What politicians say has always been what’s drawn me to politics in general. Really, where else do you hear the most idiotic statements anyone can make? You know, like when Former President Bill Clinton said, “African Americans watch the same news at night that ordinary Americans do,” or when Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said, “Just because a couple people on the Supreme Court declare something to be ‘constitutional’ does not make it so.” And don’t get me started on Sarah Palin, God bless her sweet Wasilla soul.
Politics; it’s never boring and that’s why I love it.
So when I had an opportunity to be a scheduling coordinator to Texas Senator Clifford Kist’s re-election campaign – managing his personal and campaign schedule – you know I had to go for it. Coming into this meeting, I was told to do nothing more than sit and shut up, but there’s still an air of excitement for me even if I’m likely to be invisible the whole time.
Kist has a tough battle in the upcoming November election, squaring off against hotshot Democrat Roger Fitzgerald, who seems to have developed quite a following, probably because his stances lean more Republican than Democrat. But that’s not what makes this an especially tough battle. Our main problem – Senator Kist’s main problem, that is – has been this new image he has, one of him being the most pretentious male chauvinist liars imaginable. Actually, this image was pretty much painted on him by the Fitzgerald campaign. They’re positioning themselves as respectable blood to what they call Kist’s steady coagulation.
Okay, so Kist is 73 years old and his gray hair has gray hair, but he’s still a nice guy. He still looks upon everyone with those famous baby blues that helped him get elected to his Senate seat almost fifty years ago. And sure, while my parents were still about twenty years away from meeting each other when he threw his first election party, I still have quite a fondness for the man.
“You know I love you, Cliff,” I hear, stepping into Kist’s office, “but you’re really making things so difficult for me.” Knowing what exactly that statement from Kist’s longtime friend and current communications head, Herman Knox, is referring to, I honestly can’t wait to hear the response from Kist. And considering that Knox’s job is to shape the message of the Kist campaign for the media and voters, I’m betting he’s looking forward to hearing an answer too.
Kist points a stern finger at Knox. “Don’t you dare put this on me, Herm.”
“I just need you to see that we have a real problem on our hands,” Knox says, trying not to spill his coffee over the expensive area rug in Kist’s office. It’s a lovely office: expensive mahogany desk, expensive brown leather desk chair with built-in seat warmer, expensive tan couch with white felt throw pillows, expensive silk curtains… and did I mention the expensive area rug? The rug our forty-ish Knox is so nervous about spilling his coffee on that he’s cradling his Longhorns mug with his blue checkered tie?
“The problem is Fitzgerald and his goddamn dirty mudslinging campaign!” Kist yells.
“Clifford,” Molly Turney, Kist’s newest field advisor, says in her soft Southern accent, crossing her smooth, late-twenties legs as she confidently dangles a muted red tone heel from her toes, “the problem we face is not so much one of mudslinging; it’s the fact that we can’t exactly disprove the mudslinging to the voters.” She should know; it’s her job to keep her pretty brown eyes on what the voters are thinking.
With a hard sigh, Kist asks, “Why are we having so much trouble disproving these false allegations?” I really can’t say I forgive the senator for asking this question. For weeks he’s been dropping in the polls thanks to his blatant ignoring of what he thinks doesn’t need disproving. “There’s no truth to any of these attacks. Everyone knows that.”
Squinting his eyes as he clasps his hands, Astrod Derricks, Kist’s slick-haired, smooth-talking campaign manager for around thirty of Kist’s almost fifty years, says, “I believe what Ms. Turney is getting at is that we’ve been bombarded with some pretty damning evidence concerning your alleged indiscretions and you’ve only responded to those allegations with a half-hearted blow-off wave along with a Clinton-like denial that you’ve never had sexual relations with that woman.”
“Or in your case,” Knox says, trying not to offend the good Senator, “women, plural.”
Glaring at his friend with those baby blues, Kist offers another stern point at Knox. “Herm, you know you can believe me when I tell you that I have never once had sex outside of my marriage.” But given the barrage of evidence that’s come out recently, it’s no wonder why we all just sit here, staring at Kist, waiting for him to crack.
Folding his arms as he sits back in his expensive brown leather desk chair with built-in seat warmer, Kist calmly adds, “…in this country.”
“That’s new,” Derricks sighs.
Throwing her arms up, Molly exclaims, “What in the devil’s hell does that even mean?”
“It means, Ms. Turney,” Kist states, so obviously attempting to keep his cool for the lady, “that I have never once broken the bonds of my holy matrimony.”
“You’ve cheated on your wife, Clifford! It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t in this country.”
Slightly heated, Kist asks, “Do other countries recognize U.S. licenses? No. They don’t. That should include marriage licenses too.”
With a puzzled look on his face, Derricks says, “I’m pretty sure they’re recognized.”
“Look it up!” Kist exclaims. “It doesn’t count as cheating if it takes place in another country!”
“Look it up… it doesn’t count,” Knox offhandedly comments. “I’m sure we can use that in the campaign.”
“What about the scandal going around concerning your many affairs while flying between Texas and D.C.?” Derricks asks.
Waving him off, Kist answers, “Those are false allegations.”
Standing, hands on hips, Molly states, “Lisa Davis recently Tweeted some selfies of the two of you having sex last year on your private jet.”
“That…” Kist is clearly flustered, and maybe frustrated at the same time. “That was in an airplane! In the sky! We weren’t even on the country!”
“I guess that depends on what your definition of the word ‘on’ is.”
Kist offers her a blank stare as she lets out a sigh, dropping back onto the couch as Derricks intervenes. “Okay, okay, let’s just… let’s just get to how we’re going to fix this.”
“I know how to fix this,” Kist calmly states. “We sling some mud back at Fitzgerald. We get down and dirty.”
Taking a sip from his Longhorns mug, Knox replies, “We tried that.”
Derricks shakes his head. “Nothing seems to stick to the man. It’s like he’s impervious to anything we throw at him. He’s got that kind of suave charm people can’t resist.”
“We can re-launch the campaign,” Molly throws out. “Start fresh with the spin we want.”
“We do have a new campaign slogan,” Knox says. “Every promise… sealed with a Kist. Get it? Kist? K-i-s-t instead of k-i-s-s-e…”
“I get it!” Kist interrupts. Pausing to take a deep breath, he looks like he’s about to explode. “C’mon, guys! That’s the stupidest goddamn thing I’ve ever heard! It’s silly! It’s completely silly! What are you guys trying to do to me?! Sealed with a Ki… Are you kidding me?!”
Tapping on her iPad, Molly says, “Focus testing is showing a 68% favorability of the potential new slogan.”
Immediately pointing at Molly, Kist calmly says to Knox, “It’s great. I love it. Let’s go with it.”
The rest of this particular meeting is pretty much the same thing. Polls and focus groups rule the decision-making. Not a single idea goes forward unless a swath of registered voters, some undecided in their current allegiance, puts their surveyed approval on it.
And while discussing his other scandals, Kist has given me plenty of reasons to politely cover my mouth so no one would notice me laughing at him. Actually, everyone’s been too busy shaking their heads at his complete disconnection with what the rest of us call reality to notice my attempts at hiding laughter.
As Kist adjourns the meeting, we all start scampering off to do what we do best. Of course, for Senator Kist, what he does best, it now seems to me, is not being forthcoming with the entire truth. “This was a good meeting, everyone,” the Senator announces as we exit his office. “It was very productive. Now, if y’all will excuse me, I have a plane to catch.”
“I wonder what he’s going to be doing on that plane,” Knox quietly comments as Kist walks away.
“Let’s just hope she doesn’t decide to take selfies while in the act,” Molly groans.
We all do our best in our respective positions, but as the final days leading up to the election play out, it’s pretty clear that Kist will go down in history as allowing the first Democrat to be elected to represent Texans in the U.S. Senate since Lloyd Bentsen in 1970. The polls are that much out of our favor. Apparently, the people want a young, fresh face to represent them in Congress. Still, that doesn’t stop Kist from keeping his hopes up and praying for a miracle on Election Day. Who knows, maybe God stuffs ballot boxes.
The election party – excuse me, ‘election watch gathering,’ as Derricks pushes us to call it so it won’t seem like a planned victory celebration when losing is a possibility – at the fancy ballroom isn’t horrible, other than the early bustling of the various television crews fighting for space, of course. After that, though, it’s all smooth paddling.
Sure there’s not much energy coming from those attending, but Kist’s party planners at least did an amazing job spending money on great food and plenty of alcohol for anyone who wishes to not be in denial the whole night. And I’m sure the hotel employees are fine with the lack of guests flocking in for a victory party that’s not happening; less work for them since they don’t have to expand the room. Kist, of course, is nowhere to be found, not until the time comes for his concession speech…
…that he doesn’t make at any time during the night. I guess he was abstaining from the alcohol.
The next morning, however, when only the staunchest of Kist supporters remain to hear his concession speech, Kist does what a good winner does: he congratulates his opponent and thanks the crowd – or what’s left of it – for supporting him throughout all of his years serving in Washington. Judging by the number of wrinkly faces in the crowd, they probably have been supporting him for his almost fifty years.
As the crowd shuffles out and the last of the media crews pack up, we finally decide to leave the ballroom where we stayed up all night hoping for things to go our way while knowing they wouldn’t. Kist, however, is still up on stage, leaning on the podium he intended to give his victory speech from. Poor guy; he really did love his job. And he so looks like he’s gonna miss it terribly.
I hop up on-stage next to my candidate of choice to say a few consoling words. But just then, we hear a loud ruckus coming from the ballroom entrance. Busting through the doors is Roger Fitzgerald, our newly elected Senator, with a sea of media kiss-assery accompanying him. It’s a historic moment for Texas, after all; a U.S. Senate seat back under the firmly pale butt cheeks of a Democrat following such an extended hiatus. His fine, gray cowboy hat goes well with his solid navy jacket, pressed white shirt, red tie, and blue jeans accented with an oversized silver belt buckle brandishing his ‘I ♥ Texas and Texas ♥‘s Me’ campaign slogan. His studly good looks, complete with thick, brown mustache, complement a bright Texas smile that could charm the pants off of even me. If I swooned for arrogant sons of bitches, I mean.
“I hope you don’t mind, Cliff,” Fitzgerald calls out as he makes his way up on stage to meet Kist, “but I thought I oughta do the gentlemanly thing of personally shaking your hand as I congratulate you on your fine effort.”
Kist puts on his best face, matching those famous baby blues to Fitzgerald’s comforting browns as Fitzgerald makes his way up on-stage, meeting with Kist to shake hands. The two men smile big as they turn to face the flashing cameras, showing the media what it means to be good-spirited competitors.
“You ran a tough race, Cliff,” Fitzgerald proclaims with a firm grip.
Through his teeth, Kist mumbles, “Go suck a dick, Rog.”