Hanover, NH – July 3, 2015
Manny Kant said, “This is where we’re having the meeting?”
We we standing near a corner of a half-empty ballroom in a stodgy red-brick house on the grounds of Dartmouth College. Campaign volunteers and pie-eyed locals were milling all around us in that awkward cocktail-party ballet, each hoping to get closer to Bubba’s Bride.
One of the Pep Boys, Jimmy, drawled, “Is that a problem?”
Manny shrugged. “It’s your money.”
“And who are you again?” asked Bubba’s Bride.
One step down? Two steps down? These are places where Manny Kant is never to be found. Even so, he held his ground. He put his hands on his hips, taking up just a little more room in our loose circle, saying, “I’m here to find out why you’re so desperate to lose the nomination.”
The Pep Boys bore Bubba’s Bride’s shock and horror for her. The three of them – Jimmy, Lanny and Sid – glared at Manny with a choral eloquence, each one of them furtively checking to make sure Bubba’s Bride took account of his loyalty.
“We can skip this if you like, ma’am,” said Jimmy. “He’s already paid.”
I smiled at that. Manny Kant is always already paid. I’ve known him for thirty years, since he was a post-modern peddler on the streets of Manhattan, but I’ve never known him to be fewer than five moves ahead in a game you didn’t even know he was running on you.
He said, “Here’s why you should listen to me in three short words: President Michelle Obama.”
Bubba’s Bride blanched at that, and the Pep Boys looked like they were about to wet their pants.
Manny said, “Sobering idea, isn’t it? They want you out of this race, you know that, even if they have to put you in prison to get you out. And yet they have no one to replace you with, certainly no one who can get out the black vote. So America’s favorite fat, angry lunch-lady will be the next president – unless you take charge of this race right now.”
Jimmy and Lanny were too busy joking about the idea of a President Michelle Obama to take note of how intently Bubba’s Bride was listening. Sid saw it, though, so he jumped on the grenade. “Yeah, sure,” he sneered. “Take charge how?”
Manny’s smiled deepened slowly, thus to give everyone time to squirm. “By running as America’s First Battered-Woman President.”
The Pep Boys had an outraged jabberfest over that notion, but it was all display behavior – just so much monkey-chatter – so we’ll skip over it. Manny cut through the clamor by addressing Bubba’s Bride directly: “Do you want to hear how this works?”
She gave the slightest nod, and the Pep Boys shut up just like that.
Manny stepped backwards just a bit, taking command of the conference room that wasn’t there. He said, “He humiliates her in public again and again. What does that mean? He doesn’t just cheat on her repeatedly, he doesn’t just get caught, he rubs his shit on her forehead and makes her walk around that way in public, so that all the world will know that he humiliates her like this.”
Jimmy half-surged toward Manny. “Now just a dag-blamed minute!”
“There’s no proof of any of that!” Lanny insisted.
“It doesn’t have to be true,” Manny said, holding up his hand. “It just has to be believable. And it is believable. Why would she put up with this all these years? Why would she do all his dirty work?”
“Dirty work!?” Jimmy demanded. “Just exactly what dirty work are you talking about, son?”
Sid shook his head. “No… He’s onto something. It’s plausible deniability.”
“Yeah?” said Lanny. “What about Benghazi?”
Manny grinned. “Battered by Barack.”
Sid was smiling, even despite himself. “And how will she stand up for America when all she does is get pushed around?”
“It’s the redemption of experience. The man most likely to go on a bender is the drunk, but people don’t hear the story that way. To their ears, you can’t do better without first having done wrong, and there is no tale more convincing than ‘I saw the light.’”
“And this stops Michelle Obama how?” Lanny. The indefatigable fixer.
“Not just her, but everyone, including all the Republicans. The Presidency is an affirmative-action job now. Would you stand in the way of a battered woman?”
Lanny was scowling, but Sid’s smile had bloomed to a smirk. Jimmy said, “And all we gotta do is…?”
Manny shrugged. Speaking directly to Bubba’s Bride, he said, “Throw Bubba under the campaign bus. Your entire past is wiped clean in one news cycle, and anything anyone says about you from now on is victim-blaming – slave-shaming.”
Bubba’s Bride smiled, and that was an ugly thing to see. My own face must have betrayed my revulsion, because she said to Manny, “What’s his deal?”
He half-cocked his head my way, saying, “Minion.”
To me she said, “What’s your take on this?”
I shrugged. “What’s one more humiliation? For either of you? For any of you?”
And her smile, frozen there on her face the whole while, froze into something even uglier.
I wanted to tell her a story about a sad old woman in a vast empty house, but I knew she’d never listen to me. Instead, I said, “The lesson of the twenty-first century is that nothing shuts down debate like a tantrum.”
“Mind your words,” Jimmy cautioned.
Manny said, “Boys, boys, boys. Above reproach, beyond reproach, it’s the same difference, right?”
Jimmy and Lanny looked unconvinced, but Sid couldn’t stop smirking. He said, “It’ll do…”