“America is on the brink!” the Impossibly Talented Orator thundered at the podium. “Only the most extreme measures shall save her!” A lock of his hair, slightly dampened with manly sweat, fell rakishly across one eye. Several women in the audience fainted from excitement. Not a Teleprompter was in sight. The Impossibly Talented Orator looked directly into the souls of every single person in the million-strong audience. “Damn the Democrats and their communist puppetmasters! Rise up for freedom! Rise up for success! Rise up——”
“Willard, your smile is fading a bit,” said his wife Ann, interrupting his reverie. “You know a scowl is not acceptable. You promised to keep a friendly smile pasted on your face for the entire campaign. Now keep waving at those middle-class voters.”
Momentarily confused, Willard Mitty raised his arm and waved at the farmers and unemployed coal miners gathered outside the ’50s-era diner hosting that morning’s photo op. A gentle elbow from Ann jolted him back to the task at hand. He looked at his watch — 10:17. Two minutes behind schedule. Willard ate a corn dog and grinned and shook hands with Likely Registered Voters, and then delivered some prepared remarks to the press pool: “When 18.2% of businesses in southern Ohio have trouble completing the paperwork required under section 47a of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, it leads to a reduction of manufacturing output as much as 29.5%….”
Mitty finally exhaled as he entered the campaign bus. “We’ve got an 11:30 at the state fair,” said the Assistant Campaign Manager. “I’ll debrief you on the way.” Mitty sighed and gazed out the window at the passing corn fields as the debriefing droned on in the background.
“Captain Mittington! The dastardly Brits have hoisted the mizzen-mast,” cried the bos’n’s mate. “There’s no stopping them now!” The Captain peered through the fog of war with his trusty spyglass. He noticed what not even the Brits had realized: the Westerlies had stalled and the English fleet was now in the Doldrums. “All men topside!” cried Captain Mittington. “We’re boarding them a-port come hell or high water!”
The Captain swung onto the British deck and landed just as a cannonball broke his rope. Sparks flew from his blade as he repelled the lunges of several limey swordsmen. “Never shall overly taxed tea touch American shores!” the Captain yelled. With two swift strokes of his cutlass he sliced the moorings which held the cargo of tea on deck. “To the sea! To the sea with your accursed tea!” ——
“The Bipartisan Protocol needs another revision by the Compromise Committee,” interrupted Willard’s Ombudsman of Moderation. “I’ve faxed the Mutually Agreed-Upon Points of Reasonableness to your pager.” Mitty looked up, startled. The Compromise Committee? Yes, now he remembered: He agreed to co-chair it at the last Moderate Conference.
“I’m quite sure that the Points of Reasonableness are, well, reasonable,” Mitty said. “Are we at the county fair yet?”
His campaign aides looked at each other nervously. After an awkward silence, one cleared his throat and spoke up. “Willard, the county fair appearance wrapped up 45 minutes ago. Your joke went over great.”
“You know, the one where you say, ‘Why did the chicken only partly cross the carnival midway? Because he wanted to stay in the middle of the road — just like all of you, and me as well!’ It took the Noncontroversial Joke Team three days to come up with that zinger!”
Mitty barely remembered saying the joke and the wild applause from average people it elicited. He must have been going through the motions, as his mind seemed to be elsewhere at the time. But where? What was he thinking? The voices around him faded as he gazed inward.
“Vilard Mitté at your service,” the dashing recruit saluted at the French Legionnaire fort in the Sahara Desert. Glowing ash crumbled from the Gitane cigarette dangling off his chapped lips. “I have marched five hundred kilometres through ze burning sands to relieve your position.”
The Commandant eyed him with disgust and disbelief. “Just vous and no one else? I snort with derision! We are surrounded by Saracens and savage desert nomads who desire death more than we desire life. How can one grizzled but handsome world-weary adventurer save us?”
“How? How?” laughed the dashing Vilard Mitté through his five-o’clock shadow. “Avec le intestinal fortitude, mon commandant!”
Vilard peered over the ramparts. Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl. Two riders were approaching — the wind began to howl. Through the billowing sandstorm he could see hundreds, no thousands of scimitar-wielding Saracens encircling the fort. “Surrender, infidels,” their leader cried. “The time of the Caliphate is at hand!”
Vilard Mitté stood up on the highest turret and challenged the hordes. “I spit on your moon-god! You are not martyrs — you are women! The juggernaut of classical liberalism will crush you like cockroaches!”
Enraged, the Saracens and savage nomads rose and charged the fort in a single mass of flesh. The French troops behind the walls wailed and scattered. The Commandant bellowed, “You fool! What have you done? You went out of your way to anger them; now we must appease or die!”
“Bwa-ha-ha!” laughed Mitté. “You do not yet comprehend. This is all part of my plan — to lure them into a premature attack. To the Gatling guns!” ——
“In the preparations for the foreign policy debate,” continued Mitty’s Strategy Coach, “should we emphasize your ability to cooperate with our allies, or your skill at avoiding conflict by accommodating demands from foes? Public opinion is now trending against having troops overseas.”
Willard Mitty looked at him aghast. His patented unending smile fading to a steely gaze. After a frozen half-minute, he spoke.
“There is no more Willard Mitty. From now on, call me Mitt.”
Sideways glances ricocheted around the astonished campaign bus. At first, a giggle, then a snicker, and then everyone broke out into uproarious laughter. “Good one, Mitty! Whew! You had us convinced for a second. Now onto these latest polls….”
[Apologies to James Thurber.]
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