My Prescient Dream
by Sean Carman
I am peeking through a heavy curtain at the rear of a balcony overlooking a crowded public plaza. George W. Bush stands at the front of the balcony, leaning on the balustrade as if it were a podium, delivering his standard stump speech. He spouts his usual platitudes, full of strident rhetoric, homely aphorisms and bungled grammar. I listen to the speech, but I also watch the faces in the crowd. The ones I can see are confused. They whisper to each other and seem to puzzle over what Bush is saying. Part of the problem is that Bush is saying nothing more specific than that he wants to "end the bitterness in Washington" and "give everyone a tax cut, not just the 'right' people." If he were more specific, I think, he could win over this audience. He just isn't giving them anything to get fired up about.
Soon an unlikely feeling overtakes me. Despite knowing that Bush will appoint federalist Supreme Court justices who will strike down civil rights and consumer protection legislation, not to mention a woman's right to choose -- despite knowing these foreboding facts the way I know my birth date and social security number, I can't help but feel sorry for the guy. He is embarrassing himself by giving a terrible speech. He is saying nothing of substance, yet he is tripping over his words. He is losing his audience, who are beginning to titter at his malapropisms. The speech is a rhetorical disaster, only one or two miscues away from turning into an outright humiliation. The only saving grace is that Bush is apparently oblivious to his own faults as a speaker.
After Bush concludes his speech and offers his usual thanks he joins me behind the curtain to ask how I think it went. It dawns on me that I must be one of his advisers. This seems odd to me, because I thought I supported Nader, or at least Gore, and I can't remember applying for, much less receiving, a position on the Bush campaign.
I choose to study Bush rather than answer. Up close he looks different than he does on television. For one thing, the fear in his eyes is plainly visible, even palpable. His eyes dart around as he waits for my answer. He fidgets, adjusting his tie, buttoning and unbuttoning the top button on his suit jacket. He literally wrings his hands.
I grow to pity Bush. Yes, a Bush presidency would wreak havoc on the country, but look at him: he's lost and he needs help. He's terrified, in a real panic over whether he gave a good speech. And the saddest thing is that he doesn't know that his speech was inadequate. He is ready to believe that it was outstanding, if only someone will offer him that reassurance. I decide to be that someone. What can it hurt?
"You did fine," I say. "You gave a good speech."
"Really?" he asks, his voiced a mixture of hope and incredulity.
"Really," I say. "It was fine."
"You don't think it was too vague?" he asks, tentatively.
"No," I answer. "You don't want to be too specific at this point. It will only compromise your ability to govern. Remember 'no new taxes' and what a mistake that turned out to be."
"Precisely," he says, a self-satisfied transformation quickly overtaking him. "See, I knew I did a good job."
"Yes," I say, "you did."
"Thanks for being honest," he says. Then he adds: "And that thing about the no new taxes: that was right, and you didn't have to say that. Really appreciate that." He slaps my shoulder and wanders off to greet his other advisers. After a moment a woman in a red pant suit and frosted hair takes my upper arm.
"Thanks back there," she says.
"No problem," I say. "He really seemed nervous."
"He's always that way," she says, turning her head to sneak a quick sip from the drink in her free hand. "That's why we need people like you. It helps to keep him calm."
I thank her, and add something about having to get back to my job.
"OK," she says, "right now the best I can do is a cabinet post, probably Education. The others are already taken."
I tell her I don't know what she is talking about. She laughs, as if I've made some sort of joke. "Yeah," she says, "you're good. We'll be in touch."
Suddenly I am in a large ballroom, standing on a hardwood floor under a proscenium arch. Some time has passed since Bush's speech, days and perhaps weeks, but it doesn't occur to me to wonder exactly how much time it has been. There are political-types in the ballroom, women in tarty black cocktail dresses and men in dark suits and bright red and yellow ties. The only person I recognize is Dick Cheney, who trundles over to me. It occurs to me that I've never heard back from the woman in the red pant suit about my cabinet appointment. This makes me wonder if I'm still on the campaign, or if I've been let go. I decide to ask Cheney.
"So what have you heard?" I ask. "Am I still a part of this campaign, because I haven't seen the candidate in a while."
Cheney smirks. "I would think you would know that, wouldn't you?" he asks dryly, looking out of the corner of his eye.
I realize that he is playing with me, and that I've made an amateur blunder, because a real insider would not need to ask such a question.
"Of course," I say, "I was just making conversation."
Cheney wanders off to refill his punch glass, shaking his head.
It is then that I resolve to work more closely with Bush in the coming weeks. It must have been my fault I haven't seen him over these past few days or weeks or however long it's been. Of course he couldn't be avoiding me. I resolve to be more available to Bush, for reassurance or advice, whichever it is he happens to need.
I further rationalize my decision to take an active role in the campaign. Sure, Bush's policies would destroy the nation, shredding its delicately woven fabric. I can see that on the issues Bush is a disaster. But he is a nice guy, and he needs my help. I mean, he really wanted to give a good speech that one time, on the balcony, and he sought me out for reassurance. And I was there for him. All Bush needs, I tell myself, is a little more confidence, a stronger facility with the language, and a better education on the issues.
"We can win this thing," I say, out loud, to no one in particular. My statement sounds more like a revelation than a promise or a mere statement of opinion. It has the ring of truth. The nearby men and women turn in my direction, and smile and nod at what I've just said. They raise their glasses. I wake up in a cold sweat, struggling to free my left arm from beneath my heavy comforter.
About the author:
Sean Carman lives in Seattle, and he really did have this dream.