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The Immoderator

October 13, 2004
By The Plaid Adder

The events described below are entirely fictional. No actual human beings were harmed in the creation of this column. (If only the same could be said of the Bush presidency.)

On a nondescript soundstage covered with beige carpet, two men stand opposite each other, each behind his own podium. The taller man on the left is jotting down some notes on a pad. The shorter man on the right is twitching his shoulders anxiously, putting a hand up to one ear and fiddling with it as if he had an earring, which he doesn't.

Both men are white, gray-haired, and wearing conservative dark blue suits with red ties. Between them, upstage so that it faces the audience, is a third podium, behind which stands a woman in her mid-30s. She is wearing a brown suit with a discreet plaid pattern. All three podiums are decorated with a round seal which, upon closer inspection, appears to depict the head of a snake wearing an enigmatic yet mischievous smile.

PLAIDDER: Good evening, and welcome to the second-and-a-half presidential debate of the 2004 election season. I am the Plaid Adder, and I am both hosting and moderating this debate, which is of course not taking place anywhere except in my own overheated imagination. Senator Kerry, President Bush, welcome to my brain.

KERRY: Thanks for having us.

BUSH: I don't remember agreeing to this.

PLAIDDER: You didn't. Since this is a fantasy debate, it will be run according to the rules that would give us the best chance of actually discussing the real issues. There will be no time limit on responses and rebuttal and follow-up will be at my discretion. Candidates will be instantly penalized for blatantly false and/or nonresponsive answers, and opportunities for grandstanding and rote repetition of meaningless talking points will be kept to a minimum. With that in mind, there will be no opening statements, and we'll go right into the questions. The first one is for you, Senator Kerry.

KERRY looks over alertly, pen poised at the ready.

PLAIDDER: President Bush has been trying for weeks now to convince the country that you are "the most liberal member of the Senate." Is he right?

KERRY: Before I respond to that, Ms. Adder, can I get a clarification of the rules?

PLAIDDER: Sure.

KERRY: In this universe, does the word "liberal" mean what you and I think it means, or what the President thinks it means?

PLAIDDER: Why don't you explain the difference to the viewers at home?

KERRY: Your brain has viewers?

PLAIDDER: It's a wild world out here on the Internets.

KERRY: Well, as you and I understand it, being "liberal" means that you accept the current system of government, but that you would like to see everyone be able to participate in and benefit from that system on an equal basis. In other words, you don't want to change the game, but you want there to be a level playing field. Being radical means that you find the system itself inherently flawed and you want to tear the whole thing out by the roots and build a new one. If we go by that definition, then I'm liberal, whereas you are radical. You follow me so far?

PLAIDDER nods. BUSH looks off into space and lets out a bored sigh.

KERRY: Now what happened in this country during and after the 1988 election is that the Republican party managed to capture all of these terms and recreate them, so that now "conservative" means "extremist," "'moderate" means "conservative," "liberal" means "radical," and "radical" means "dangerous lunatic." So in Bush's sense of the term, no, I'm not the most "liberal" member of the Senate, by a long shot. However, if we bring "liberal" back to its pre-1988 meaning - that I want to see every inhabitant of this country treated fairly and given equal opportunity under the system we currently have - then yes, absolutely, I am liberal, but many of my colleagues are just as liberal as I am.

PLAIDDER: Thank you, Senator Kerry. Mr. President, the next question is for you.

BUSH: OK. I'm ready. I'm working hard here. Hard at work.

PLAIDDER: Mr. President, you have repeatedly said that you would have gone to war against Saddam Hussein even if you had known then that he did not have stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, that his nuclear capability had actually been declining since the onset of the U.N. inspections, and that he was not an imminent threat to the United States - despite the fact that you and even Vice President Cheney are now admitting that there is no connection between Iraq and September 11. Are there any circumstances under which you wouldn't have gone to war against Saddam Hussein following September 11?

BUSH: Saddam Hussein was a bad man. The world is better off with him out of power.

PLAIDDER: That's not an answer to the question, Mr. President.

There is a long pause while BUSH blinks rapidly.

BUSH: Could you repeat the question?

PLAIDDER: What I'm asking you is whether you were determined to attack Iraq after September 11 regardless of whether Saddam Hussein posed a real threat to the United States or not.

BUSH: Ah. OK. Gotcha. Yes, we were determined to attack Iraq after September 11. Because you see, Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction related program activities were a dire threat that could not have been contained by the U.N. inspections or any other...

There is a sharp crackling sound from the vicinity of BUSH's backside. He yelps.

BUSH: OW!! What the ding-dang...?

PLAIDDER: I'm sorry, I should have explained this. Each candidate has been fitted with a modified biofeedback device that administers a mild electric shock whenever he tells a lie. Don't worry, it's nowhere near as powerful as those remote-activated electric stun belts that are now standard equipment in many United States prisons... now where were we? Ah yes: Isn't it true that you were simply determined to go to war against Saddam Hussein because you wanted to do it, and that that you manufactured the "threat" simply to make your war politically possible?

BUSH: That is a totally false and baseless accusation...

Another sharp crackling sound, followed by another yelp.

BUSH: Sweet Jesus! All right, damn it, you know what, I wanted to prove to my daddy that I could get the sumbitch even though he couldn't, and then there was all the oil, and Uncle Dick said...

BUSH suddenly stops short and begins to argue with someone invisible.

BUSH: No, I'm not going to pull out that "liberation of the Iraqi people" crap again, I don't have a high threshold of pain...

There is another pause while KERRY and PLAIDDER watch him in amazement. Finally BUSH's anger bursts through.

BUSH: Well if you want me to say it, why don't you come out here and take the shock for it?

Pause while Bush appears to be listening to an unheard voice.

BUSH: I am not a crybaby! You listen to me, Karl...

PLAIDDER: Senator, while Mr. Hat here gets things sorted out with the boy genius, let me put the next question to you. You've always said when asked that even knowing what we do now you would have voted to give the President the authority to go to war. Can you explain that to me? Because I find it baffling.

KERRY: I'll be glad to. Mr. Rove, in collaboration with the corporate media, has created an environment in which it is considered a sign of weakness to abandon a position after you've taken it once, even if years have gone by and circumstances have changed so that your original position is no longer right, smart, or useful. He's also created an environment in which it is impossible to explain why or how the circumstances have changed since that vote was originally taken, because nobody is ever allowed to put together or convey a thought that takes more than fifteen seconds to express. Although I'm as frustrated as you by the fact that the American people are so easily put off by this "flip-flop" foolishness, I am, unlike you, a political realist, and I want to win this election.

Of course if we had been absolutely certain, when that vote was cast, that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, that vote would have come out very differently. The point is that we weren't. Since we weren't, it made sense to me to vote to give the President the authority to deal with the situation if it should turn out that the inspections weren't working and Saddam Hussein really was an imminent threat to the United States. There's no possible way that I as a member of the Senate could have known then what we know now - although the President probably did, and certainly should have.

BUSH: Look, you were looking at the same intelligence I was...

Crackle; yelp; BUSH stops talking

PLAIDDER: So, when you say you've always had the same position on the Iraq war... you're basically lying so you won't look like a flip-flopper?

KERRY: No, that is absolutely not true. Listen to me. My first priority is to protect the United States. My position has always been that we should deal with our most dangerous enemies first. That's why I voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq at a time when it looked as if Saddam Hussein could well become our most dangerous enemy. That's also why, had I been commander in chief and had that authorization, I would certainly not have involved us in a full-scale invasion of Iraq if it was clear to me, as it should have been clear to the President, that we had other more dangerous enemies who had to be dealt with first.

PLAIDDER drums her fingers on the podium while fixing KERRY with a skeptical glare. KERRY remains unperturbed. PLAIDDER turns back to BUSH, who suddenly stops fidgeting now that the cameras are on him.

PLAIDDER: This next question is for you, President Bush, and since it's you I'll make it multiple choice.

BUSH brightens up considerably.

PLAIDDER: According to most of the decent people of the world, stripping prisoners naked, dragging them around on dog leashes, setting attack dogs on them, covering them in shit, sexually assaulting them, forcing them to witness their relatives being sexually assaulted, and wiring electrodes to their genitals would qualify as: A) Torture; B) Abuse; C) The kind of harmless, all-in-good-fun hazing you could find at any fraternity initiation party.

BUSH: Oh I know this one. C!

There is another sharp crackle. BUSH leaps startled into the air, with a yelp of pain and an aggrieved expression.

BUSH: Hey! I got the right answer!

PLAIDDER: Ah, yes, we went over this before the debate began but I guess you weren't paying attention... the device you're wearing administers a shock automatically if you say something that you believe is a lie. However, there's also a manual override that allows me to administer a shock if you say something that I believe is a lie. So which is it, Mr. President, A, B, or C?

BUSH: What? That's - you mean you're just going to keep shocking me until I tell you something you've already decided is true, even if I don't think it's the right answer?

PLAIDDER: Yes.

BUSH: That's nuts!

PLAIDDER: Yes it is, isn't it? All right, since you don't like that question I'll give you another one.

BUSH eyes her suspiciously, bracing himself for the worst.

PLAIDDER: When torture is used to extract "intelligence" from a victim, the "intelligence" extracted is most likely: A) The truth; B) What the torturer wants to hear.

BUSH thinks long and hard. He is apparently getting silence over the audio channel. Finally, KERRY draws a large "B" on his notepad and holds it up so BUSH can read it. BUSH looks over, then looks back with an expression of peevish hostility.

BUSH: A.

KERRY sighs. PLAIDDER reaches for the override button.

BUSH: No - B!

PLAIDDER turns back to KERRY. BUSH, realizing he has escaped this time, begins smirking to himself and winking at imaginary supporters in the imaginary audience.

PLAIDDER: Senator Kerry: in a global economy where protectionism is no longer a viable option, the only way to truly protect American jobs and the American standard of living is to raise wages and living standards in the developing world. Discuss.

KERRY: That's an interesting proposition, Ms. Adder, and in the grand scheme of things it's probably true. If corporations weren't able to drastically lower their labor costs by moving their operations to underdeveloped nations with large populations of poor and exploitable people, it wouldn't make financial sense for them to outsource. And unlike my opponent, I do not believe that outsourcing is good for the American economy. It's good for the people who own corporations; it is not good for people who work for them.

However, I am only going to be the leader of one country for, if I'm good at it and I'm lucky, eight years. There is simply no way that in that time, with a depressed economy, an overextended military, and a divided Congress, I could possibly come close to achieving that result. I've promised no more than what I believe I can actually accomplish: to stop rewarding corporations for moving overseas, and to make sure that both the corporations and their owners pay their fair share of the tax burden.

It will also be my challenge to find ways to encourage companies to do business in the United States and to employ American citizens at decent wages. It will not be easy to do that working within the limits of the system, but that doesn't mean it's impossible.

PLAIDDER: President Bush, this question is for you: in the four years since you took office, the number of Americans living below the poverty line has skyrocketed. More Americans than ever before are out of work, working multiple part-time jobs, or working full time at a job that doesn't pay well enough to cover their basic needs. During a second term, what would you do to help these people?

BUSH: Tax cuts.

PLAIDDER waits for an elaboration. It does not materialize.

PLAIDDER: Mr. President, can you explain to me how a tax cut is supposed to benefit someone who has been laid off and therefore does not currently have an income?

BUSH: Don't have to.

PLAIDDER: Why not?

BUSH: Americans love tax cuts. You just say "tax cuts" often enough and they vote for you. That's what my daddy always told me and Karl says so too. Tax cuts give money back to the American people.

PLAIDDER: But Mr. President, wouldn't people have more money if they had better jobs? How could you possibly replace all that lost income?

BUSH: Tax cuts.

PLAIDDER: You know, Mr. Bush, taxes do pay for things people need, like Medicare and Social Security and...

BUSH: They don't need that stuff.

PLAIDDER: What?

BUSH: Pensions and health care belong to the world of yesteryear. Government shouldn't be involved in any of that. Everyone can just put their extra capital in the market and set up their own trust fund and pay their expenses out of the interest, just like I do.

PLAIDDER stares, amazed that the device hasn't shocked him yet.

PLAIDDER: Do you have any idea what life is like for people who don't make six figures?

BUSH: Sure I do!

PLAIDDER waits, incredulous, and then finally hits the override a smart tap.

BUSH: Hey!

PLAIDDER: What about the deficit?

BUSH: Doesn't matter. Tax cuts matter.

PLAIDDER: How are we supposed to pay for your giant fucking mess in Iraq?

BUSH: Tax cuts.

PLAIDDER: So essentially, we're spending money we don't have to protect freedoms the Patriot Act has already destroyed from weapons that don't exist.

BUSH: Yup.

PLAIDDER: And that's not a problem.

BUSH: Nope.

PLAIDDER hits the override.

BUSH: Lord have mercy!

PLAIDDER: Speaking of the Lord... Mr. President, you support a Constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Now this is either a shameful piece of electioneering that demonstrates a deplorable lack of respect for your gay and lesbian constituents as well as the Constitution of the United States, or proof that you are so wholly consumed by right-wing Christian ideology that you are not capable of serving a country whose citizens believe in many different religions including none at all. Which is it?

BUSH: I... how am I supposed to answer that? Either way I'm screwed!

PLAIDDER: Well, you should have thought of that before you supported the amendment.

BUSH: I - you - what kind of moderator are you?

PLAIDDER: Answer the question, Mr. President.

BUSH: I'm not going to answer the question! This isn't fair! You've had me dancing around up here like a cat on an electric range and you haven't shocked Kerry even once!

PLAIDDER: That's because he hasn't lied to me yet.

BUSH: How do you know? You just believe what he tells you because he's your guy. You're giving him all the real questions and me all the leading ones where I'm going to wind up shooting myself in the foot no matter what I do. You've already decided who's gonna win this debate and you're just trying to do enough to make it look like you're balanced when really this whole thing is totally slanted toward Kerry and I'm just here to be played for a sucker!

PLAIDDER: You're absolutely right. I haven't been fair and balanced to you at all. To make it up to you, I'm going to ask Senator Kerry to limit his rebuttal to six words or fewer. Senator Kerry?

KERRY: Welcome to my world, Mr. President.

PLAIDDER: Thank you. Senator Kerry, next question...

BUSH: Hey! I didn't get to answer my question!

PLAIDDER: Senator Kerry, your plan for the Iraq war seems to focus primarily on convincing our allies to share the burden. I understand that persuading other nations to commit more troops would help relieve our overextended military, but do you really believe that simply committing more troops to this war is going to enable us to win it?

KERRY: How are you defining "win," Ms. Adder?

PLAIDDER: Well, you can't answer that without knowing the objective...

KERRY: And the objective would be different depending on who was President, wouldn't it?

PLAIDDER looks at him as if she might be thinking about hitting the override.

KERRY: I don't know what President Bush's objective really was. I don't think anyone can at this point, it's changed so often. My objective, as I said before, is to protect the interests of the United States while doing what we can to make the rest of the world a safer, better, and more free place.

Obviously the best of all possible outcomes would be for our troops to come home leaving behind them an Iraq that was self-governed and free of terrorist violence and civil strife. Is that outcome even possible now? To tell you the truth, I don't know. So I can't really know what my objective is before I take office because I don't have access to all the necessary information. You and I don't know how bad things really are out there. All we know is that for damn sure it's worse than the President says it is.

We do have to bring the troops home. I don't believe that we can or should do it right now. I think that with responsible leadership in the White House and international cooperation, we can at least stabilize the country before we withdraw. Now since I've been in your brain I've been looking around and I know that you disagree with me violently about this. So I want to ask you a question.

PLAIDDER: All right, shoot.

KERRY: Since it matters to you so much, why are you willing to vote for me?

PLAIDDER: Because even if I have my doubts about your plan to clean up this giant fucking mess, I do trust you not to go making another giant fucking mess because of a personal vendetta or lust for oil or a thirst for global domination or whatever the hell was motivating the Chimperor over here.

BUSH: You're letting him ask his own questions now?

PLAIDDER: George, the adults are talking right now. I'll be back over to the children's table in a minute. You see, Senator, my problem is with the basic premise that it is possible to establish a democracy by occupying a country, even if you manage that occupation more competently than the Bush administration has...

BUSH: I am not incompetent!

Crackle; BUSH curses loudly

BUSH: Stop doing that! It's not fair! I've never done anything to deserve...

PLAIDDER hits the button. There is another crackle and BUSH begins to tear up.

BUSH: Just because it's your brain you've been railroading me since I came in here and you don't even care whether I'm lying or not...

PLAIDDER hits the button; BUSH wails, grits his teeth and goes on.

BUSH: ...you're just using that thing to tortu... I mean - to abuse me! It's not right!

PLAIDDER swings around on him; BUSH braces himself but there is no shock.

PLAIDDER: (quietly) No. It's not right. I'm not right. I've been treating you as if you weren't a human being with rights and feelings just because you're my enemy. I've denied you the opportunity and the ability to make your case to the public. I've framed this event so that all your responses are overdetermined and you'll never be able to persuade the audience no matter what you do or say.

BUSH looks at her, stunned. PLAIDDER's voice begins to rise.

PLAIDDER: I'm not right. I'm taking advantage of you because I've got you in my power and I'm fanatically committed to taking you down no matter how foul my methods have to get. I've manipulated everything I can manipulate and I've badgered and belittled and tormented you any way I can because I'm terrified, I'm desperate, I'm unbelievably angry, and I am ruthlessly protecting the last tiny piece of safe territory left to me like the cornered animal that you have made me.

BUSH is relieved to see that both of PLAIDDER's hands are in view and clutching the edges of the podium. KERRY appears to have noticed, with some concern, that they are shaking.

PLAIDDER: I have been treating you since you showed up here without mercy, without compassion, and without any respect for basic human dignity. I know perfectly well that even you don't deserve to be treated that way, but after four years of living under your rule I can't even remember why that's true. You've been pumping your hatred and lies and selfishness and filth into my country's veins since the century began and now I am as polluted as you are. (PLAIDDER rips the override button off the podium and brandishes it at BUSH, shouting.) I am the Swift Boat smearers, I am Fox News, I am the shifting pretext. I am pre-emptive war. I am Guantanamo. I am Abu Ghraib. I am your America, George. How do you like me?

PLAIDDER hurls the uprooted override button away from her. It falls onto the carpet. In the astonished silence that follows, BUSH's mouth falls slightly open and hangs there. KERRY watches PLAIDDER get a grip on herself, wearing an expression that is very difficult to read. When PLAIDDER turns toward KERRY the overhead lights catch her eyes and it is obvious that she has been crying.

PLAIDDER: The next question is for you, Senator Kerry.

KERRY waits for her to get her voice under control.

PLAIDDER: One of your campaign slogans is "Let America be America again." By which I assume you mean that under your presidency, we can stop being whatever it is that Bush has turned us into and recover the compassion, tolerance, and commitment to equality and justice that we've lost under his administration.

KERRY: That's correct.

PLAIDDER: Could you tell me how you plan to accomplish that? Because I would really like to get a head start if it's at all possible.

KERRY: The real work is going to be done by you, and all the people like you on both sides who will finally be able to wake up from this nightmare after November 2. What I can do, and what I promise to do, is to serve the people of this country with the respect, integrity, and dedication that they deserve, and to treat them like the people that I believe they truly want to be.

I will not start, as Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove evidently started, from the assumption that the American people are so venal, selfish, unintelligent, and depraved that they deserve nothing better than war, greed, lies, and an endless sound and light show that ultimately signifies nothing. I will govern out of my belief that the ideals on which this country was founded still live in the hearts of its citizens. My job is to create policies that will encourage and enable people like you to act on the good that is in them.

In the meantime, all I can do is try to show by example that we can be safe, we can be strong, and we can be smart without being cruel. When my tenure is over, I hope to leave behind a country where real patriotism - real love, of the country and of its people and of the world that we are part of - has taken the place of hatred. But most of that will depend on you.

PLAIDDER: Thank you, Senator.

There is a pause while she maintains eye contact with him, and BUSH antsily awaits his turn.

PLAIDDER: Mr. President, your closing statement please.

BUSH: I - how long do I have?

PLAIDDER: Take as long as you like.

BUSH: What about... the...

PLAIDDER: I cut the power to your buzzer when I pulled out the override. You have nothing to fear.

BUSH: Oh good. My fellow Americans, as you can see from tonight's debate, my opponent is a flip-flopping, ultra-liberal, appeasement-loving, troops-hating, world-hugging, snobby-nosed elite Massachusetts liberal who's out of touch with the problems of ordinary Americans. Clearly if he were elected, the terrorists would immediately begin chortling with glee and probably hit every major city in the continental United States and Pearl Harbor all at once on the morning of his inauguration.

The choice is clear: stick with the people who got you into this mess, because doing anything else would require you to confront how bad things really are and we know nobody wants to do that. And anyway, everything is fine in Iraq, and everything is fine in America, and freedom is on the march and turning the corner. Thank you and God bless America.

PLAIDDER: (gritting her teeth) Thank you both for coming. That's all from the Plaidderverse. We now return you to the real world and the actual candidates. Good luck and God help America.

The Plaid Adder's demented ravings have been delighting an equally demented online audience since 1996. More of the same can be found at the Adder's Lair.

Let's Go Blue!


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