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2024: A POLITICAL FANTASY

On a snowy unnoticed day in early February, a ridiculously clad man brought his petitions to the Connecticut state capitol,filing for the Republican presidential primary.  He had gathered the signatures over the past weeks, speaking chiefly in and around the state’s college campuses.  He signed his name like this:





      There were other joke candidates to be sure, but “Thomas Jefferson” stood in a different class: he had the requisite signatures to qualify for ballot position, and had eschewed the earlier primary contests. He'd repeated the process in all states like Connecticut that had primaries on April 2 or later. Moreover, what the pundits did not realize was that in his low-key way, Jefferson was connecting with the people “out there.”  His crowds were slowly growing beyond the college kids, purely by word of mouth and his references to historical precedent as the solution to the severe problems were striking a resonant chord.  Equally under the radar screen was the growing corps of volunteers who began knocking on doors, not to mention the clandestine busloads who quietly headed south and west.  Both student activists  and more and more people were attracted by the sound, albeit idiosyncratic, ideas of the gentle Virginian.

      In the days leading up to the early April slew of primaries, two noteworthy events occurred.  On a slow Monday news day, Jefferson was in New York, speaking to a small group of protesters decrying the Wall Street fat cats. “TJ”, as his supporters had taken to calling him, spoke to the downtrodden (and the curious stockbrokers who gathered at the fringes of the crowd to listen) of the need for sacrifice.  “We will need additional levies on the propertied classes, coupled with true austerity in government spending.  When our forefathers pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor, they did not add, ‘unless it jeopardizes a tax break.’”

      Meanwhile, a Hollywood guest on that evening’s Daily Show had just backed out due to a bout with a virulent strain of cocaine.  A frantic producer who had heard of the oddball candidate invited TJ to appear with Jon Stewart, now back to hosting The Daily Show once a week.  Numerous titters greeted the prospective nominee as he marched onto the stage, especially given that he appeared ready for Halloween rather than an election.  He wore light blue knickers and a slightly worn matching jacket, high white stockings, and a white ruffled shirt.  He held a tricorn hat and his light red hair was tied in the back in a ponytail.

      Prompted by Stewart's probing (and occasionally jocular) questioning, TJ dispassionately cited examples from history as the solutions to the country’s problems, issue by issue. When the host baited him as to the gridlock between Republicans and Democrats, TJ shook his head.  “When did this republic forget,” he intoned, “that the leaders are not here to aggrandize power but to serve the people, and the people, each other?”

      “Well, you may be crazy, sir,” Stewart said, “but you make more sense than the ‘geniuses’ (he made quote marks as he said it) who have been parading before us.”

      When his guest left the stage, Stewart witnessed something he had never seen in his twelve-year stint hosting The Daily Show: off camera, just before the concluding “Moment of Zen”, the audience rose as one and cheered.  The episode was replayed endlessly courtesy of the twenty-four hour news cycle and beamed into homes, voters’ homes, including those in the coming round of primary states.

      The episode went viral, as countless people watched and remarked favorably on the unusual candidate who spouted such common sense. The only ones not watching were the putative nominees, Trump and Biden, who had already locked up enough delegates to clinch their respective nominations and thus waged no further primary or caucus campaigning.

      Both putative nominees would rue their inactivity come April 2. On that day, TJ not only won every Republican primary he was entered in, he took every Democratic one as well, courtesy of write in votes. The 24/7 cable news outlets were agog in remonstrating this proved rampant dissatisfaction with both major party candidates.

      To stanch the wound, Trump's advisers urged him to debate TJ before the next round of primaries, only a week out. Moreover, the President issued his own challenge to the surprise candidate, lest he be deemed less energetic than Trump. So it was that TJ appeared on back to back nights on televised town halls, the first with Trump and sponsored by Fox News, the second with Biden and moderated by CNN. As it turned out, record audiences tuned in to see what all the fuss was about.  

      The message TJ offered was that the country had lost its way; the massive problems facing the United States could only be cured by respecting the lessons of history. He also had one notable sound bite that went mega viral, in response to a question about the environment.  “The earth belongs always to the living generation,” he opined, holding that we all must be stewards to preserve the environment for the lives to come.

       Trump piped up.  “That quote (referring to Jefferson’s ‘The earth belongs…’),  didn't Jimmy Stewart said that in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’” The spinmeisters in the media later had a field day with Trump’s intellectual gaffes, for in fact the saying was from the original Thomas Jefferson.  To make matters worse for the front runner, in the Fox News forum, after one TJ response that elicited roars from the audience, Trump ridiculed, “Maybe we ought to wait to hear from John Adams.”

      Fury in his eyes, TJ turned to the former president and scolded, “You sir, should genuflect at the very name of Adams.  He was brilliant, industrious, a genuine patriot and my friend and you sir are no John Adams!”

      Trump tried to laugh it off as a meaningless joke but the truth stuck that next to the Founding Fathers, he and all of the current crop of wannabe chief executives were an abomination.

      In the aftermath of the debate, a chorus was growing to the effect that Trump was showing his age and not up to the job, that he was yesterday's news, besides the sundry legal issues nipping at his heels.

     As for the next night's Democratic debate, when moderator Anderson Cooper asked the candidates if it seemed un-American to employ assassination against terrorist leaders, the incumbent Biden stumbled over his answer.  Not so his opponent.  Jefferson noted in his quiet way, “The tree of liberty must be nourished from time to time with the blood of tyrants.”

      “Oh, that’s horrible!” President Biden croaked.  “Why would you quote Mussolini?” When the fact checkers saw the quote was bona fide 18th century Jefferson, all the assorted criticisms visited upon Trump a day earlier erupted anew, this time with respect to the sitting president. There was one light-hearted moment.  After the debate, a reporter called out a question, “Mr. President?”  To which both Biden and Jefferson turned.

     Anyway after these two events, Jefferson's crowds grew geometrically. Moreover, people began sporting green sprigs behind their ears, in imitation of the custom of the Sons of Liberty, from the days of the American Revolution. Further indicative of the mystic chord he has struck, TJ piled up wins in the next two weeks primaries.

      With all the news outlets wasting billions of otherwise perfectly harmless electrons, it was left to the National Enquirer to conduct the most basic journalistic research of all.  They engaged a handwriting analyst.  The unequivocal conclusion: the signature on TJ’s New Hampshire ballot application and Thomas Jefferson’s historic signature as supplied pursuant to a Freedom of Information request from the National Archives were a perfect match!  Now the news hounds went into full frenzy: was he or wasn’t he?

      One of the last surviving Jefferson heirs was located and granted consent to exhume the grave at Monticello.  It was a media storm akin to the opening of Al Capone’s vault with even Geraldo Rivera providing commentary as the coffin was opened.  The next stunner: the sarcophagus was empty.  Moreover, the descendant’s DNA matched TJ’s!

      Previously TJ had refused any inquiries as to his appearance.  Now he had no choice but to submit to detailed interrogatories if there was any hope of getting the campaign back on agenda.  So he appeared on a Lester Holt prime-time special that established the viewership record.

      “Mr. President,” Mr. Holt began after TJ made clear he could say nothing about the hereafter, “Why are you here?”

      “The council of presidents is quite distressed over the state of the republic.  We feel we must remind the nation of its heritage,” Jefferson spoke in his soft Virginia drawl.

      “But why you?”

      “Well, it was felt Lincoln had already given his all, Franklin Roosevelt had served enough for one country’s life time, Theodore Roosevelt was too eager, and John Kennedy would face a morass of questions over intimate though trivial matters.”

      Frowning, the news anchor asked if it was unseemly for TJ to be racking up wins in both parties’ primaries?

      “If you check your history, good sir, you will see that my party designation was ‘Democratic-Republican’.  Moreover, in times of upheaval, unanimity is preferable to partisan rancor. Mr. Washington and Mr. Monroe both enjoyed one-party support, so there is ample precedent.”

      The rest of the interview covered TJ’s ideas on the issues.  The discussion was lengthy for, as Jefferson warned, “The problems are so severe as to defy sloganistic appeals.”

      Independent minded retiring Senator Joe Manchincommented after, “That there feller makes so much sense and it’s about time we had a president who wasn’t chasing after squirrels.”  The nation seemingly agreed, for TJ’s crowds continue to swell to immense proportions.

      TJ posted a clear sweep on both the Democratic and republican sides in all the remaining state primaries and caucuses. A number of prominent establishment Republicans and Democrats endorsed him, believing that TJ's run of success indicated profound dissatisfaction with the presumptive nominees. Even previously pledged delegates began to waffle, with some breaking away from Biden or Trump.

      The only fly in the ointment arose when the Congressional Black Caucus demanded Jefferson’s views on race.  When asked about Sally Hemings, TJ with tears in his eyes declaimed he loved Sally dearly, but would go no further.  “I shall not gratify the media’s need for voyeurism.  A man and a woman’s relationship is too sacred to be profaned by the public’s lust for the titillating.  Such questions have no place in the public discourse.”

      As for his slave holdings, TJ said he could only apologize for the short-sightedness of his time.  He noted that if he had freed his servants in 18th century Virginia, none would have survived the public temper.  So he took the best care he could and hoped the peculiar institution would die of its own inertia, which he acknowledged was wrong.

      Did he ever doubt his course on interracial policy?

      “Countless times.  When the Missouri Compromise was enacted, I feared it was a warning of pending calamity, a ‘firebell in the night.’” Polls showed Jefferson would defeat both Biden and Trump in a rout, and no sooner were those polls published than scores of already pledged delegates broke with the candidates they'd been aligned. So many now endorsed Jefferson, it appeared neither Biden nor Trump now commanded enough votes to prevail. It promised to be the first conventions in a long time that would play meaningful roles. That turned out not to be the case. Disgusted with his support melting away, and the increasing toll the many law suits were taking of his time, Trump withdrew from the race. With Trump out, Biden announced the reason for his running in the first place was gone, and he too bowed out. Delegates from both parties who had been elected for one of the one-time front runners now raced to the Jefferson bandwagon. A Washington Post tracker indicated TJ had enough delegates to win on the first ballot, at both conventions.

      The GOP convention was scheduled to begin in Milwaukee on July 15; the Dems a month later in Chicago August 15.Jefferson who had clinched both first ballot nominations requested that instead of holding two separate conventions, the two parties’ delegates meet earlier and jointly.  So the “Union” convention, as Rolling Stone magazine called it, rolled around on July 15 in Chicago.  A week and a half before, TJ made a sentimental July 4 pilgrimage to Virginia, specificallyMonticello, and observed the 248th anniversary of the nation’s independence, and the 198th of his and John Adams’s passing.

      On night number one of the convention, TJ appeared to the cheers of Democratic and Republican delegates alike.  When the spontaneous demonstration abated, he began to speak, paraphrasing the words from his first inaugural address.  “We are all Republicans; we are all Democrats.”  The words were his, as TJ had campaigned without speechwriters, pollsters to tell him what to believe, and with no campaign strategists or paid consultants.  Just an army of volunteers, chiefly the young.

      Looking over the assembled throng, TJ pointed out that it had been over a half century since there had been a meaningful convention that had not had a preordained first ballot coronation.  “It is time for conventions to work as designed: for delegates to seriously discuss issues and to put forward two choices to lead the republic.

      “I did not come here to lust for power and even though the Twenty-Second Amendment does not apply to me, I am mindful of the two-term presidential tradition.  Having served two terms already and having delivered my message to this generation, I hereby release all of my delegates.

      “As we have seen, the country’s problems are too significant to be entrusted to the hands of the politicians.  Leaders from all walks of life, a modern-day Cincinnatus if you will, must come forward and guide this great land.”

      With that Jefferson left, never to be seen again.  The Democrats and Republicans each clustered in separate sections of convention hall to conduct their deliberations.  It was decided to take a twenty-four recess, to cast about for suitable candidates.  A CEO, a scientist, a university president, a popular philosopher/author, a noted constitutional lawyer, and a Nobel-laureate economist all threw their hats in the ring.  Three were Democrats; three Republican.  Several politicians tried to clamber back to the ring but informal polls of the state delegations indicated there was no support. Politics as usual was kaput.

      Late that night, in a secret and hastily called meeting in a secure hotel room, Jaime Harrison and Michael Whatley, the Democratic and Republican national chairmen, respectively, bemoaned the state of affairs.  “Politics without politicians is unthinkable,” Mr. Harrison moaned.

      “Jefferson may be iconic, but in this case he is crazy,” Mr. whatley said as at long last Democratic and Republican leaders found common ground.  Together they hit upon an idea.  Place loyal and politically proven individuals in the vice presidentialslots.  The politician/vice president nominee was sure to assume de facto control over the presidential designees who were neophytes to the political process.  They would thus exert control over the titular president and ensure restoration of the old political order after the election.

      The two chairmen shook on it, having settled on Nikki Haleywhen there was a surprisingly loud and unexpected rap at the door.  “No one knows we are here,” Whatley proclaimed. "Who could it be?"

        Harrison opened the door as the familiar figure strode briskly into the room, took off his fedora and glancing through his wire rim spectacles rapped his cane on the floor.  “I’m Harry Truman and what the hell are you people doing to the vice presidency?”

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