"That was incredible."
"Praise be to Allah."
"He brought the whole government down."
"He must have had a thousand angels fighting with him."
Mamdouh Salim, Talib Ali, Omen Quagmer, and Aymen Halawah were chatting over tea, celebrating yesterday’s victory.
"Now that I’m in charge," Salim barked, "I say we keep the heat on."
"Death to the Great Satan," Ali agreed. "Death to the infidels."
"I know just what to do," Quagmer grinned. Visions of mischievous atoms danced in his head.
"Our Chairman, our great martyr," Halawah proclaimed reverently, "gave us a mission. He wanted us to turn world opinion against the Jews."
"And so we shall, son. But not today. Today is for celebrating."
"THOR. ADMIRAL ADAMS," a familiar voice said softly through a crack in the door. He was fast asleep. The media’s questioning had gone on well into the night. Then he had conferenced with Members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle. America was rudderless, desperate for leadership.
"Thor, wake up." Leisel walked over to the bed, shaking him gently. "You’ve got a phone call. Politicians."
"What time is it?" he moaned. It still looked dark outside, but then again, he didn’t know if his eyes were open.
"Just after six o’clock. They said it’s important."
Thor sat up, rubbing his face. "Good morning, Mrs. Nottingly."
"Good morning. Here, I made you a cup of coffee. It might help."
"Can I take the call in here?" he asked, reaching for his robe.
"Sure." She walked over to the phone on Troy’s desk and pushed the speaker button.
Standing up, coffee in hand, Adams encouraged Leisel to stay. "Good morning," he said. "This is Thor Adams."
"Admiral, I have you on speaker. This is Senator Dodge. There are a good number of Representatives and Senators here with me. Some members of the media, too."
"Sorry for calling so early." The voice sounded familiar.
"That’s okay. I was just sleeping." He winked at Leisel. She was sitting in the companion chair, her chair, just to the right of Troy’s desk.
"We called this meeting to discuss our leadership crisis."
"In fact, Admiral, most of us remained here another three or four hours last night after your speech. We read Agent Nottingly’s position paper on the nature of Islam, its history and politics. Then we re-read what you had to say. Hardly anybody went home."
"So you’re saying I’m the sluggard, the hypocrite. I asked everyone to rise to the occasion, and I went to bed."
"That’s pretty much the reason we called, sir. That’s unacceptable behavior. No more sleeping." The room enjoyed a good laugh.
"Actually, sir, we were wondering. Oh, this is Congressman Macon speaking. Would you consider running for President?"
"Congressman," Thor said, trying to clear his head. He took a gulp of coffee. "I’m a bit confused. Senator Dodge broached this subject back on Wednesday when he asked me to address the Joint Session of Congress. That was back when we had a President, and the next election was three years away. And he’s a Republican. You’re a Democrat. I’m neither."
"There are no more Republicans or Democrats. Now we’re just Americans," a confident voice boomed. "Don’t know about ‘Neithers’."
"You took us all to the woodshed last night," another added.
"I wasn’t trying to scold anyone. I just wanted us to see the world for what it is, embrace our destiny - make some history for a change, rather than living to regret it." For a guy who had already fallen down on the job, he was making a decent recovery. He took another swig of caffeine. Leisel smiled; she was proud of him.
"You mean a history we’ll be proud to tell to our children," one of the politicos proclaimed.
"Fact is," the Congressman said, "we all want you to run."
"But not as a Democrat or a Republican - as an American." It sounded like Dodge.
"Admiral, this is Congressman Macon. On instructions from the late President, we authored a bill calling for special elections of representatives and a referendum for senators in three weeks. We passed another bill last night to include the presidency in that special election. All of the Constitutional successors were killed yesterday morning," the Republican Senator explained. "In our zeal to get a peace accord, we somehow forgot that our real duty was to the American people. We’re vulnerable."
"So if you’ll agree to run as an Independent," the Democrat proposed, "neither of us will nominate a candidate to run against you."
"That’s kind, but wrong," Adams said. "Americans deserve a choice."
"And they’ll have one, sir. We believe the Reform Party will have a candidate, as will Peace and Freedom, and the Libertarians."
"You guys are serious, aren’t you?"
"Never been more so, Admiral."
He took another gulp of coffee, emptying the cup. Fortunately, Sarah had found her way to dad’s retreat, coffeepot in hand. Dressed in a robe and slippers, she made his bed, turning it back into a couch before sitting down.
"Ladies, gentlemen, I’m not a politician."
"Yes, sir. That’s pretty obvious." Everyone chuckled again.
"None of us would have had the courage to present things as bluntly as you did last night. It’s not politically correct."
"Alright, so you know I’m a lousy politician. But do you realize I don’t want the job? Sarah and I came to the conclusion we could do more out of office than in - you know, speak more freely. Plus, it’s real hard to raise a family when your character is being assailed in the media. No offense, but between you guys and the press, things can get pretty twisted."
"Admiral Adams, this is Tad Broadow. You’re right." Tad worked for ABC. "I can’t promise that we’ll change, but if we fail and have to endure World War III as a consequence, I don’t want it to be on my account."
"Mr. Broadow, I wasn’t asking you to agree with me. All I wanted was for the media to scratch below the surface, to think, and to stop using inaccurate labels to obfuscate reality."
"We’ll find things to disagree about, sir. But this isn’t one of them."
"Now what? I’ve told you I don’t want the job and that I’m a lousy politician, yet you don’t seem to care."
"On the contrary, Admiral Adams. We do care. But more to the point, the political stalwarts, the leadership who put party ahead of all else, were killed yesterday," Macon said.
"We’re not interested in political gamesmanship," Dodge offered.
Sarah rolled her eyes heavenward.
"I’ll tell you what then," Thor said, glancing over at his fiancé. He sipped his coffee and prayed that his brain was sufficiently engaged. "You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. Not really. So, this is what I propose. I’ll spend the day with Sarah composing what we think needs to be done to restore America."
Nottingly nodded. Having thought these issues through, she was ready.
"You’re asking me to run for President. That’s a political mission. Combating terrorism is but one part of that job. And to prevail, America must be united and strong."
"Then let’s meet later and hash it out. ’Cause right now I think we’ve got the honeymoon before the marriage. I’d like it to be the other way around."
"How did we get ourselves into this mess?"
"I botched the intelligence. You botched the mission."
"Oh, yeah, now I remember. That’s great. So now they want us to run the country."
"Failure has its rewards," Sarah shrugged, spying a family of mallards meandering between the boats. "Although it makes perfect sense."
"Mind telling me why?" He was leaning against the cockpit of his sailboat. The Sunrise was moored along the seawall of the Annapolis Harbor, a place affectionately called ‘Ego Alley’. They had thought the view up Main Street at the old church and Statehouse, with its majestic dome, might be inspirational. Besides, they both loved the cacophony of competing sounds - rigging clapping in the wind, flags waving, children playing, yachtsmen telling tall tales.
"We, well, you at least, acted heroically under pressure. There’s a shortage of character up there," she pointed west toward Washington. You told people what you were going to do, and you did it. All politicians seem able to do is beg, borrow, bellyache, and blunder."
"The dreaded killer ‘Bs’," Thor joked.
"It took guts to tell the truth - to tell the country what it needed to hear."
"You’d think figurin’ somethin’ out and proposing a plan would be a baseline requirement for ‘blunderers’. Not an exception. Certainly no reason for recruiting an amateur."
"Well, they are," she said matter-of-factly.
"Sarah, can America be fixed? Or have we become too selfish, to complacent, too dependent and ignorant to work our way out of this mess? Can common sense be used to constrain government?"
"Maybe. We’d need to engage the American people and disengage their politicians."
"The Admiral opened his laptop and booted up. "We need to restore our nation’s strength from the ground up. So I say we start at the same place we plan to destroy Islamic terror."
"Then you’ll need an economic policy. To win this battle we need to unburden our economy."
"That’s precisely how Reagan won the Cold War. And that was the last time the world faced a similar foe. We’re gonna need a lot more private-sector jobs. We’ll need to encourage investment and increase spendable income. What we really need is to restore confidence in our economy."
"You’re sounding pretty darn conservative for an Independent. Half the folks you talked to this morning aren’t gonna like that."
"Good. One less suicide mission."
"Well, I don’t think you’re going to get off that easily. But you hit the nail on the head: the key to rebuilding our economy is confidence. Bottom line, that’s all money really is."
"How do you increase confidence, make people more willing to invest their time and money?"
"You know the answer."
"Reduce taxes on the things we want more of?"
"Are you asking me or telling me?"
"Telling. It’s obvious," he replied, more confident this time.
"You’ve got the first plank of your plan to revive America. Let’s call it ‘Opportunity,’ she said, encouraging him to type it into his notebook PC.
The Admiral did as he was told, then rubbed his prodigious chin. "To accomplish this we must simplify the tax codes."
Sarah was enjoying the warmth of the sun on her face and legs. She was wearing a dark blue gingham blouse and lighter blue shorts, coordinated, of course.
"Right now, it’s all set up to redistribute wealth. It’s as if the killer Bs think giving away other people’s money makes them charitable.
"No, it makes them popular. But to win we’ll need to stop rewarding failure and start rewarding success."
The right-leaning Independent liked the way she’d put that. "Uh huh." Then he searched for a more "presidential" response. "We need to create incentives for the things that benefit our people and propose penalties for less desirable stuff." Stuff still wasn’t a very presidential word, but heck, he was a rookie. "If the health risk that’s associated with smoking a pack of cigarettes, for example, costs three bucks, tax it three bucks and spend the money on health care. Do the same with alcohol."
"Right. Then because we want people to have more money to spend, let’s lower the income tax rate to twenty percent," Sarah suggested. "Make it the same for everybody. If you make ten times more money than your neighbor, then you pay ten times more tax. Everybody is in the game. Nobody gets anything for free, so everybody is interested in government being responsible, a good steward of our money."
"Now that’s a revolutionary idea," he agreed, kicking off his shoes. "But while we’re at it, we need to give taxpayers incentives to do the things we want more of."
"Such as?" she led the witness.
"There should be deductions for interest on home loans because home ownership is crucial - economically and socially. Healthcare costs should be deductible; that would encourage folks to take care of themselves instead of relying on government."
"There should be a big incentive to put money away for retirement. It would encourage investment in American business, and would wean the country off Social Security. You know that Social Security is just an elaborate pyramid scheme, don’t you? There is no trust fund. The money everybody pays in is spent."
"That doesn’t make it a pyramid scheme, just foolish."
"With Social Security, parents and grandparents force their children and grandchildren to pay for their retirement. The relatively little money they paid in while they were working was spent a long time ago on services their generation already received."
"That’s embarrassing," Adams agreed. "And you’re right; that does make it a pyramid scheme."
"Between payroll taxes and the FICA payments employers make, the government is confiscating fifteen percent of our nation’s productivity, right off the bat."
"That’s hardly holding it in the middle," he laughed, recalling an all-too-familiar line.
"I’d like to see a deduction for educational expenses, and one for donations to charity," Sarah proposed. "Community organizations, churches, and synagogues are much more effective than government agencies when it comes to helping people."
Thor typed it in as the economist flipped through her notes. Sarah had grown up with an entrepreneur and studied the subject at the University of Virginia. "We’d benefit from having a tax incentive for exporting goods overseas. That would go a long way toward solving our negative trade imbalance," she suggested, splashing some water at the mallards.
Thor laughed as the ducklings waddled toward the commotion. "What can we do to restore confidence in corporate America?"
"Establish an entirely different means of deploying auditors and analysts. Make accrual accounting illegal - it’s responsible for most of the scandals. We also need to change the nature of corporate governance. Boards are clueless. But when you get right down to it, the reason we’re in a pickle is the decline of corporate character. Our Supreme Court has made God illegal and immorality legal."
"In other words, the fix is hard but possible."
"Yes. And then we should create incentives to hire people," Nottingly continued, smiling at her new friends. "Your new tax code should encourage business investments by making the costs deductible rather than depreciable." Sarah had seen her father struggle with these very same roadblocks to productivity. "Business is the engine that propels America. It not only pays every bill, it’s responsible for creating the lifestyle that’s the envy of the world. It’s a wonder business survives the liberal assault."
"With all these deductions for the things America needs more of, Sarah, I’ll bet that a family making, say, thirty thousand or less would pay relatively little in taxes. Twenty percent of thirty thousand is six thousand," he said. "Once you make an allowance for retirement savings or home interest, one for an education allowance or charity, their tax burden would be cut to less than a grand. Heck, a deduction for health care alone could eliminate a poor family’s tax burden."
"But with a rich gal," Sarah smiled, unbuttoning her blouse to soak in the sun, "it’s entirely different. Say I make a million bucks a year."
"Yeah! Let’s say that."
She winked. "At twenty percent, my tax burden would be two hundred grand. Once I make a deduction for Mary’s education, including her computer, donate something to my favorite charities, take care of our retirement, and pay our health care, I’m still going to owe somewhere between a hundred and fifty and a hundred and seventy-five thousand. Your flat tax with incentives for things we want more of is plenty progressive."
"How’d you get to be so smart?" he asked, admiring her as she finished unbuttoning her blouse. She had worn a matching blue bikini. Sarah wanted to get some color. Thor wanted to get a look. Neither was disappointed.
As she slithered out of her shorts, Adams was about cooked. He had envisioned what she might look like, but seeing her, this much of her, was distracting.
"I’m not bothering you, am I? Your train of thought seems to have run off the track."
Eyes up, jaw down, he simply stared.
"Thor? Oh Thor, dear. Where have you gone?"
"Thank you, God!" was all he said.
That made her smile. "I’ll take that as a compliment."
He bit his lip and nodded.
"I’m glad you like what you see." She stretched out her shapely legs on the wooden bench that ran alongside the tiller. She was leaning up against a pillow. Her chestnut hair fell down over her soft shoulders. Her eyes matched the sky; her skin was flawless, as perfect as her body.
Thor was in heaven.
She let her ring sparkle in the sun, "I reckon this says it’s yours. But," she pointed at his laptop, "we’ve got work to do, honeybunch. If you’re going to be President, you can’t let little things like these distract you."
"Speak for yourself. Those are the most magnificent," he forced himself to look up, "distractions I’ve ever seen."
"Now, sailor, I know better, remember? I’ve read your file." She smiled and got back to business. "I think it’s important to encourage companies to share profits with their employees - one wins, all win."
"Stock ownership. I agree."
"Then write it down," she said, trying to get him to reengage.
"Alright." He pecked at the keys. This was way more fun than it should have been. "Along those lines, I’d like to see us make America our most favored nation, not the Communists in China. Let’s establish policies that put our people to work, not theirs. Enterprise zones, for example."
"Good thinking." It was all so obvious.
"With these things in place, our government will spend less, at least over time, right?" Thor posed.
"No question about it," the bikini-clad economist shared. "Collectively, our biggest expenses are entitlements: Medicare, Welfare, and Social Security. And last time I checked, our Constitution listed rights and responsibilities, not entitlements."
"In fact, the redistribution of wealth is unconstitutional."
"I’m glad somebody’s read the Tenth Amendment. It was neither mandated nor approved. There’s no provision for stealing what belongs to one citizen and giving it to another." This was Sarah’s hot button.
"Yeah. Too bad the killer Bs who voted for these albatrosses, and the Justices that failed to overturn them, didn’t read the Tenth Amendment," Sarah moaned. "You know, this is all a legacy of the Warren Court."
"General Eisenhower admitted that appointing Earl Warren Chief Justice was the biggest mistake of his presidency. We’re still paying for it."
"Yeah. Between his concocting the notion of separating church and state and his failure to overturn Johnson’s ‘Great Society’ boondoggles as unconstitutional, America’s tombstone is going to read, "Thanks, Earl."
Thor sighed. "So how do we get out of the fix our parents’ generation created before it breaks the bank - and our spirit?" he asked.
"Slowly. We’ve got to gradually phase it out. Those who relied on these things rather than taking care of themselves, need us to continue them. We have to honor the promises our government made, even if they were foolish, and even if the recipients themselves weren’t willing to pay for them at the time."
She pressed ahead. "This isn’t brain surgery. If people have an incentive to invest in their future, they won’t be as dependent on government. If we tax them less, they’ll have more to save for their retirement, more to spend on their education, their children, their health care."
"What are the numbers on the performance of private investment funds as opposed to Social Security?"
"No return at all, versus...well, let me put it this way. Even with conservative private retirement funds, most workers’ contributions would grow to in excess of a million dollars."
"Oh, forget it, then. That makes too much sense."
"Are you trying to get yourself uninvited?"
"Could be a good thing."
"Then let’s really give ’em something to hate. Point two of your plan to build an America strong enough to tackle terror: improve education."
"The best way to do that is to make schools accountable. America needs vouchers, school choice. We need to put parents back in charge, make schools perform," he said."
"If everybody gets a great start, we can curtail government dependence, especially among minority groups," Sarah observed.
"I’d like to see our public schools open earlier and stay open later each day. And since most have cafeterias, why not serve breakfast and dinner, especially to poorer families? Get rid of food stamps. Far too many are traded for drugs and booze," he added, typing away. "Stop paying farmers twenty billion a year not to grow things - buy food from them instead.
"Now there’s an idea. Feed meals to people who need them in their communities. You could hire folks on welfare to serve and clean up; give ’em a job rather than charity." Sarah smiled. "You’re pretty cute for a smart guy," she teased him.
Thor figured that if he was going to be judged for his looks, he might as well try to impress her. He lifted his shirt up over his shoulders. While most men would have sucked in their gut and puffed out their chest, Adams didn’t need to. He simply carried on. "And another thing, we should reestablish the extracurricular activities schools used to offer - music, theater, sports, public-speaking tournaments, the sponsorship of civic-minded clubs. Those are the things that helped turn students into well-rounded adults."
"The more there is to do at school, the less time kids will have to get into trouble," she said, still eyeing the ducklings.
"We could even make schools fun by integrating corporately sponsored high-tech learning aids. And why not offer evening classes for parents - computers, job skills, even the ‘three Rs’. The facilities are already there. Let’s use them."
"An investment in our future," she said, nodding. "In the long run, it’ll cost us less than welfare and a lot less than police and prisons."
"Uh-oh." Thor pointed. "I think we’ve just inspired a little trouble." Paparazzi were storming toward the boat faster than a summer squall. "Toss that bow line, sweetheart. I’ll get the stern." Thor started the boat’s small diesel engine. As it coughed to life he pushed off with one hand and managed the tiller with the other. Frustrated, the ‘photo journalists’ stumbled all over themselves trying to attach longer lenses. Sarah just smiled and waved goodbye.
"They used to get to you. Now you’re teasing them. What gives?"
"I used to be the flavor of the week. Not anymore." She held her engagement ring aloft as they motored away.
A safe distance out, Thor asked Sarah to raise the jib. He turned the boat upwind. Holding the tiller between his legs, he pulled the mainsail halyard. Within seconds, they were sailing again. Adams cut the engine. The sound of water lapping lazily under the hull, the squawking of playful gulls, and the distant bellyaching of disgruntled photographers was all they could hear.
"Okay. We’ve got Opportunity and Education. I’d like our third initiative to be Service," Adams said as he stood, motioning for Sarah to take the tiller. He disappeared below. "Can I get you a drink?"
"How about a glass of that white grape juice you brought aboard?" Sarah would have preferred to join him down under. The finely crafted wooden confines of the sloop’s interior were cozy and romantic. "I brought some cheese and crackers - cut some apple slices, too."
Thor opened the bottle, carefully pouring its golden contents into a pair of his finest plastic cups. He made his way back topside where they kissed, this time out of camera range. With cups in his hand and munchies in hers, it was all they could do to keep things right side up.
"To the Adams family," Sarah toasted, steering with her leg draped over the tiller. She had stretched back out, leaning against the stern. "Pretty tough duty."
Thor lingered on the word duty. "I’d like to see America require a year of public service. It could be in the military or in some community program, mission, even the Peace Corps. And speaking of the military, we need to keep our troops busy, doing something productive. We could have them patrol our borders and provide security at airports. Let ’em wink at the pretty girls while they’re keeping us safe."
She smiled. "Yes. It’s hard to value something that isn’t earned."
"And with the MacArab plan, we’re going to need volunteers."
"Kennedy’s ‘ask what you can do for your country’ idea."
Thor repeated the line, mimicking a nasally Boston brogue.
Images of JFK’s indiscretions played in Sarah’s head as he spoke. "You can talk like him all you want, cutie; just don’t act like him. I won’t be as understanding as Jackie."
"I may disappoint you every way from Sunday, but not that way."
She smiled. "You know, I like the idea of national service. Nothing of value is achieved without sacrifice."
"When you give somebody somethin’ for nothin’, you’re killing ’em. That’s why drug dependence runs rampant in inner cities. Narcotics are just an escape mechanism. It’s the same with suicide bombers, too. Destitute in Muslim countries, boy bombers have nothing to live for. Suicide, like drugs, is a way out."
"Yes." The light flicked on in Sarah’s head. "Let’s give people a better way out. By restoring America we’ll go a long way toward winning our most lethal war, the one killing our children - illegal drugs."
"It’s all tied together, Sarah. "By creating opportunity, by investing in schools and communities, by encouraging service, we do what neither the Great Society nor Muhammad could. We give people a reason to live."
It was late afternoon when the Sacred Seas arrived in the yacht harbor on Paradise Island. A grand pink casino, the Atlantis, loomed large in the background.
Among all the fine yachts in this tropical paradise, the scuba and photographic gear waiting for the crew looked perfectly natural. The jarring approach these less-than-proficient sailors made when attempting to moor their craft raised some eyebrows, however.
The Bahamian carpenters had taken their sweet time rebuilding the forward v-berth and overhead hatch. But now they were nearly complete, and ready to accommodate their cargo. Constructed from teak and marine Plexiglas, the work was of good quality, befitting a fine sailing yacht. Nothing looked out of place.
Most of the boats Omen had selected were forty to forty-five feet. This gave the crews ample room in which to hide their doomsday cases. And They were of sufficient size to cover the distances these would have to navigate - proper seamanship not withstanding.
Forty-foot yachts also had another feature that would play large in the scheme of things: tall masts. To comply with the mandated schedule, the triggers needed to be activated electronically. A special antenna had been mounted on each boat, just above the highest spreader, with the wiring hidden inside the masts themselves. Even the forward mast-stay cables had been moved port and starboard to accommodate the launching of weapons through the enlarged hatch and skylight.
"Hey, boys!" the dock master hollered. "That was quite an approach. I’m glad you’re still afloat."
"We’ve got a big gash on the left side." Atta said, pointing to the port bow. "See it over there?"
The dock master knelt down and rubbed his hand over the massive wound. "You want some help with this?"
"Can you fix it?"
"I can’t, but the boys over at the yard should be able to. I’ll call ’em if you’d like."
"Yes, but, ah, do you have an idea how much this will cost?"
"Four, five grand, I’d imagine. Could’ve been worse. It’s gonna take a while to do the work, though," the dock master explained. "More time to enjoy our hospitality here at the Atlantis, right?" He smiled. "Moored in the marina you’re considered a guest of the hotel. Here are your cards. You can charge anything you want on them."
"Most anything. Gambling, food, booze, all the ocean and pool toys."
"Thanks!" Atta said, accepting his pass.
With some unexpected time on their hands, the Islamic crew, Atta and his mate, Riza, were happy to indulge themselves in the full variety of Paradise Island pleasures. There was no need to rush martyrdom.
They soon found themselves splashing down the four-story waterfalls, teasing the sharks in the giant walk-through aquariums, and scaring unsuspecting swimmers to death on rented Wave Runners. They were about as inconspicuous as Muslims in flight schools.
Day faded into night, but the boys continued to play - this time indoors. Inappropriately inebriated, they found the lure of slots utterly irresistible. The flashing lights and festive sounds tantalized them. Their impulsiveness, however, was devastating to their wallets. Within hours, they had managed to lose most of their traveling allowance. Unless their luck changed, the eats would be slim en route.
That very same night, four less-fortunate sailors were anchoring off an isolated Jamaican beach. They were forced to use their tenders to row ashore, then climb the rugged slopes of the island. Retrieving two canisters of nuclear waste from deep within a cave, they alternated loads as they hefted their diabolical cargo back down the rocky inclines. One carried strontium 90, lightly encased in aluminum, while the other struggled with cobalt 60 wrapped in two inches of lead. Once back on the beach, they were required to row the encased atomic debris to their boats. It nearly scuttled them. There are few things more dense than spent fuel pellets - Muslim terrorists exempted.
While productive, in a destructive sort of way, moving the stolen cargo was considerably less titillating than piña coladas at poolside and prostitutes in Paradise.
Approaching the capitol building, Sarah and Thor saluted the multitude of flags, all of which were being flown at half mast. America was in mourning. Inside, they paid their respects to the fallen. The floor beneath the rotunda was covered with coffins - the President’s, Vice President’s, Senators’, Congressmen’s, and Cabinet Members’.
Upstairs, there were plenty of places to meet. All of the larger offices were now vacant. While most in Congress work across the street and southwest of the Capitol in the Russell Office Building, the leadership gets to hang out, ‘deliberate’ in their parlance, in some pretty classy digs.
A quick peek down the mall, through the netting that protected the Western Balcony, reminded Thor and Sarah why they were here. Washington’s terrorized monument stood between them and Lincoln’s call for freedom.
Back inside, they got down to business, across the hall, in the Reagan Room, so called for the pictures of the Gipper at either end. The de facto leadership of the Congress and Senate - those who were left after the Camp David disaster, were assembled and ready to listen.
Thor began by explaining the obvious. "The fact that Muslim dictators routinely abuse their citizens is criminal. But that’s not our problem. The fact that those who are willing to abuse their own people are also prone to abuse their neighbors is our problem. Most every Islamic state has publicly demonstrated that they consider us their enemy - Allah’s enemy. They’ve picked a fight and we must defend ourselves. But before we do, we need to get our act together. Otherwise we’ll lose."
"Along those lines," Sarah shared, "we’ve outlined a plan to save America."
Thor covered the first of five points: Opportunity. His thoughts were presented cogently. They were not, however, well received.
"The press will crucify you," Senator Dodge reacted. "They’ll say you’re giving the rich a windfall."
"We may not be able to support it either," Congressman Macon said.
"Then this is going to be a real short engagement. The press isn’t responsible for saving this nation. Its elected leaders are. And I’m not going to play politics." The Admiral was not amused.
Adams couldn’t help but wonder if the country was capable of being saved. Old habits, no matter how absurd, were hard to shake. The folks with the microphones had repeated their clever sound bites and applied their labels so many times, many had started to believe them.
"By taxing people less, we aren’t giving them anything. We’d just be taking less from them. Confiscating less of someone’s property is not a gift."
It was Sarah’s turn. "Example: a thief robs you at gunpoint. He opens up your wallet and takes out seventy-five bucks rather than the hundred he normally steals. Using your logic, the twenty-five dollars he didn’t steal would be a windfall for the victim."
"I dunno. This tax scheme of yours sounds like voodoo economics," Macon protested.
"Do you have a problem with supply-side stimulants, Congressman?" Sarah posed politely.
"It’s just trickle down, all over again," the lawmaker moaned.
"Yes, I know, great line. The press ate it up. Too bad it wasn’t true." Thor shook his head. "Congressman, even your most revered President, JFK, understood what you seem to miss. First thing he did was cut the capital gains rate. You ought to listen to his speeches sometime."
Thor pointed to the picture of Ronald Reagan riding tall in the saddle. "That man’s supply-side plan took this country out of the most depressing period of stagflation in our history. It transformed the economy and led to the most robust peacetime expansion ever. It was a raging success, and everybody knew it except those with an axe to grind. You all hated it. Why? Because it made voters less dependent."
"Fact is, sir," Sarah said, "‘Trickle down,’ as you call it, did more for the poor than any giveaway program you politicians ever concocted." What is it about this place that makes people babble?
"You consistently distort the facts to serve your political ambitions." Adams didn’t want this job. "It’s no wonder folks don’t trust you."
"What about the debt Reagan ran up with his plan? Clinton fixed that problem," one of the Democrats said.
"What branch of government has budgetary responsibility?"
"Congress," a Republican answered.
"Right. The debt rose because Congress continued to throw money at everything under the sun. During Reagan’s terms, if you’ll recall, Congress was controlled by the Democrats," Thor said.
"I think it was his tax cuts combined with his military overindulgence that tipped the scales," Congressman Macon protested.
"Then you would be wrong. Again." Sarah challenged him. "First, by cutting tax rates across the board, the government took in more money, not less. Second, it costs less to maintain military preparedness than it does to cut our forces - as both Carter and Clinton did - and then rebuild when trouble comes. Trouble always comes."
"America borrowed less during the Clinton years for two reasons - one good, one bad. Your man shortchanged the military, which left us vulnerable. That was bad. But then a Republican Congress was elected, and they passed a balanced budget bill curtailing spending, which was good."
"In other words, Congressman, save your b.s. for someone gullible enough to swallow it. The media perhaps." Such language was uncharacteristic for Sarah but nonetheless appropriate.
And I’m going to marry this firebrand, Thor thought. Outstanding. "Now, can we move on, or shall we continue discussing the merits of returning the nation’s economy back to the people who built it?"
"And away from the folks here in this building who’ve nearly crippled it." Sarah wasn’t finished getting her licks in.
No one rose to the bait. She was a formidable foe.
The Admiral said, "Normally I wouldn’t trouble myself with this stuff. But you’ve asked me to run for President, so here I am." He placed his hands before him. "The war against terrorism cannot be won if America is divided, as it was during Bush Two. Legislatively, Daschle ground the nation to a halt. Bush wasn’t much better domestically or internationally. We were rudderless."
The Reagan room was filled with a heavy silence. Deep down they knew that economic revival had been a prerequisite for dismantling Communism, just as it would be for battling this new foe. And they knew that a house divided would not stand against an opponent a billion strong.
Over that hurdle, the Admiral and the Agent moved on to their second initiative: Education. It didn’t go any better.
"The NEA is never going to support a plan that employs welfare recipients at their schools - even if it’s only in food service and extracurricular activities," the Democrats protested.
"We’ve never been able to pass a school choice bill," the Republican Senator interjected. "Our opponents claim it violates the Constitutional guarantees separating of church and state."
"Can someone show me where the Constitution requires a separation of church and state?" Agent Nottingly had just reread the treasured document and knew there was no such clause. "What’s wrong? Need a copy?"
"It’s not there," Senator Dodge admitted. "In fact, it says just the opposite. ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances.’"
"Since there can be no law prohibiting the free exercise of these things anywhere in America - separating church and state is unconstitutional." Sarah explained.
Impressed with his fiancé, Thor marched on. "Poor families need school choice. If we’re to succeed, we have to make schools work for our kids, not the unions, although unions seem to to think otherwise. I’ll give you an example. The NEA affiliate in New York recently negotiated a pay raise to $80,000 for tenured teachers. Not bad for nine months work. Yet even the concept of tenure is wrong. It breeds instant complacency. Suppose we gave it to pilots after three years of landing mostly wheels down. How safe would you feel?"
Sarah lowered her guns. "The NEA is against choice for two reasons. They’d lose control over the liberal agenda they’re force feeding our kids, and they’d be out of a job. Given a choice, ninety percent of parents choose private schools with non-union teachers."
"How can you be in favor of giving a woman the right to choose an abortion but not in favor of giving a mother the right to choose how her child is educated?"
The Democrats were beginning to lose interest in Thurston Adams.
The Admiral presented the merits of national service. His audience had objections, but opted to table them.
Sarah took the initiative. "Our fourth goal is Justice. It’s time we release all Americans from the shackles of prejudice and injustice. Our courts only serve lawyers. For example, if we don’t do something to reduce malpractice and product-liability awards, we’re going wake to up with no healthcare system or manufacturers. I wonder," she said, "if your rich lawyer pals plan to take care of sick folks after they’ve bled the doctors dry? The Trial Lawyers Association may be a sacred cow here on Capitol Hill, as is the Teachers’ Union, but gentlemen, it’s time to fire up the barbecue."
"Now, if you want to do something worthwhile, let’s conquer the digital divide," Thor added. "And by that I mean more than simply getting technology into the hands of all Americans. There’s a far bigger foe that needs to be slain if our nation is to grow and heal. Most African Americans and Hispanics don’t have credit cards, many don’t even have bank accounts. Without electronic money, they’re literally shut out."
"As part of our Justice initiative," Sarah rolled on, "we believe our nation should stop paying those in want, so we can care for those in need. If you’re capable of working, you work. Simple as that. No work, no money. Politicians become accomplices to murder when you give able-bodied citizens something for nothing. It’s poison, one that eats away at their soul until they die from an overdose, at the hand of another poisoned soul, or from an apathy-induced paralysis. It’s not compassion or charity; it’s murder. You’re killing our nation.
"For those who can’t work due to a physical or mental challenge, that’s an entirely different story," Adams said. "There should be no limit to which our nation goes to help those who really need help."
"Besides, the Tenth Amendment declares every entitlement program unconstitutional," Sarah proclaimed to a roomful of blank stares.
"And finally," Thor shared, "we need to understand that freedom is not free. Every right is protected by shield and sword. Without a strong national defense we’ll lose our freedom of movement, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and our treasured prosperity - even our precious entitlements."
Congressman Macon was about to bust wide open. "Even if I could support your domestic agenda, I can’t support your notion of nation building. I think it’s ill advised."
"So do I."
That wasn’t the response he expected.
"The only thing I hate more than meddling in the affairs of other nations is them meddling in ours. 9/11 was enough for me. I wouldn’t have waited for them to distribute anthrax." The Admiral let that sink in. "If you know how to kill this cancer without surgery, without chemotherapy, speak up. If you can solve this problem with words - say them!"
"We can’t afford to do half the things you’re recommending - especially militarily," Macon protested. It wasn’t the money. He was a big spender. He just had other priorities.
"What makes you think we’re going to pay for them? Sarah and I are not proposing blasting rocks in Afghanistan or chasing bloodthirsty thugs around Somalia. The cancer of Islam doesn’t grow on rocks or blood. It feeds on money. And the money comes from oil - oil that just happens to be under Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia."
"No way. I’m sorry. I just don’t agree with what you’re proposing," the Democrat said. "I don’t feel good about taking their oil."
Adams looked at him, eyebrows raised. He wasn’t a touchy-feely sort of a guy. "You’d rather have them use their ill-gotten gains to kill us? You want them to write more million-dollar checks to the parents of suicide bombers? Do you think another oil boycott might be helpful?"
The Democratic Congressman shook his head. "This sounds a lot like Iran-Contra to me. Taking Arab money to support some pet project."
Thor was angry. "The Reagan Administration sold missiles to the Iranians and transferred the proceeds to the Contras so that they could fight for their freedom, fight the scourge of Communism. They were successful. However, the missiles were not," he said. "The Army had those missiles altered prior to shipment. I understand the investigation was classified, but you’re elected officials and that was a long time ago. So just in case you don’t know what happened, let me explain it this way. Are you familiar with the Elvis Presley song, ‘Return to Sender’?"
"I’m glad you brought this up, Congressman," Sarah said. "Since you seem to have forgotten why Reagan needed to fund the fight for freedom this way, I’ll tell you. The Democrat-controlled Congress passed a bill that tied the President’s hands. Loving big government yourselves, you didn’t see the problem with Communism. And you should have," she added, "because you made the same mistake in Vietnam. Once we withdrew, you cut funding to the South Vietnamese, so they ran out of bullets. The Communists overran them - causing the deaths of over fifty thousand American boys to have been in vain. The Communists massacred hundreds of thousands of defenseless civilians as a result of your carelessness. But it got worse. Next door, a nice Communist fellow named Pol Pot slaughtered millions more - one out of every five Cambodians."
It was Adams’ turn. "The left has a legacy of making the wrong call when it comes to totalitarian dictators. MacArthur wanted to finish the job in Korea, but your pal Truman fired him instead. As a result, the world’s worst rogue nation sells nuclear weapon technology to Islamic warlords. And the world’s largest nation, after stealing our ballistic missile technology, now conducts its war games with us as its principal enemy. History has made it painfully clear: the price we’ve paid for not neutering Communists when their regimes were young and frail is intolerable."
Adams stood and glared at the Democrats to his left. "FDR and Yalta," was all he said. He paced behind them. "Do you want to make the same mistake again?" the Admiral added, testily. He was looking at the picture of Ronald Reagan on his horse, back straight, white hat, eyes focused ahead, wearing a smile that had rekindled America’s spirit. "Today the Islamic states are young and frail. How long will that last? Today, only half of their citizens are brainwashed. Today, their nuclear programs are only half baked. But how long do you think it will take at half a billion dollars a day in oil payments before the Saudis, the Libyans, the Iraqis, the Iranians, et al., buy what they need from Truman’s pals, the North Koreans and the Chinese, or FDR’s friends, the former Soviets, to ready a nuclear bomb?
"With oil money funding Muslim militants - their media, mosques, and madrases - how long do we have? When will this cancer kills us?" He glared at them. "You want to talk? Then say the words! Economic embargoes? Because you’ve forbidden us to drill, economic sanctions would destroy us long before they influence them. What’s your alternative, gentlemen? I’d like to hear it."
"Good grief, you are a soldier," one of the Senators said.
"But aren’t you unfairly singling my party out?" Macon whined. "The last Republican President’s views were wholly counter to yours."
"I’m not a Republican, but you’re right. When the Palestinians escalated their brutality, Bush thought it would be wise to reward their behavior. W sent his Secretary of State to negotiate with the head terrorist. Then he foolishly called ‘Palestine’ a state without borders." Adams laughed. "Imagine trusting the leader of any Palestinian political party - Fatah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Hezbollah, Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, or even the Communist flavor of insanity, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Even if you could find a responsible leader in one of those cesspools, the ‘good’ Muslims would kill the ‘bad’ one faster than he could say, ‘terror.’ What Bush did was irrational and immoral."
The Admiral shook his head, remembering. "Worst of all, Bush told another nation not to defend itself. He knew they were fighting the same enemy, the very same behavior, the same delusional doctrine that had caused him to send Americans off to Afghanistan. Yet Bush ordered Sharon to withdraw - to leave his people defenseless. And withdraw from what? From ‘Palestinian territory.’ He had to know there was no such thing." Adams took a deep breath. "But you’re right, Congressman. Foolishness has infected both sides of the aisle."
"By my calculation," Sarah added, "America, in war making, homeland security, and intelligence gathering, has spent over two hundred billion dollars fighting terror since 9/11. And for what? There are more terrorists today than there were then, and they’re more lethal than ever. Everything we’ve done has been wrong." <
"Y’know, fellas, you used to be able to buy something good for two hundred billion," Thor noted dryly.
Sarah was still steamed. "And with all of your stupid restrictions you’ve punished the victims rather than the villains. Then you forced American taxpayers to fund your folly." Sarah, having delivered her knockout punch, folded her arms and glared at the assembly.
An awkward silence descended upon the room, broken at length by Congressman Macon. "Admiral Adams, after listening to you and Agent Nottingly, I think we agree on but one thing. America needs a choice." The politician paused. "I think I’ll give them one. I’m going to run against you."
"Great. Like I said, I don’t want the job."
"Not great," the Republican Senator groaned. "I still want you to run. I support most of the things you said - even the liberal ones."
"Good. Run against him, Senator Dodge."
"No. My party and I have done a miserable job of articulating our position. Sure, the press is united against us, but we couldn’t market a hula-hoop. We need you."
"I’m not a politician. No offense, but I don’t even like politicians."
"No offense taken. I don’t like them either." That got them laughing, which was a good thing. The room had grown a little tense.
"Admiral, please. You can run as a Republican or as an Independent, either way. It doesn’t matter. Even if we nominated a candidate, they’d vote for you. Frankly, if I were running, I’d vote for you."
The Admiral found his candor disarming. "Do you remember all the way back to the Contract with America, sir?" Adams loved history.
"Sure. Republicans told voters what they’d do if elected. They put it in writing. Apparently folks liked what they read because they threw the liberal incumbents out. We had the first conservative majority in decades."
"If Sarah and I were to put our plan to Save America into the form of a contract, could you get folks to sign it?"
"Enough to pass its provisions into law if they were elected?"
"I’m certain of it," he responded.
"Then let’s give America a choice. Congressman Macon, commit your plan to writing. We’ll do the same. Let the people choose."