I recently read a manuscript (soon to be a book) as part of my managing editor duties at a publishing company. The book, “At Risk of Winning,” is a political thriller that takes place in the near future, about a “guy running for president.”
He’s not a conservative, liberal, Democrat or Republican and he is determined to run for office by breaking all the rules and doing it his way. He refuses to hold press conferences, do interviews or speak about any one point for longer than two minutes at a time. His campaign consists of traveling around the country to picturesque, metaphorically “American” backdrops and speaking in simple sound bites about the issues that everyone can agree with into a video camera. He never attacks his opponents, instead sticking to his pretty sound bites and his devastatingly good looks. Naturally everyone in Washington hates him and wants him dead.
Max is screwing with their game of smokescreens, finger pointing, creating fear, mistrust and enemies on the other side, as well as their rambling, confusing explanations of the issues that leave people scratching their heads and staying home on voting day. But like I said, he doesn’t care because he’s just a guy running for president.
Could Max Masterson exist in the real world, outside of the pages of fiction? How would the rabid dogs of cable media react if a candidate essentially flipped them off? How would the voters react?
Well, look at what we have now. We have it both ways — the rambling diatribes of speeches and debates juxtaposed with simplistic, media-edited sound bites that push the press agenda more than the candidate’s talking points. The media seem to know exactly who they want the public to like, and they know at exactly which point in the race they’re going to switch sides and reprogram the public to like the other guy. We are their puppets. Would it take a candidate like Max to change things, or do the American people really have the guts to take the media’s power away?
A popular campaign line in grassroots politics has always been, “I am not a politician. I am a businessman, regular person, main street guy.” Well that’s just great because if I’m electing someone to a political job position with a lot of responsibilities that affect tons of people, the last thing I want is someone who has any idea at all of how to do the job. Imagine if your surgeon walked in the operating room and said, “I’m not a doctor, I’m just a regular guy. Now, hold still while I make this incision and open up your heart.”
There has been a lot of talk about “firing all the bums in Congress” this fall. Is this mostly social media-induced rhetoric and wishful thinking on brightly painted rally signs, or are the voters actually prepared to make such a drastic change?
If we want actual change we need to change the way we think about politics, what we expect from our politicians, what we tolerate from politicians and the media, how we process it, the conversations we have with each other and how we react to being labeled by the puppet masters who are comfortable in the knowledge that nobody will ever really cut the strings.
Max and his presidential campaign are, of course, a work of fiction. This is not because of how he treats politics or runs his campaign, but because of how the voters in the book respond to him. In this America, people are ready for real change. They are eager to unplug and reprogram the political machine and most importantly, they are willing to take personal responsibility to make it happen.
It’s a nice thought, firing the bums, firing all the people who played such a pivotal role in causing the mess we’re trying to dig ourselves out of. But it will never happen without a major shift in thinking. Number one, most people don’t even vote. Number two, most of the ones who do are so entrenched in the game and so accustomed to the rules that they are fundamentally unwilling to step off the game board and look at the alternatives.
In the meantime, Max Masterson will probably be very popular among readers because, as much as they’re unwilling to step off the board, people relish the idea of making the leap – titillated at what would happen if there was REAL change in D.C. Until then, we turn to the pages of fiction and then back to cable media to await further instructions on what to think, who to vote for and why.
Christine Whitmarsh is a freelance writer in Reno. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org