinking gaze. (Offer America a long, unblinking gaze. At least 7 seconds.) Unlike my distinguished opponent, Senator Obama, I don’t view our future through a hazy, rosy patina of false “hope.” Others may try to pander to you, suggesting that we will someday live through another long and lazy period of “peace” and “prosperity.” But I’m not fooled, and neither is America.
Most of us remember decades that seem to fit that description: the 1990s, the 1950s. (Some of the Florida delegation may even recall the 1920s.) Those were fat times, flabby times, times when we dabbled at attaining “Nirvana” tickets, or gyrated our hips with Chubby Checker. All the while, America’s enemies grew stronger. They watched us, through narrow, brown little eyes from Baghdad or Hanoi. They honed their national wills according to their stern and self-sacrificing creeds, while we engaged in literary experiments, and sipped imported wines from France. And then, when the hour came, they struck.
They struck hard, struck true, and nearly struck us to the heart. Those men”who learned to scorn the individualistic cult of pleasure which has sapped America’s vital national fluids”nearly destroyed us, in battles like the Gulf of Tonkin. When Iraqi agents organized that bombing in Oklahoma City, when they struck again in New York and Washington on September 11, they brought America to the brink of national destruction. It was only the courage and cold-eyed focus of the few, the stern elites who’d held themselves to a Bushido standard of excellence, who preserved America’s freedom from the Viet Cong and the Ba’athists”or before that, who threw back the legions of Austria-Hungary that menaced us in 1917. Who remembers that threat today? Historians will even deny that some of these dangers were real. You know what I say to those “historians”? Tell it to the veterans! (Pause for raucous, orchestrated chanting). Tell it to this veteran, buddy. And you know what I’ll tell you? The directions to the nearest international airport, because America doesn’t need your brand of sabotage. Go sell it in Belgium! (Pause for sustained anti-Belgian demonstration.)
I’m not here to tell you that we’re bringing home any of our troops. In fact, if it were up to me, I would station a million Americans in Iraq, and leave them there for a million years. If that’s how long it takes to straighten up our national spine, to pull our banners from the mire and hold our heads high before God and our fellow man, then I say, so mote it be! (Pause as audience puzzles out Merlin reference, then cheers wildly.) Because the war in Iraq is not about taking the shattered pieces of a godforsaken Middle Eastern hellhole and reassembling them in some kind of rational order. That’s never going to happen, and even if it did”who really cares? No, it’s about something much more important than the whole Arabic world and all its despotisms from Indonesia to Iran. It’s about remaking America. Our goal in all of our foreign wars”and this won’t be the last one, I promise you that (pause for cheers)“is to impose on a nation grown addled by distractions a new sense of self-discipline, order, structure, sacrifice and unit cohesion.
(Switch to kinder, gentler tone.)
And a lot of that starts at home. With you and me, with the parents and families of America. While it’s easy to blame the problems that we face on the numberless enemies who surround us on every front, that really isn’t fair. In fact, it smacks of a certain xenophobia which has no place in my campaign. No, my friends, as a fish rots from the head, America’s gangrenous sore spot is its heart. Too many of us have had no heart for the struggle we face, for the Long War we must wage”and will wage”on a dozen fronts, for an indefinite period, for objectives which in a McCain administration will remain (and this I promise you) entirely classified. (Pause for applause)
We must take back this vital patriotic organ, rip out the bleeding hearts which feebly beat in too many American breasts and replace them with stern, unbending hearts of granite. But we have to begin this process, which my Christian faith calls “the conversion of hearts,” with the young people. I can see them now, in the playgrounds where they cavort each day, and the schoolyards where they blink in vain, striving to make out eagles against the setting sun. So it is in those hatching grounds of America’s youth that I have planned the first offensive of my administration’s five-year-plan. To those often-chaotic and frivolous stomping grounds I will bring a new energy and purpose”in the form of daily mandatory calisthenics, led by instructors provided from local military units, with festive folk music appropriate to America’s various provinces. To America’s parents I promise: One hour a day, just a single hour per day, seven days a week, of these rigorous and patriotic aerobics, will transform your children. I’ve seen it happen with raw recruits myself. I know the look in a private’s eyes as he learns to connect with his very own drill sergeant. And it’s a look I hope to bring to the eyes of every American youth”black or white, male or female, regardless of national origin. (Pause for cheers. Camera should pan to family groups in audience.)
Nor can we allow the cult of materialism to set up its false gods before us, as too often happens in a nation addicted to “prosperity.” (Give long, contemptuous look.) The bean-counters in our party have been telling us for years that we cannot afford the price of national greatness, that we must settle for a slow and shabby decline”like our valued British allies, God help them. (Pause, as audience registers confusion.) But I am here to tell you that we will not be dragged down by these petty accountants and budgetary wonks. We are a people on a mission, and we will not count the costs. Not before we begin these missions, or during them, or after. We will move with confidence, with forcefulness, and on a massive scale, and leave it to the saboteurs and the wreckers to carp that America is too weak and wasted, that we don’t have the oil, or the manpower, or the manufacturing base, or the tax receipts, or the service economy, or the birthrate, to sustain the efforts required to rebuild our national morale. Really, our national morality”those two words are almost the same, and if you think that’s an accident… you might just be in the wrong country, pal.
So I say to you, again, in plain words, that no one may mistake me: We will go forth boldly, with funds we do not have, and forces we cannot count on, into missions I will not disclose, in countries of which you’ve never heard, seeking enemies that have not threatened us”and we will do so without regret, recrimination, or reflection. (Those are three “Rs” your kids won’t be learning in the new McCain National Curriculum”but more about that another time.) We will face down our future of blood, sweat, tears, and toil with the courage that comes from a mighty, inchoate and inscrutable national faith”a faith reinforced at every turn by patriotic members of the media, echoed in our patriotic churches, and instilled through careful repetition in America’s public schools. Do you hear that, teacher’s unions? Not your public schools”America’s. (Pause for anti-teacher demonstration.)
We will fill the ranks of these Armies of Our Future with strong backs and brave hearts drawn from the four corners of the earth”although principally from our historic allies to the South. While some crabbed and selfish Americans, motivated by a fear of diversity, may cavil at opening our borders to these hard-working, diligent, typically docile people, I say that we must move beyond such bigoted views. Just as no true American would wish to sabotage our nation’s oil supply, no real patriot would interfere with our supply of fresh blood, sweat, and seed coursing upward from the South. These strong arms, and fertile wombs, are irreplaceable resources in the struggle that we face, and I for one will not allow the backward looking xenophobes among us to sabotage our fatherland. Will you? No way, Jose! (Pause as crowd chants “No Way, Jose!” under the impression that this implies anti-immigration sentiment.) We’re going to accept any immigrant who’s willing to fight our battles, trim our topiaries, butcher our cattle, build our homes or tend our children a little more cheaply than the Market might otherwise allow”and the money we save, that you and I, that America saves”will go back into the struggle. Think of it as a Victory Bond. Store it up, and imagine America’s future. I know I have.
Many statesmen over the years have shared with citizens their aspirations for the future. Others have tendered their dreams. But”and I hope this doesn’t sound too self-aggrandizing”I think that what I offer America goes just a little further than that. Because, my fellow Americans, I too see visions. In fact, I hear voices. Those visions gleam, and sputter, and burn before my eyes, and those voices call to me. I will treasure these visions deep within my heart, and ask you to trust me that they are happy visions. Friendly voices. Long vistas of marble, draped with our nation’s flag. Choruses of gratitude for sacrifice unstinted. Americans of the future, lean, stern and unbending”a few, a happy few. The few and the proud. The Spartans we hope to spawn. Thank you very much, and may God bless America.