The Basquiat Miracle

The new aide looked like all of the new aides. Young, generically attractive, eager to please, utterly incapable of disagreeing with anything he said. She was undoubtedly from a prestigious university and the daughter of one of his wealthy donors.

“Senator Basquiat,” she said, voice slightly shaky, “Carlin would like to see you.”

“Of course he would,” Cecil smiled, “Where is he?”

“Conference Room C.”

Cecil turned and started walking. He made it three steps before realizing that he was alone. He turned and looked at the aide. “Well, are you coming?”

“Senator?”

“You’re my aide, right? That means you’re with me.”

Her eyes widened and then she started nodding. “Yes. Of course.”

He started walking again. The aide fell into step next to him. “What’s your name?” he asked.

“Marzipan Caruthers.”

“Marzipan?” he raised an eyebrow and looked at her. “That is a truly unusual choice for a name.”

“My parents had this weird obsession with some old web cartoon that had a character with that name.”

“Points for creativity, I suppose.”

“Yes, Senator.”

He turned away before she could see him smile. He’d never gotten used to the way people just agreed with him because of who he was. He hoped he never would.

They reached Conference Room C and he immediately knew that he was walking into an ambush. His campaign head, Carlin Monroe, was standing in the middle of a U-shaped group of tables covered with tablets and flex screens. A half-dozen advisors stood around the table. Cornell Simons, The Unity Party Chairman, sat on the end of one of the tables. His running mate, Eleanor Mitchell, stood next to Simons. She looked up when he walked in. Her expression was anything but friendly.

He put on his best reception line smile. “I take it you saw the revisions I added to the speech.”

“You can’t do this, Cecil,” Eleanor said. “You just can’t. You’re going to kill us right here at the convention.”

“I can do this, Eleanor, and I will. I must.”

Cornell stood up. “Look, Cecil, I know this is important to you. Hell, I agree with it. But we’re already fighting an uphill battle here. We’re in the middle of the most successful third party run since Ross Perot. We’re in a position where we could create the first new major political party since the Republicans. On top of that we’re already pulling for a major historical first with Eleanor on the ticket. There’s only so much we can take.”

“I don’t remember changing the plan to push Eleanor’s sexual identity to the forefront,” Cecil said. “Did that change?”

“No,” Eleanor said. “It didn’t. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be a huge win for my community. And if you just throw the chance away a lot of people will be pissed.”

Eleanor Mitchell had an outside shot at becoming the first transgender Vice President in American history. Cecil understood it was important and was one of the few firsts left on the historical lists. He hadn’t chosen her for that reason. She had an excellent record as mayor of Las Vegas. She had built a coalition that pulled voters from the Republican and Democratic sides to win two straight terms as Governor of Nevada. Her main problem was that she was an excellent example of what was still known as a “retail politician.” Her skills were in shaking hands, listening to constituents, and solving problems. While all of that was deeply important in a politician she lacked the vision necessary to change the world.

“Cecil, look,” Carlin said, “We’re starting to lose grounds in the polls. Fergus is almost to the 50% mark this week after the Democratic National Convention. Gorman is starting to catch up to us again. We’re down to a 26 to 23 margin there. We’re not supposed to lose ground in the middle of our own convention.”

“And that is why I need to change the narrative,” Cecil said. “Don’t you understand that? We’re trying to play politics by the old game. The Democrats and Republicans have called the shots for so long that everyone just assumes we have to follow their script. I am done following their script.” He turned to his aide. “Have you seen the new speech?” he asked.

“I…I have, Senator.”

“And what do you think?”

“Really?”

“Yes. Of course.”

“I think it’s brilliant. I think it’s bold.”

“Do you think it will get us buzz with the younger generations?”

“Absolutely. We’ve all seen the world our parents gave us and I, for one, know that we can’t afford four more years of the same plans.”

“We’re doing this, people,” Cecil said. “The future depends on us.”

Eleanor Mitchell threw her hands up in exasperation.

*  *  *

A wave of thunderous applause washed over the stage as he walked out to the podium. He suspected some of the noise was electronically generated. The main floor of the stadium was packed but the bowl of the arena was nearly empty. There simply weren’t enough Unity Party delegates to match the major parties. They had decided to try to match the visuals and spent most of the week fixing the gaps with clever camera angles.

He stepped up to the podium and gripped the edges, waiting for the applause to die down. When the room was sufficiently quiet he began his speech. The first forty-five minutes was standard stump speech material about service and pulling together. He could have done that part in his sleep and was halfway convinced he had at least once.

Then he reached the new part of the speech. He paused, took a deep breath, and looked around the room. The crowd fell silent, sensing that something important was about to happen.

“Ten score and four years ago,” he began, deliberately calling back to one of the most important speeches in American history, “A new political party propelled one of America’s greatest Presidents into the White House during America’s most tumultuous period. The America that voted for Abraham Lincoln stood on the precipice of the great calamity of war. The American experiment nearly ended in four years of war and strife. But it didn’t end. It came out stronger.

“What Abraham Lincoln understood was that America was at a historical moment. The old ways were passing. New technology connected people in a way they had never before been connected. New ideas of justice and equality were finally ending the myth of the superiority of one race over another. America was torn between the forces that recognized the future and the forces that didn’t want to leave the past.

“We now stand at a new historical moment. The future stretches out before us, mysterious and frightening. The past beckons us, comfortable and familiar. We cannot, we must not return to that past. The past is gone. The past is a dying world that takes all of humanity with it.

“A decade ago America stood at a new historical moment and very nearly failed. We looked at the Macapa Space Elevator as a strategic asset to fight over. We narrowly avoided a messy, fractured four-way war that would surely have ended humanity once and for all. The fact that I can stand here today is testament to the courage of the men and women who stood at the brink of war and realized that the only choice was step out of the past and into the future.

“We have accomplished so much since the Macapa Space Elevator connected Earth to the sky. The United Nations wish to accomplish so much more. They wish to send humans to the stars. As President of the United States of America I will throw our full support behind the Messenger Project.

“This support will need to be material in nature. The best way to find the materials we need is to begin a program of disarmament. The entire world enjoys the fruits of the Pax Macapa but we still cling to our old weapons. We must choose in this moment whether we want to step into the future and give those weapons up or cling to the past and potentially destroy ourselves and our world.

“We stand on the precipice. One choice will take us to the stars and guarantee the survival of the human race. The other choice will doom us to a slow death trapped on a single planet orbiting a single star.”

He paused. The entire room seemed to hold its breath.

“I know that there are those who believe that we must keep our military strong. There are those who believe that if we disarm then our enemies will simply march into our lands and take everything from us. There are those who believe that war is the human condition.

“To those people I say have faith. In the thirteen years since the launch of the Macapa Space Elevator we have had twelve years of almost complete peace on Earth. I believe,” he paused and smiled at the crowd, “I know that China and Russia understand the benefits of peace as well. I will work with our friends in the Commonwealth nations. I will work with China and Russia. We will find a way to turn our swords into plowshares and, through the United Nations, build the ships that will take us, all of us, to the stars.”

He paused again. A murmur ran through the crowd as his proposal began to sink in. He took a deep breath and prepared for the last stretch.

“On the moon there will be no Americans. On Mars there will be no Russians. On Alpha Centauri there will be no Chinese. On Tau Ceti there will be no French. On other worlds there will be no nations, there will be no divisions. On other worlds there can only be humans.

“In order to get to those other worlds we must unite here and now. We must say that on Earth there are no Americans, no Russians, no Chinese, and no Germans. The movement starts right here, tonight. We will bring peace to Earth and then we will make our home among the stars.”

He realized that he was gripping the podium so tightly his knuckles had turned white. He released his grip, straightened up. He smiled tightly.

The room exploded in applause.

*  *  *

“Are you still mad, Eleanor?” Cecil asked.

She turned away from the screen and looked at him. After a moment she laughed. “A little.”

“It worked, didn’t it?”

“It might not have.”

“It’s better to try for the grand win and fail than to try to do what everyone else is doing and also fail.”

“That doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.”

“Just you wait. Two hundred years from now that will be my most famous quote. High school students will use it as their yearbook quotes. It will be written at the base of a giant statue of me on Jupiter.”

“Good luck building a statue on Jupiter there, Mr. Scientist.”

“Hey,” he nodded at the screen, “That’s President Scientist to you, Ms. Vice President.”

Eleanor turned back to the screen. A smile slowly spread across her face. “It’s really happening, isn’t it?”

The West Coast polls were closing down and starting to report their results. The contest had really been over for days, as most people voted electronically and few people physically went to their polling places anymore. But the American tradition of voting and respecting the franchise was still built into the very core of the electoral system. No results were announced until the polls officially closed.

The system still allowed for election night drama as the reports swept across the country. There had been little doubt from the beginning that the Unity Party would win. They’d spent most of the evening flirting with 50% of the vote while Fergus held steady in the high twenties and Gorman in the high teens.

His Convention speech had immediately boosted his poll numbers into the low thirties. For the rest of the summer and into the fall he’d tirelessly crossed the country and convinced people, sometimes one at a time, that the world was changing and that the only way for America to hold its leadership position was to excel at peace and collaboration where it had once excelled at war and domination.

At the beginning of October he’d pulled into the low forties and overtaken Fergus for the first time. A writer coined the term “The Basquiat Miracle.” A chunk of Gorman’s voters then switched to his camp based entirely on the old animosity between Democrats and Republicans. A man’s homemade sign reading “Better Disarmament Than Democrat” had gone viral and ended up as one of the iconic images of the campaign.

“We have the final results,” the news anchor said. “And it should come as no surprise after this historic night that the winner of the 2064 Presidential election is Cecil Basquiat of the Unity Party. This is the first time since 1844 when Zachary Taylor won as a Whig that America has elected a President who is not a Democrat or Republican. This is the first time since the election of 1860 that a representative of a new party has managed to make it to the White House. And we cannot forget that Eleanor Mitchell is the first transgender person to hold the office of the Vice President. Truly, tonight is a historic night in America.”

Cecil turned to his running mate. “Are we ready?” he asked.

She smiled. “I’ve been ready for this for months.”

They turned away from the screen and headed towards the main hall. It was time to begin the real work.

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