Sunday, April 7, 2019

Kindness In The Dock

     The thrilling, senses-befuddling third installment of the “Kindness” stories has arrived…

Kindness In The Dock

     “What do you think?” Tenderfoot murmured. “Will he be re-elected?”

     “By his constituents?” Scheisskopf said. “Without a doubt. He’s the most popular man ever to emerge from Querendon. Will he be reinstalled as premier? Not bloody likely.”

     “The tenor of the country was difficult to judge,” Tenderfoot said, “before he was made prime minister. It’s a completely different complexion today. If the office were awarded by popular vote—”

     “Which it isn’t,” Scheisskopf said, “and thank God for that small blessing.”

     “—he’d probably get ninety percent of the tally.” Tenderfoot shook his head. “I can’t grasp it. Parliament is against him. The media are against him. His own party is against him. Yet he keeps winning.

     “Other autocrats have done the same,” Scheisskopf murmured.

     “Usually by mowing down their adversaries with machine-gun fire,” Tenderfoot countered. “He hasn’t done anything of that sort. The voters, may God bless the noisy little simpletons, are in love with him. They haven’t the faintest conception of their own interests.”

     Scheisskopf allowed himself a small smile. “And we do, Frank?”

     “Enough of one to fan-dance it for our constituents, at any rate,” Tenderfoot said. “He tells them the exact opposite of what they want to hear. He tells them he’s resolved on policies that will bring dislocations, privations, suffering…and they applaud! They swallow it down and clamor for more.”

     “Give the man his due,” Scheisskopf, “he also tells them that there’s a better future ahead if they’ll only be patient. He’s enough of a politician for that.”

     “And when it doesn’t arrive?” Tenderfoot countered. “It hasn’t, you know.”

     Scheisskopf shrugged. “Perhaps our sense of matters is not the one that matters most.”

     The bailiff rose. “Deputies of the Commonwealth of Erehwon, honorables all,” he boomed out, “John Whiteman, the Member from Querendon, by the will of His Grace the King and by your choice the Prime Minister of the realm, begs leave to address you.”

     The gathering rose to its feet as the premier stepped to the lectern.

     Whiteman scanned the throng for a long moment before speaking.

     “Honorable colleagues,” he said, “I am here for a solemn purpose. The time will soon be upon us to face our constituents. The majority of you have stood for re-election, as have I. If history is any indication, the great majority of you will be returned here. Though you chose me to head the administration, over the two years just past you have consistently opposed every one of my initiatives and legislative proposals, often all the way to the High Court. It is a state of affairs that has caused me to wonder whether our aspirations for our nation are truly in concert.

     “To be effective, the chief executive of our realm must be able to govern with the cooperation of the legislature. This chief executive has not had such cooperation. Rather, I have had to wheedle, to cajole, and to bargain with you all over every proposal I have ever made. It has been a wearing experience, good neither for me nor for our nation. Therefore I feel that with the election only two weeks distant, it is time to resolve whether you will have me as Prime Minister for the two years to come.”

     A muted gasp rose from the assembly.

     “What is he doing?” Scheisskopf whispered.

     “Haven’t an earthly,” Tenderfoot returned, “but somehow I doubt we’ll like it much.”

     “It is pointless,” Whiteman said, “for a nation to have a premier who cannot govern it. While that doesn’t capture our current condition in all particulars, it comes acceptably close to it. Moreover, it is debilitating for such a chief executive to know that no matter how he may struggle and strive, he cannot command majority support for his policies from the legislature. Therefore I rise today to call for a vote of no confidence in His Majesty’s government, of which I am the head. Let the proposition be put to you as we are gathered today: Shall the Whiteman government continue on for a second term, with John Whiteman at its head?” He smiled. “I call the question.”

     “This makes no sense!” a member from the capital district shouted. “The election could turn you out no matter what we might say!”

     Whiteman nodded. “Indeed it could, and it might. But if my surmises prove accurate, you, my fellow members, will remain near to uniformly in your seats. If so, we may neglect the possibility of an electoral reversal. Besides,” he purred into the microphone. “ought we not to give our voters a sense for what their government will be before they decide whether to continue us in our offices?”

     An unnatural stillness gripped the chamber. Whiteman waited in silence.

     “So moved and called,” the bailiff boomed out. “Is there a second to the member’s motion?”

     A figure from the back of the chamber rose. “Aye,” he grated in a rheumy voice. “I second it.”

     Whiteman turned to the bailiff. “Bailiff,” he said, “I request a formal tally.”

     “The bastard,” Scheisskopf whispered. “He’s going to have us on record before the election about whether we intend to remove him!”

     Tenderfoot nodded mutely.

     “Then let a formal tally be taken,” the bailiff called out. “All those voting in the affirmative, please insert your member’s card into the slot outlined in green. Those voting in the negative, please insert your card into the slot outlined in red. You have three minutes to register your preference.”

     Whiteman turned to gaze up at the tally board as the system counted the votes. They came in slowly.

     Tenderfoot fumbled out his card. He stared down at the tally box for a long moment before sliding the card into the green-bordered slot. The registration light lit at once. He removed the card, returned it to his pocket, and glanced at Scheisskopf.

     The foreign minister did likewise. His mask of agony was a terrible thing to see.

     The closing gong sounded. Four hundred fifty-nine pairs of eyes fixed themselves to the tally board.

     “The tally is taken and recorded,” the bailiff boomed. “Four hundred fifty-nine votes aye to zero votes nay. The motion is carried.”

     Whiteman bowed to the gathering. “Thank you, fellow members.” He stepped down from the dais and exited the chamber.

     Whiteman had been back at his desk in the Icosahedron Office for about twenty minutes when Scheisskopf and Tenderfoot appeared to request his attention. He smiled, invited them in, and told them to sit.

     “What can I do for you gentlemen today?” Whiteman purred.

     “Mister Prime Minister,” Scheisskopf said, “by your actions this morning you have pre-empted one of the Deputies’ most important functions: the choice of an executive administration. Now regardless of the electoral outcome—”

     Whiteman nodded. “The odds are overwhelmingly in favor of my continuation in this office,” he said. “That was the point, Lane. Anyone else the party might place here would all but certainly reverse my administration’s policies, all of which have proved immensely popular.”

     “Based on a lot of Promised-Land nonsense,” Tenderfoot ventured, “most of which hasn’t come near to reality.”

     “No?” Whiteman smiled. “Our borders are secure. The influx of ‘refugees’ has ceased. Those who arrived before I became the prime minister have nearly all been repatriated. The budget, at long last, has been balanced. Taxes have been reduced and stabilized. Our friends in the permanent government have had their teeth largely pulled. And so private citizens can walk about in something approaching safety, can keep a decent slice of their earnings, and can operate their enterprises, and perhaps start a few new ones, without having to fend off bureaucrats and QUANGOs from dawn to dusk. The people seem to like it, though I’m sure there are some, notably here in the capital, who would differ. Perhaps you do, Frank?”

     Tenderfoot grimaced but held his tongue.

     “Well then,” Whiteman said, “why should your constituents, among whom I seem to be as popular as I am among my own, not be allowed to know how you feel about my premiership?”

     “It was a violation of our traditions!” Scheisskopf exclaimed.

     “True!” Whiteman said. “But so was the Supreme Charter, back when it was ratified. So was the Declaration of Common Rights and Protections, a few centuries afterward. And so is the recent tendency among our colleagues in Parliament to hide their true intentions while promising to do the exact opposite. That particular violation, gentlemen, has troubled me more and longer than you know.”

     He rose and went to the picture window that gazed upon Central Boulevard. The commerce of Erehwon flowed steadily over that great avenue, yet with a curious sedateness. It was as if the tensions of the most recent decades had been bled from the land, that commoners might relax and enjoy their lives in peace and security.

     “I look out this window daily,” Whiteman said, “and I reflect upon the lives that pass it. The little men, the men who wield tools and make things. The men who are Erehwon, as we are not. For what are we, gentlemen? What is our true significance? One of our countrymen once wrote in a novel that we are deemed important only because the papers daily say so. He was more right than wrong, I think. And it is time—past time, really—that we should cease to imagine ourselves as important beyond the stature of those little men. Time we should cease to believe what the papers say about us.

     “A playwright with whom you may be familiar had one of his greatest characters proclaim, albeit to himself alone, that ‘I must be cruel, only to be kind.’ I have followed such a course, and until a few months ago the cruelty did out-mass the kindness. But the tide has turned, gentlemen. Erehwon is headed upward again. And your constituents are aware of it.” He spread his arms in an encompassing gesture. “Perhaps you are too…but it will make no odds if you fail to acknowledge it. Now, if you please, I have a great many matters to attend to.”



Bear Claw Chris Lapp said...

I dream bigly of mooring my boat to that dock. These have been excellent and a nice respite, thank you Fran.

pdwalker said...


political porn.

if only, like that lovely, well endowed, shapely blon...

Glen Filthie said...

Some wag recently lectured that at periodic intervals the Roman Empire had to dispense with representative govts because they became mired in corruption and incompetence - so much so that appointing a dictator was the only way to reform. Then they’d idle along until they got a dictator that was so corrupt and incompetent... so they’d dispense with him and go back to representative govt.

It’s dangerous ... but maybe we need to look at that option today...