From The Vassals Handbook – Lesson fifteen – first you ignore them
A small groups gathering. A patio. A milling of positions.
She shook my hand with her hand, soft and full. Today I met the first family. The first lady seemed always about to go grocery shopping. I looked around for grocery carts, I heard them banging in my head, I half expected to trip into one. The first lady smiled and tried hard to smile and tried to work up to smiling, primary task, necessary habit. Mostly successful. The pressures of a woman, this woman. Wearied and wearying almost; we got along.
The President was another matter. Not that we did not get along, far from it. We moved well in face of one another. You can feel the power gush from, around, in, and through him. The power pulses in, around, and through, and to you, and past and back, and to all those surround. Power is that extra energy in the air you can touch as it works on and about and you see it work on others. It works on people. It worked on us. Who were we talking to, each other? Superficially. Meaningfully. We were talking to power. I mean you can see it and feel it. To miss that was to be talking to the moon.
You never forgot for a moment that the President was there, the supreme individual of the Incorporated Estates of Earth.
I felt for the first lady. She seemed to have a hard time of it, I mean, getting on, even as she got on, famously, as she ought. She soldiered about as if in quick hitting daze of clairvoyance, as if looking for spontaneity everywhere and wondering that it was not to be found, even though almost it was. She stared as if into a mirror at herself and pretended not to, convincingly enough, as if she were the stage itself and nowhere upon it.
The President got along with everyone, as if he wanted to. I found this odd, him odd, which is no matter. I’m not the president and could never be. I am too opinionated. Too impatient. Too blunt, in my own mind if no way else.
The topic the President wished to discuss: the rebel insurgency deep in the heart of the Incorporated Estates of Earth.
Typically we ignore the rebels, the best strategy: First you ignore them, then you blast them, then you agree with them if need be – or plausibly pretend to agree – what cost a bit of rhetoric? – then you win. Again.
What I found most distressing and yet daunting and daring about the President is that he does not seem interested in winning. He assumes it. He is a winner. He wins. He gets along with everyone, not least those who fund him into power. This strikes me as terribly indiscriminate. He is willing to get along with anyone, even the rebels so long as playing nice does not cost him his job, or his funders – the banks and the incorporated estates, the class of the IEE – their power.
So the President plays nice and wins and called me in to deal with the rebels. He tells me it is my job to play nice with the rebels. Not in so many words, but I get it. He wants me to give the rebels the velvet glove covering the iron fist, via the brilliant tongue. He wants me to cut the rebels to size as if making love to them with a rock. First you ignore them, then you blast them, then you pretend to agree with them (if need be), then you win. “Do you understand?”
“I understand, sir.”
“The rebels are IEEans like us. Only poorer, or disenchanted, or just cantankerous. We need them to love the IEE. They need to love the IEE. For their own good. For our own good. For the good. You see?”
“I think I know exactly what you mean, sir.”
“I need a speech. Soon. I plan to address the rebels personally, visit their camp. I need real face-to-face words. Words that go beyond the teleprompter. Words that are easy to memorize. Easy to take deep into the heart. From my heart to their heart? Can you write that for me? I know you can. Yes, you can.”
“You write it now for me, sir. You have a knack, that gift. You touch their hearts. You solace the vassals of the IEE.”
“Maybe – and this is only a suggestion – maybe go easy on the vassals part. Of course they are vassals, they know they are vassals, deep in their hearts, they know, and it must resonate for them somewhere. Somehow. But let us not mention it, this time. Maybe give it a pass. Maybe find a new route. Go a new bend. Fork differently. Take anew the bridge to hope and to change and to the path best travelled. You see what I have in mind.”
“Poetry, sire. Excuse me – sir, of course. Pure poetry. You have it within you, and I am more than grateful that you trust me to help you draw it out. The heart. The healing touch. We, as one, all together. We overcome our differences for our common good. That is the IEE way. Yes, we can. We must. We will. We shall overcome. Something of the sort?”
“Perfect, exactly. You read minds. I knew you could do it. I can’t wait to read my speech.”
“If I may say, sire, I mean, sir, I like to imagine I am a maker a minds, a shaper, a bard at the head of the band. A wizard of wordcraft almost.”
“Or is it woodcutter?” said the President with great acuity. “The people will respond to a woodcutter of words, a worker of words. They would prefer a delivery of angels. But I will do my best.”
“You do indeed, sire. Of course you are right. I will labor as a woodcutter of words. I am even a little in love with saws. Of the mind. I will cut some wood right away, the words that befit you and the rebels well. We will get through to them.”
“I wouldn’t go that far, Stan. You know the best we can hope for is a good photo op and a few applause lines. That is tonic enough.” Someone cupped my elbow. A dark-suited man.
“Thanks for the thoughts,” said the President. Stan? Did he mention my name?
“Of course, sire.”
I withdrew past the first lady and her ever budding all but all over smile. Her reserve full of laughter, the men and women mulling in position.
The whole event a tonic. The President knew. My head – delight. Was I surprised? He knew. He knew. He knew. The President would know just what to say. He handled himself like no man I had ever met. He was the President, and I, I almost felt like his boss – putting words in his mouth. O! God! No! Yes!
Such is power.
What matters is what you do with it.
I had a speech to write, the rebels to conquer.