Saturday, July 4, 2009

A bit of whimsy for Independence Day

Scene: Alternative history. President Lincoln is seated at a table scribbling on a piece of paper, as the stage lights go up.

Two advisers enter.

Adviser One:
Sir, have you given any thought to the speech you have to make tomorrow?

Adviser Two:
This could be important, Sir. The war isn't polling all that well in the states that border the Rebellion. And this Gettysburg fiasco isn't helping matters any...

Lincoln (waving his hand absently at them):
Shh. I'm almost done.

The advisers wait in silence a moment.

Lincoln:
Here it is. "Fourscore and seven years ago..." (he keeps reading, but in an undertone; we're not hearing the whole speech, but there's an impression that time is passing).

The advisers yawn. One of them pulls out a pocket watch.

Lincoln (reading quickly):
"...shall not perish from this earth."

The advisers are silent for a moment.

Adviser One:
Go on, Sir.

Lincoln:
That's it. That's the end.

The advisers exchange amused glances.

Adviser Two:
Sir, that speech is, what, four minutes long?

Adviser One:
We could stretch it to five if you say "Ummm" a lot.

Adviser Two:
Okay, five, tops.

Adviser One:
Mr. President, people are coming out to hear you. They want to hear you talk to them. Reassure them about this war, promise them that you're only going to tax the rich to fund it.

Adviser Two:
They want to know the federal government cares about them. They need that, Sir. But you haven't hit any of the routine policy points here.

Adviser One:
Health care...

Adviser Two:
The economy...

Adviser One:
Your commitment to pulling the troops out of the South as soon as possible...

Adviser Two:
The negative environmental impact of the War...

Adviser One:
Your pledge to shut down research on the incandescent light bulb, even though nobody has yet made one that lasts more than a few seconds...

Adviser Two:
Banning prayer in the schools...

Lincoln (interrupting):
Now, wait a minute. I'm not for that one...

Adviser One:
It's the wave of the future, sir. Soon all thinking, intelligent people will be violently opposed to prayer in our schools. And in favor of...(he leans forward and whispers in Lincoln's ear).

Lincoln:
You have a dirty mind, young man.

Adviser Two (hastily):
That's not important right now, Sir. We need to get this speech reworked in time for you to practice it, and in time for our reflecto-scribe to write it backward so you can read its image in the mirrors we position in front of your podium.

Lincoln:
I'm still not comfortable with...

Adviser Two:
Focus groups really like it, sir. It makes your speaking come more naturally, more smoothly.

Adviser One:
You've gotten off to a good start, here, Sir, though it's a bit negative and pessimistic. I mean, we really don't want to be giving the people the idea that the Union might not endure, do we? And all this talk about the dead--kind of morbid. A downer, if you ask me.

Adviser Two:
And all this "we" stuff is way too formal. How about this: "I'm here today because I believe in our troops, and even though I didn't want this war, I'm working to negotiate a peaceful treaty with the South so that we can bring our troops home. I want that, and I know that you want that too."

Adviser One:
Oh, that's much better. And right here, instead of this "honored dead bit," Mr. President, you could say "I know that this war is having a terrible impact on all of you. Jobs are disappearing, wages are depressed, the environment is at risk, and you wonder how it will all end. But I can tell you that I am committed to making sure this country works again. I'm committed to creating new jobs. I'm committed to protecting the environment. Because you decided that I'm the man for the job, and I'm committed to showing you how right you were."

Lincoln (dubiously):
You really think that's better?

Adviser One:
Trust us, Sir. We do, and even that newfangled New York Times newspaper will think so, too. They'll probably put your speech on the front page.

Adviser Two:
Above the fold, Sir.

Lincoln:
Well, we do have to be sensitive to the new media.

Adviser One:
Exactly, Sir! Shall we get started?

The two advisers and President Lincoln sit at the table and grab paper and pens, and the lights on the stage fade out.

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