Let's play a game and in it, you and I are high powered executives working at a marketing firm on Madison Avenue in New York. I wear $1,200 Italian suits and I send the intern back to Starbucks, three quarters of a mile away through the pouring rain if my Latte' isn't just quite right. We stand causally in the paneled board room waiting for the meeting to begin and we discuss the advantages of the new BMW over a Mercedes Benz or we complain, because the wife is nagging us to take her back to Europe again when the house in the Hamptons has just been remolded and should be good enough.
Then the boss enters and instantly, the atmosphere of the room changes. The boss looks haggard and worn down by the pressure, and from the looks of him, he's looking to take it out on some poor unfortunate who dares to swim against the tide. Attentively, we all take our seats as he put his briefcase on the table and takes out his battle orders. He looks up as if he isn't even speaking to us, but speaking to others in another realm. "Ladies, gentleman" I trust everyone had a good weekend. Our first order of business today is the Frosty sugar coated cardboard flakes account, sales are falling and we need to know why and then, we need to turn it around. Henderson, (Henderson is his favorite lickspittle from research) what have you found out about the sales decline?"
"Well sir," he begins cautiously and tentatively. If Henderson were to find even one testicle hiding somewhere in his body it would only die of loneliness. As he stood to address us, I wondered how tall he might be if he had had a spine. Besides, it perfectly acceptable to rip on imaginary co-workers, but I digress. "Sales are off by 20 percent and our market research shows that to the average consumer, Frosty sugar coated cardboard flakes taste like a Himalayan Yak has thrown up in their cereal bowl."
The boss interrupts, "Recommendations Henderson?"
"A 10 percent increase in the prime demographic television advertising budget. The addition of a carton character, "Cody the cardboard cowboy" to the box for the children's market and finally, adding one cup of bone meal per ton of flakes purchased from the rendering plant then adding a banner ad to the box, "Now Fortified with Calcium!"
"All too expensive Henderson," the boss says interrupting, "What else have you got?"
Henderson is frightened now; his face looks like he's about to get the hiccups, "We, we, we sell advertising on the back of the box to offset the costs sir. We hire an animation company to create a "Cody the Cardboard Cowboy" cartoon series. We give the series at no cost to a TV network with three of our Frosty sugar coated cardboard flakes advertisements already included. The network fills thirty minutes of air time at no cost. Frosty sugar coated cardboard flakes gets discount advertisements and best of all sir, if it fails, we can blame it on the animation company."
The boss is pleased, "Very good Henderson, now run down to the executive washroom and pee for me."
"And Henderson," the boss adds catching him going out the door, "Make some time in your schedule this afternoon, I'll need my balls polished."
Enthusiastically, Henderson exclaims, "Yes sir!"
"Now," the boss says turning back to us, "the meathead and potatoes of this meeting. Four years ago"" but he is interrupted by our unbridled raucous laughter. "Settle down," he says breaking into a smile himself. He doesn't smile much, so this is a good sign. His colon is filled with twenty years of rich foods, long nights, good whiskey and anti-depressants. Maybe we will make it through this meeting without someone being fired after all.
"Ladies, gentlemen please," he says, "Four years ago, we got our candidate elected. Running against the most unpopular President in American history it was a simple matter to find a clean sheet of paper and fill in the blanks. Voila', a reformer, the polar opposite of the hated President. Where he was pensive, our reformer was relaxed, where he was inarticulate, our reformer was articulate. Where he was seen as short tempered and mean spirited, our reformer was warm and friendly with a family straight out of central casting. But as you well know, you can't turn twenty years of marketing around on a dime. We had to make sure that our reformer faced an opponent just as grumpy and mean spirited as the President.
We took a poll and found the most unpopular candidate in the Republican Party. He was sent out on a speaking tour to frighten the party faithful. He was sent to Florida, to tell a room filled with seniors of the need to cut Social Security and despite our very best efforts our reformer could only pull dead even. So we went with the nuclear option, we found for this grumpy and mean spirited candidate the most idiotic Vice Presidential candidate in American history. Barely smarter than a cocker spaniel, she was the anchor tied to the candidates cement overshoes and ladies and gentleman it worked and it worked well!
But that was then and this is now, today four years later, our reformer is a popular as yesterday's oatmeal, what are we going to do about that! We need answers people and we need answers right now!"
I've learned, to keep my head down in these skirmishes until the artillery stopped falling but Schmidt to my right, well he's a man on his way up. That is, if he can learn to keep his mouth shut. He blurts out, "We could run the cocker spaniel woman!"
"Don't be stupid!" The boss thunders at him, "it was all we could do just trying to keep her from falling out of the bus!
Then Mary stood and she's got a good head on her shoulders, "Shouldn't we concentrate on our own candidate? Couldn't we paper over his failings and present him to the public as their champion again? A campaign where he is fighting for the people against the overwhelming might of the evil corporations. I mean, the people don't seem to notice his campaign is funded by those corporations. They don't seem to notice that he has surrounded himself with the very executives from those banks and corporations. Couldn't we try, "Hope and change again?""
I wanted to duck under the table, the bosses face got red and he began to tremble with anger. With the crop of white hair on top of his head, from the shoulders up he took on the appearance of a very angry pimple. I feared what would happen next, when through tight pursed lips he answered slowly, filled with invective, "I don't want to ever hear those words again unless you're telling me, "I hope, I have change for the bus, now that I've destroyed my career."
I felt sorry for her, but I was in the marketing business not the kamikaze business, so she was on her own here. I thought he was going to give her the axe right there and then but instead, he went to the blackboard at the far end to the boardroom and picked up a piece of chalk making a small circle on the board. Then he points at her, "You! Time out! Put your nose in that circle and thank your lucky stars I didn't make it the brown circle, the one closer to the ground!"
The herd was thinning and I knew I would soon become the object of his fury. With red beady eyes he looked at me, asking in an accusatory fashion, "Well, what about you, what have you got?"
It was now or never, so I answered, "Right now in America, the most loathsome creature out there is the investment banker. He is more despised than drug dealers, gang members and nearly despised as much as a pedophile. Now, you find yourself a banker, a really, really rich banker. You make him unapologetic about his wealth, make him flaunt it. Dress him up and make him smarmy, almost a caricature of Simon Legree and when the people ask him for his tax returns, he answers as one from America's entitled wealthy class and tells them arrogantly, "No!" He is the epitome of the one percent, he's the one percent of the one percent and I promise you, your candidate cannot lose.
I was feeling pretty confident about this time, the redness had faded from him and I could tell he was thinking about my idea. The lines of tenseness were relaxing from his face. But the boss was not the type to pass out adda boys, everyone here had to taste the lash. He pondered my idea for a minute and I could tell I had stunned him with it. Then he turned on me saying, "Alright smart guy, tell me mister know it all, since you've got all the answers in your pocket, who should be the Vice Presidential candidate?
I was pushing my luck and I knew it, but I pushed my chair away from the table in a relaxed fashion and I crossed my legs. I looked casually down at my fingernails like I was contemplating my weekly manicure and answered him as if his question were a no brainer saying, "Paul Ryan."
The boss got this strange look on his face as if he was about to fill his pants, "all right, he said, humbly this time, "what do you call this little plan of yours?"
"American democracy sir and tell Mary she can sit down now, will you?