In the past few months, I imagined the unthinkable: What would the election be like if the political campaign was more positive and uplifting?
What if both candidates actually got “religion” and refrained from mudslinging and misquoting the facts?
What if they admitted to making mistakes and were willing to be held accountable for their past mistakes?
What you will find in the rest of this column is pure fiction with some notable exceptions. I’ve added some historical details to spice it up a bit. The “fictional” account begins.
Round 3 of the presidential debates begin. As the candidates were receiving final preparations by their hairstylists, someone drops by to give each a fresh glass of water.
An aide of Mr. Bush later recalls the man in question looked much like Jim Carey, but she could not be sure. She noticed he was quietly speaking to no one in particular, saying, “The truth shall set you free.”
The moderator begins the debate with his usual greetings and perfunctory instructions. Upon asking the first question, everyone, including the moderator, expects the usual name-calling, tongue-lashing and unsubstantiated fact quoting.
Oh, what a difference this night was from the last two debates.
As presidential candidate John Kerry drinks his glass of water, his face changes three shades of flesh tones to a lighter, warmer reflection of himself. He begins “Thank you, moderator, for allowing me to begin by saying….”
As the audience braced for the usual slogging, Mr. Kerry halts his speech in mid-sentence, turns to President Bush and continues: “Mr. President, I’ve been meaning to tell you, I appreciate your willingness to come here tonight to hang out and visit with me and the American people. I appreciate your commitment to wholesome family values. And I certainly am bolstered by your spiritual commitment to seek wisdom and guidance from a higher power.”
Slightly red-faced and confused by the unrehearsed compliments, Mr. Bush takes a sip from his glass of water. The impish grin fades, the darkened lines of a serious Chief Executive soften.
Mr. Bush responds: “You are way too kind. You know, Mr. Kerry, I wasn’t the nicest boy on the block back home.”
“I know that, George. May I call you by your first name?”
“But you did change,” says Kerry.
“Yeah, from an irresponsible, rich daddy’s brat to….”
“…to a wonderful father, husband and leader of the free world,” Kerry adds. “Who says you don’t get second chances in the U.S. of A.!”
By now, the audience catches the fever and the applause is deafening.
Mr. Bush pleads, “Oh, please stop. You are way too kind, really.”
As the moderator stumbles on the floor in a mad dash to the podium, he attempts to regain control of this emerging love fest.
“Gentlemen,” he interrupts, “you both are out of line here! The question has not been addressed by either party, and I will have to ask you both to refrain from handing out compliments like candy! Please stick to badgering your opponent in the usual manner!”
Mr. Bush replies, “You can tell me what to do, sir, but I’m making an executive decision to ignore you, and I believe my opponent—um, my friend, here— will back me up on this one.”
“That’s right old friend,” replies Kerry, as he steps toward the center and grabs the extended hand.
Mr. Bush continues unabated: “Oh, for gosh sakes, John’s a great guy, all right? Why, the voters should be proud to have him to be their leader! He is a war hero, that’s for darn sure. He put his life on the line for his buddies on that swift boat. He was even awarded a bunch of medals for his bravery and valor.”
Kerry interrupts. “Well, to be honest, every chance I got I pursued the war brass to make sure the medals were given to me. I knew they would be worth a lot when I went into politics.”
“But you did fight for your country, and did so with honor.”
“OK, you got me there. But it was no bigger deal than what my buddies did for me, either.”
Mr. Bush continues, as a smile fades away, “At least it wasn’t what I did. My daddy helped me to get in the Air National Guard, flying jets on weekends. I even played hooky from that job.”
“Well, George, I know you meant well. I’m willing to forget and forgive. One thing I’ve learned over the years is people deserve a second chance. I know I needed one after leaving the service.”
“Another thing, George,” continues Kerry, “I like your commitment to promoting not only democracy around the world, but also the free enterprise system. There is nothing better than being allowed the freedom to live and work in the way each person desires.”
Again, as the smile fades, Bush replies, “Well, John, if the truth be told, I’m not too happy about signing that legislation—you know—the bill that took away overtime pay to certain employees…”
“Yes, I know which one….”
Bush interrupts, “Lord knows—I know I don’t— I honestly don’t know how lower middle class workers can afford to live on five dollars an hour or less, even with overtime pay. I have a hard time making ends meet on my salary as president.”
Kerry replies, “We can change the legislation again, George, if we work together on this one, can we not?”
“You bet, John,” Mr. Bush responds, “Oh, God! It feels so good to get all that off my chest!”
“Same here!” quips Kerry.
The debate ends with a standing ovation in honor of their honesty to each other and the American public.