His smile, a simile of sincerity, exploded as the webcast cameras’ ‘on’ lights turned red. “Good evening, America, I’m Gus Garcia, Chief Washington Correspondent, CNN News. Welcome to Atlanta, Georgia, America’s third largest city, home of the Peachtree Center and tonight’s 2024 Presidential Debate.” His brown eyes, circles of wisdom, blinked under graying temples, whitish eyebrows, over a square, handsome jaw. Garcia’s sultry voice, as deep as the Gulf of Mexico, commandeered the night. Tens of millions who were too busy with reality Tube and video games for politics finally tuned in for their first chance to see the Republican and Democratic nominees they’d only known thus far as the foil of late night comics and the baddees in over-dramatic political ads. Garcia spoke with a touch of bravado, knowing he’d sleep with his lovely mistress, barely a third of his 60 years, in a few hours.
Behind him, already sweating under the Kleig lights, the hefty Senator Sheldon’s faux grin faced out while his eyes focused on his GoogleTeleprompter glasses. Senator Smith, her hair perfect in its manicure, but like kindling from hairspray, held her prominent chin steady and her coal gray eyes looked at the crowd with the confidence always shown by the one-time Ms. Pennsylvania and more recent Chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
Polite applause, following the network’s cue cards, died away after Garcia’s inevitable lame jokes. He straightened his back at the podium. “Senator Smith, for our first question – it’s on Education. Do you anything to say about the revelation you downloaded 50 Shades from Amazon.com in 2011?”
The rarely-plussed mother of three, her hair reincarnated as blonde for the grueling campaign, smiled as she clenched her teeth. “Gus, great to see you again. The American people are sick of negative attack ads like those of Senator Sheldon. This ridiculous charge about a book, it’s not really about a book, it’s about censorship.”
She paused to clear her throat. Sen. Sheldon stifled a yawn. Smith continued, “I’d like to point out that, though people don’t remember it now, 50 Shades was a respected piece of literature that sold millions of copies.” Sen. Sheldon laughed. “This is nothing compared to what Sen. Sheldon downloaded when he was single.”
The crowd gasped. An evil witch smile cropped up between Smith’s perfect lips. “Yes, I have here, leaked from a friend in the NSA, the websites Sen. Sheldon visited in 2012. Porn, plain and simple.” The camera cut to a blushing Sen. Sheldon, who ran his index finger over his right eye.
Garcia broke in to moderate. “Speaking of Senator Sheldon, what does the senior senator from Wisconsin say to critics who say you’re a hypocrite about taxes? With the revelations that you purchased books, CDs [the crowd laughed at the antiquated technology] and even wine from online retailers. State tax records show you did not, I repeat, did not file a Colorado use tax form anytime between 2002 and 2018. You just filed 16 years of amended use tax returns. Why will voters trust you to run the IRS if you couldn’t pay your own sales taxes?”
Sen. Sheldon, stammering, said, “Yeah, but, Sen. Smith did something worse, far worse. [the crowd hushed] NSA records reveal she’s a thief! A thief! Without paying, from Napster, she violated willfully violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act! She downloaded songs by the Ramones, Creed and Billy Ocean.”
Garcia chuckled. “Billy Ocean? That’s the real crime here.” A few in the crowd guffawed like a laugh track.
Sen. Sheldon brightened as he wagged his index finger at the cameras. “It’s no joke. Theft of intellectual property is a real crime and Sen. Smith is unworthy of the presidency.”
A reddening Sen. Smith interrupted, “But the NSA records show you copied a Nicki Minaj CD – the whole thing – burned it from a copy someone lent you – and burned it to your hard drive!” Numerous chuckles and a few gasps emanated from the crowd.
Sheldon parried. “Talk about crime! NSA email records show that you, yes you, you liar- you served beer to an underage minor!”
“That was my daughter – my own 19-year old daughter!”
Sheldon’s face looked like a hunter aiming his spear at a wounded boar. “Yes, a 19-year old! Underage drinker, according to email records!”
Smith steamed. “Let’s not even get started. What’s this Facebook message to your friend, one Alan Huerta? You told him, and I quote, ‘I met one hottie lobbyist at that Ag. Committee confab’? What’s that about?”
Sheldon bubbled like a pot of tomato soup, forgotten on the stove. “The same NSA files show you downloaded evil works – Karl Marx’s Das Capital and Hitler’s Mein Kampf! America deserves better!”
“That was for my Master’s thesis! How dare you – you uneducated lout – how can you attack my education?” Cat-calls and cheers answered her from the capacity crowd.
Moderator Garcia, interrupted. “Now, now, we’re off track. Sen. Smith, it’s your turn for a question.” He paused to clear his throat. “It’s not important how I got this, but, I have here your 2012 tax return. How do you reconcile your charitable gift to an immigration group that expressed the exact opposite view of what you have now?”
Smith, with the skill of a master of Sunday morning political talkathons, deflected Garcia. “Ancient news isn’t what Americans want. The long-suffering middle class demands a candidate who looks to the future, not to the past. And the future, most certainly, does not include breaking the laws of the once great city of New York!” As the crowd gasped, Smith raised her voice. “Secret NSA records prove – prove beyond a reasonable doubt – Sen. Sheldon purchased biggie size Coca-Colas and snuck them across the Hudson River – as contraband, yes, illegal contraband, into New York City.” Several in the Atlanta crowd booed, but Smith’s line wasn’t for the handful of audience participants who worked for Coke, it was for the tens of millions watching on their cell phone internet browsers.
Sheldon answered, “Sen. Smith is deflecting! She’s trying to divert Americans from seeing the real issues! The real issue of how much money she spends on clothes! NSA credit card transaction monitoring files show her completely irresponsible ways! If she can’t be trusted to shop somewhere other than Rodeo Drive and the Champs-Ellysees, she can’t be trusted to work on America’s $29 Trillion budget deficit! The Chinese have already demanded Hawaii as collateral for additional loans! Can we afford to offer California just to appease Senator Pangloss, er, Smith’s love of Tiffany?”
Smith blurted out, “This is exactly what we’d expect from a lout like Senator Sheldon! Email records show he’s Janus-faced: one formal way for you on TV, but he’s a swearing, foul-mouthed, disgusting pig in his private emails! NSA email tracking recorded an amazing 12,459 swear words in his emails in the year 2019 alone!”
Moderator Garcia stood unperturbed. Though small beads of sweat showed on Sheldon’s forehead and tiny creases and wrinkles dug through Smith’s make-up, the CNN moderator was cool as James Dean in Antarctica. He raised his hand, as if deflecting the fight of mere children. “Senators, we’re off track again. The next question is about privacy. Do you support the proposed planting of microchips in all American minds, since we’ve suffered several major terrorist attacks in recent years?”
Smith answered, “Yes, there’s a proper balance between thought and security but we need to weigh the scales more heavily against the terrorists. Freedom is not as important.”
Sheldon clenched his fist like Malcolm X. “For once, I agree with Senator Smith. Long live security! Government monitoring and real-time thought-tracking is the only way to stop the pipe bombs!”
And that was the choice before voters in 2024 because most voters in 2013 didn’t care.