(A Ghostly Story in Two Parts)
Liberalism was dead; as dead as a doornail. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. The problem was, at least for the occupant of the Oval Office and some of his closest acquaintances, that they were the last to realize it; and in truth, were loath to admit it, even if they were to own up to the truth of it all.
President Barack Obama, once he had gained the halls of power, had no care for the opinions of others, believing that he had been elected on the merits of his policies rather than his own personal magnetism. Oh! But he was an obstinate, stubborn, pig-headed, unrepentant old liberal! Haughty and self-possessed, with the physique of Lincoln and the chin of Mussolini, Obama felt himself to be the perfect leader of men; men who were content to live under the oppressive yoke of socialism, that is.
One day, not so many days ago, an aide entered the Oval Office to inform him that the incoming Speaker of the House was seeking entrance into the inner sanctum. "Bah!" thought Obama as he recalled the recent electoral humiliation he had received at the hands of John Boehner's party. "Humbug!"
"Mr. President," said Boehner, "at this festive season of the year, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and hard-pressed taxpayers who are suffering greatly at the present time. Many, many Americans are out of work and cannot not afford to properly provide for their families, sir."
"Are there no food stamps?" asked Obama.
"Plenty of food stamps," answered Boehner, his eyes tearing up.
"And the state and federal welfare programs?" demanded the president. "Are they still in operation?"
"They are, sir," Boehner said, adding; "Still, I wish I could say they were not."
"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Obama. "I'm very glad to hear it."
"Being under the impression that these programs are not conducive to ensuring American life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as guaranteed by our Constitution," returned the Speaker, "a few of us are endeavouring to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. Can we count on your support?"
"Never!" cried Barack, his chin inclined toward heaven and his finger pointing toward the door.
Later that evening, on his way out of the Oval Office, he glanced at a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, cursing him for his party affiliation. As he stared at the countenance of the Great Emancipator, it became -- without undergoing any intermediate process of change -- not that of Honest Abe, but Jimmy Carter!
Carter! A man whose name Obama had banned from mention in the White House, given the awful comparisons drawn between the two Democratic presidents. His face possessed its familiar hangdog look but was eerily transparent; indeed, Barack could at once glimpse both his eyes and the nail holding his picture to the wall. Obama had often heard that Carter had no brains, but he never believed it till now. Then, just as abruptly as it had appeared, the portrait resumed its presidentiality and once again became that of Lincoln.
Giving his head a vigorous shake, Obama dismissed the apparent apparition as the effects of his disturbing meeting with Boehner, and quickly hurried outside for a smoke. Suddenly a harsh wind cut through the winter night as the president shivered against the West Wing wall, struggling to keep his Marlboro lit. An eerie wail pierced the gloom and seemed to call his name: "Oh-bahm-ah, Oh-bahma-ah!" it cried.
Turning with a violent jerk, he once again beheld the ghostly specter of the 39th President; this time in full figure and waving a warning finger in his face. Ghastly pale, pasty and shriveled, Carter actually looked better than he had in real life; clad in a faded red sweater and encumbered with a ghastly set of chains, he approached Obama.
"Jimmy!" stammered Obama, "Jimmy Carter! Why do you haunt the Rose Garden, and why do you come to me?"
"It is required of every former president," Carter returned, "that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his successors and urge them on to the success he himself won. And if that success eluded him in office, he is condemned to seek it after he is sent packing by the voters, by helping the next one on the brink. Oh, woe is me that my charge is to redeem one worse than I!"
"But why are you fettered, Jimmy?"
"I bear the chain I forged in office. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will -- Islamic violence, the hostage crisis, the Misery Index, North Korea, the national malaise -- and of my own free will I wore it!"
"But you were always a good man of policy, Jimmy."
"Policy!" shrieked the specter hideously. "American Exceptionalism should have been my policy! The common welfare should have been my policy; national security, prosperity and liberty, all should have been my policies!"
"Hear me," whispered the former head of the free world. "My time is nearly gone. I am here to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope that you might eclipse my dismal record and redeem the legacy of our party."
"Uh, I'm all ears Mr. President," offered Obama.
"You will be haunted by Three Spirits," said Carter.
"Um, I'm not sure I have the time," Obama said sheepishly. " I don't want to keep the First Lady waiting so…"
"Without their visits you cannot hope to shun the path I tread," cried Carter, who then vanished as suddenly as he had appeared.
"Humbug!" cried Obama as he awoke on a sofa in the Oval Office. "I must have been dreaming...what a nightmare!" he thought as he rolled over and fell into a fitful sleep.
To be continued...
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