Fred Throws Hat In Ring

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I guess I’m going to run for president. Destiny calls me, like a malevolent telemarketer selling aluminum siding. The flame of civilization gutters. The trend lines all point downward. People stranger than Caligula bay at the moon and await their electoral chance. The nation yearns for Fred. I can smell it. The times are ripe for — yes — The New Frederalism.

It’s just like Nostradamus said, who I thought was a football team. We lunge from bad to worse. George’s numbers are dropping faster than a prom dress. The incumbent’s bizarre habit of collecting Moslems takes its political toll, even on a catatonic electorate fixated on the lobotomy box.

I don’t get it. Why collect Moslems? Why not Faberge Eggs instead, or early Plastic Man comics? You don’t have to bomb Plastic Man comics and they don’t shriek from minarets at odd hours. Hear that whuffwhuffwhuffling sound? That’s Hillary flapping her wings offstage. Barely offstage. If George gets a bit more gummed up in his various overseas tar babies, she’s going to run like underdone eggs. The president from La Brea will be dog meat.

You see. The country needs me. Desperately.

Whether I need the country is another question, but, well, noblesse oblige. No blesse, no bleege. No pain, no gain. Sorry. I’m getting giddy at the thought of the White House. I may run under an assumed name, though.

I’m trying to think of a campaign slogan. Help me. The heart of any presidential campaign is a bumper sticker that doesn’t use too many of the hard letters of the alphabet, like Q and Z. Something like “Timbuktu and Frederick Too,” which has rhythm without being too intelligible. Or “A Fred In Every Pot”? Been done.

Maybe, “We Have Nothing To Be Afred Of But Fred Hisself.” That works unless people think about it, a remote likelihood. What do you figure?

My advisors in moments of sobriety tell me that I need a platform. It means a list of things that you lie about planning to do — or principles that you stand for, on, or behind. For a platform you want fifty-weight insights that would slow an oil leak in a ’48 flathead. Things like, “Our children are our future.” (Though has anyone tried, “Our children are Upper Permian stem reptiles”?)

Then there’s, “I stand behind the youth of America.” Barney Frank did that, though, and it didn’t get him anywhere. Or “We have to get the country…going again.” Of course, anyone with the brains of a tent caterpillar can see that it has already gone. That’s the problem. “If elected, I’ll get the country to come back.” Not too decisive. What if it didn’t want to?

How about a simple slogan, elegant, yet evocative and to the point?

“Fred Says Shoot the Sumbitches!”

Anyway, my platform. Maybe I should be more specific. “If elected, I will spray anthrax on the teachers colleges.” Does that sing, or what? It would raise the national IQ by thirteen points. My first thought was to spray anthrax on the rest of the country, on the theory that a place that puts its young in the hands of low-normal gape-mouthed social shims merits some vile thirteenth-century disease. But then what would I be president of?

But what will I be president of anyway? This is getting tricky.

Sorry, I keep worrying about my slogan. Maybe “Elect Fred! Win Free Prizes!” Reckon?

Half the population doesn’t vote, probably because they’re on the couch, eyeballs sewn to the propaganda modem like buttons on a sock puppet. I want to inspire them, to give people an incentive to vote, something profound and rooted in the deep wells of the national psyche, something to hope and yearn for.

“Elect Fred and Get Half-Priced Burgers!”

Maybe “Fred! Better Than Ebola.” Could seem speciesist. “Filiviruses are people too”? I’m not sure “A Country Deserves What It Tolerates” has broad appeal.

I’m assembling my campaign staff. As I understand it, you need three speechwriters, a makeup artist, a gestures coach, five pollsters and a focus-group geekess. Why you need a candidate isn’t clear. With a staff like that you could elect a styrofoam pole or a park bench. Which we may have done.

The way it works is that the pollsters and focus groupers, who are the big fish on the staff, ask people, “Do you think the candidate is masculine enough, or does he need a squirt more compassion? Does he need to ratchet up the decisiveness, or does he need a wholesome admixture of flexibility? Eye of newt, or wing of bat?”

Then the gestures people and writers dial in the stats, having calculated the standard deviation and a regression to the mean. The candidate adopts a pole-axed stare: Unblinking eye-contact with a teleprompter is thought to indicate candor and forthrightness. He says Something Firm, or Something Soft, depending on the correction to his moral heading suggested by the poll’s results. Then the pollsters sally forth to again take the temperature of the electorate.

This works, even though the flickering screens, to which the electorate has its eyes in direct corneal contact, have explained for a week how the candidate is adjusting his image, like the suspension on a NASCAR rocket that’s a bit loose on the turns.

Perhaps “Vote Fred! For God’s Sake, Look at the Other Candidates.”

Actually, campaigns could be done in software. If computer graphics can make a convincing dinosaur, why not something with a simpler nervous system, as for example a president? Seriously, think about it. The survey numbers could go straight into RAM. Then you would specify the target audience for a given pitch: men, women, veterans, derelicts, parasitic minorities, illiterate teenagers, all the underpinnings of democracy.

The software would generate the best candidate for the particular demographic: For women, a vaguely gay guy with melting features that you just know wants to talk about feelings. For men under thirty, the same: People always want to vote for candidates like themselves. For older guys, rock-solid guys who smoked themselves into cancer. Marlboro Man, Humphrey Bogart. You could have sliders for sincerity, sensitivity, testosteronal vacuity.

“Fred! Good as Any, Better’n Some.” Reckon?

Perhaps a little intellectual appeal, though disguised. “Save the Prairies. Faut-il Bruler Sod?” or “Buying is Prior to Essence. Support Your Chamber of Commerce.” But I think I’m getting wacked-out with the strain of strategic planning. It isn’t easy to lead the residue of a great nation into whatever dark and twisted future it faces, flittering with bats. I’m going to the nearest bar and consult with James Beam. He understands.

(Note to paleontologists: I know, I know.)

Fred Reed [send him mail] is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well.

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