The moderator of the Presidential debate took a quick glance at the clock in front of him before speaking. “My next question is for Mr. McClatchen,” he said. “Sir, you have taken quite a bit of heat for a comment you made earlier this week in which you said that a certain sector of American society deserved to be poor. I wonder if you would like to elaborate on this comment.”
Frank McClatchen smiled mechanically and cocked his head to the side, but not so quickly as to dislodge a single hair. “Well, Brian,” he began, “as the American people know, I come from the business world, not the world of politics, and in my world, speech is sometimes plainer. What I meant to say is that there is a certain sector of people, not large, perhaps, but people who have learned to work the social safety net system America offers unfairly to their advantage. That advantage is what they don’t deserve, and that is what I will fix when I become president. Of course nobody deserves to be poor. That came out wrong. But these people should concentrate their efforts on achieving the true American dream on their own, without never-ending handouts. If there are those who disagree with this position, then they probably should not vote for me.”
There was a smattering of applause from the audience after McClatchen finished, which he accepted with a frozen-faced grin.
Inside the control booth, the director muttered, “What a robot,” as he instructed his assistant to cut away from the close up of McClatchen.
“So you’re not going to vote for him?” the assistant asked.
“Camera three, go. I don’t vote, Alan, I just direct. Camera two… go.”
Back on the stage, McClatchen’s opponent, Governor Helen Stephens, was saying: “Brian, I’d like to respond to that, if I could. Look, we’ve all had our little moments when the words simply don’t come out right, particularly during the pressure of running a campaign. I understand that. But I’m less willing to let Mr. McClatchen off the hook, because this is simply the latest example of a pattern of disparaging the plight of the neediest Americans. The same goes for his draconian views regarding what should be done with children who have been born here within our borders to resident alien parents. It’s like his prejudice against anyone who is not born into the upper classes of American society is so ingrained that it keeps coming out in his speeches and comments, intentionally or otherwise.”
Another smattering of applause rippled through the audience.
“Mr. McClatchen, would you care to rebut that?”
“Yes, I would. I was wondering when Governor Stephens was going to start playing the race card, and finally here it is.”
There was a hush inside the auditorium, as the viewers at home were treated to a close up of the moderator wearing a puzzled expression. “I’m sorry, sir, did you say the race card?”
“Helen Stephens is a black woman who is using her race against me, accusing me of prejudice, and I’m not going to stand here and take it! You should be ashamed of yourself, Helen. The CEO of Beckel Industries is a good friend of mine, and he’s African-American, as well as a member of the upper class.”
In the booth, Alan, the assistant director, said: “What do you think, is he going to add, ‘So there,’ and stick his tongue out?”
“I think he’s starting to lose it,” the director said. “Camera two, tight on Stephens.”
Helen Stephens, her mouth hanging open, finally recovered enough to lean into the microphone and say, “Forgive me, Frank, but… what planet are you on?”
That drew a much more enthusiastic round of applause. It also represented the crest of the debate, which from then on was much more conventional, almost tentative, as though both candidates had been frightened into censoring each and every utterance before they came out.
Once it was over, a weary Governor Stephens was greeted by her campaign manager backstage. “That was gold, Helen!” the manager cried. “That was your ‘Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy’ moment! It’s probably already gone viral! Helen, are you all right?”
Shaking her head slowly, she said: “Ron, what if that man actually wins? What if he becomes President?”
For his part, Frank McClatchen raced out of the theatre and into his waiting limo, which sped him back to his campaign headquarters, where he hastened into the basement to talk with his advisor. Switching off the tiny transducer he carried in his pocket, McClatchen’s physical image shifted to its natural form: an opaque cloud with tendrils, and sixteen eyes. His advisor, who was also the Supreme Leader of his home planet, appeared in similar form on the mirror-screen. “That was a triumph,” the Leader sneered.
“My lord, there is simply so much to learn about Earth culture, and so many trigger words, that I sometimes get confused,” the candidate whined.
“When we nominated you to prepare for the invasion, we expected more.”
“It will not happen again.”
“It cannot. The survival of our race depends upon it.”
“You can rely on me, my lord. I will not fail our people.”
“More campaign promises…” muttered the Supreme Leader, switching off the connection.
Michael Mallory is the author of ten books and some 120 short stories. He lives in the Los Angeles area.