THE SCENE: DAVID AXELROD’S conference room. We are witnessing a meeting with the Obama team’s inside-iest insiders. Attending are AXELROD, DAVID PLOUFFE and VALERIE JARRETT. RAHM EMANUEL is attending via teleconference from Paraguay, where he is hiding out from Patrick Fitzgerald and his ongoing investigation. His face is shown on a screen on the far wall of the room. The other three participants are seated in cream leather executive chairs around the black granite table, which is polished to an immaculate sheen. The walls are sage green and covered with pictures of Obama looking beneficent and Presidential.
AXELROD (addressing the wall screen): Rahm, can you hear us? I know things are kinda primitive in Paraguay.
EMANUEL: Not where I am. Our man Barack has made everyone feel so post-partisan that George W. has been hosting me. (a Paraguayan houseboy, wearing a large nametag that reads “Hello, my name is Juan” brings him a tropical drink) Thanks, Miguel! (The houseboy leaves, rolling his eyes; EMANUEL sips his drink) Mmm…nothing like fresh mango.
JARRETT (sarcastically): Gosh, can I be the target of a federal investigation too?
PLOUFFE (looking around) Shhh! For god’s sake, Valerie, don’t jinx it! Everyone, make the sign of the “O”!
(The following ritualized actions are done with a precision that would put synchronized swimmers to shame.)
(ALL raise their arms and make an “O” sign with their hands)
ALL TOGETHER: Obama, protect us! Obama, protect us! Obama, protect us!
(ALL lower their arms.)
AXELROD: Ahhhh, that’s better. It looks like we’re ready to start now.
(ALL put on their “serious” faces)
AXELROD: As you know, today was a big day for our President. Several of his appointments went to confirmation hearings, including…HER.
(ALL nod solemnly)
AXELROD: Now, none of us wanted HER, but thanks to those damn voters in the primary and those idiotic PUMAs, she had the leverage to elbow her way into the Cabinet. A moment of silence, please, for our brother John Kerry, who deserved the Secretary of State position so much more.
(ALL bow their heads solemnly)
AXELROD (sighing): Still, just because we didn’t want her doesn’t mean we don’t have a strategy for dealing with her. David, want to bring us up to speed on Operation Pantsuit?
PLOUFFE: Sure, Dave. (Standing, working the room a bit) Well, whatever our personal feelings about HER are, we knew she would sail through the nominating process. Our trial balloon about Bill and his charitable foundation went absolutely nowhere, except with the Republicans and our fans in the blogosphere – and we know they’ll believe anything about the Clintons.
AXELROD: And thank God for that, am I right, people?
JARRETT: Hell, yeah! (EMANUEL looks uncomfortable, but consoles himself with another sip of his drink.)
PLOUFFE: Our job going forward is to undermine her without making the President look bad. After all, he picked her – and some of his other Cabinet picks are off to a rocky start.
EMANUEL (interrupting): I TOLD you guys not to pick Richardson and Geithner!
PLOUFFE (grimacing): Yes, yes, you were right, Rahm.
EMANUEL (annoyed and vindicated): Hmph!
PLOUFFE: MAY I continue? (glares around room, annoyed at constant interruptions)
(ALL are silent)
PLOUFFE (satisfied): All RIGHT then. We decided we would use our, um, contacts in the media and the blogosphere to put a subtly negative spin on everything.
JARRETT: Ahhhhh, that’s what those meetings with the press were about! The President is letting them know who’s the boss before he’s even inaugurated. Is he amazing, or what?
AXELROD: Yeah – and he’s already got ‘em trained at the press conferences. The ones that he doesn’t notify in advance? They don’t even bother raising their hands anymore. Woof, woof, good doggies!
(ALL LAUGH, including PLOUFFE.)
PLOUFFE: Sooooo, back to the plan. Here’s what we told everyone. Hillary’s being so prepared and knowledgeable? Just proof that the questions were easy. Her husband’s charity work? Sleazy and ineffective. Her intelligence? Could cause disagreements with Barack! Most of all, they’ll emphasize how she is going to be a subordinate to the President and that she’d better understand that!
(PLOUFFE smiles, proud of himself. The others look at each other in silent disbelief.)
EMANUEL (voicing everyone’s thoughts): That’s it? (standing up, getting more and more visibly agitated) Are you fucking kidding me? This is Hillary Rodham goddamned Clinton we’re talking about! She had the entire Party against her and still almost stole the nomination out from under Barack’s nose. We shut her plan for universal healthcare down in the Senate, but she managed to become Secretary of State instead. This woman is unsinkable after 17 years of the same type of lame propaganda you’re pushing, and you really think it’s gonna take her down now? That shit just makes her stronger! She’s just gonna smile sweetly and do whatever the fuck she wants. She is going to take foreign policy away from the President! Wake up, people!!
AXELROD: (stunned) Oh my God. She’s going to be the foreign President! How could we have let this happen?
(Suddenly, BARACK OBAMA enters the room.)
OBAMA: Hey guys, how’s it goin’?
(ALL stand and ritualistically make the sign of the “O”, as they did before.)
OBAMA (smiling): At ease, people. So, I gather you’re talking about my new Secretary of State?
(ALL nod shamefacedly.)
OBAMA (working the room): Look, everyone, I really appreciate all the worrying you’re doing about how she’s gonna take over the foreign side of the government. But the notion that somehow you have to do something about it, is, frankly, not the case. The fact is, I’m totally cool with it.
JARRETT (worshipfully): Really, Barack?
OBAMA: Absolutely! You all know that during the primaries, I just copied whatever she said about Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and all that. The only disagreements we ever had were when she didn’t go first in the debates and I couldn’t imitate her! I had to really struggle to create the illusion that she and I were on opposite sides of, well, anything.
PLOUFFE: And you did it so well, Mr. President – some people even got the impression you actually voted against the AUMF, even though you weren’t in the Senate in 2003!
OBAMA (laughing): Yeah, good times, good times. Anyway, here’s the bottom line: I wouldn’t have picked her if I disagreed with her on foreign policy. You saw how Teddy and I pushed her around on health care. This Secretary of State thing works out great for me. She and Joe Biden can work on all that Middle East crap, while I am free to focus on, shall we say, more domestic issues?
EMANUEL: You mean, like running for re-election, privatizing Social Security and funneling even more taxpayer money to the evangelicals and Wall Street? Cause as you know, we are totally on board with that.
ALL (agreeing loudly): Yeah! Great!
OBAMA (grinning): You got it! So stop worrying, and don’t waste your time with this penny-ante stuff. Our next mission is make sure that everyone understands that I am the next coming of Lincoln, so our focus should be on the inauguration.
AXELROD: Oh, don’t worry about that, Barack. I’m on it! We’re going to eat the same food Lincoln did, you’re doing the riding the rails thing, and of course, you’re swearing the Oath of Office on Lincoln’s Bible. People will get the message, believe me!
OBAMA: Great! But, uh…about that Oath of Office. It’s so, I dunno, BORING. Can’t we punch it up a little? Make it more, Barack-y?
(ALL look away from Obama, not wanting to be the one to break it to him. There is a short, uncomfortable silence.)
EMANUEL (bravely): Uh, what did you have in mind, Mr. President?
OBAMA (excitedly): Okay. So I’m thinking music in the background, maybe Jay-Z – like, “99 Problems?” And I wanna add some stuff about Jesus and being post-partisan and unity and hope and change and…
AXELROD (interrupting): Of course, Mr. President! I know just what you mean. (ushering him out of the room) We’ll get Favreau right on it.
EMANUEL (after AXELROD and OBAMA are out of the room): Holy shit! Is he serious?
JARRETT (rolling her eyes): Of course he is.
EMANUEL (starting to panic): We’re not going to change the Oath of Office, are we?
AXELROD (entering the room again, calmly): Don’t worry, Rahm. He gets so excited about these things. We just humor him and in a few hours, he forgets all about it. Believe me, I know just how to handle him when he’s in this mood.
PLOUFFE (excited): So does that mean that Operation Pantsuit is not DOA?
AXELROD (kindly): Sorry, Dave. We’re going to have to can it. It looks like we’re stuck with HER for the duration.
(PLOUFFE is crestfallen. JARRETT goes around to his end of the table and starts rubbing his shoulders consolingly.)
JARRETT: Don’t worry, Dave. There really wasn’t much you could have done.
EMANUEL: Yeah, Dave. Believe me, I know that bitch – she is fucking indestructible. Besides, is it just me, or do you sometimes find yourself thinking that, um…we could have done a lot worse?
(ALL fidget uncomfortably…then JARRETT blows out her breath in a sigh of relief and walks back to her seat.)
JARRETT: Oh my God, I thought I was the only one who felt that way! (The others relax visibly, now free to express their true feelings.)
AXELROD: She was awesome in that hearing!
PLOUFFE: I love her in brown!
EMANUEL (shocked): Wait a minute – you guys LIKE her?
AXELROD (giddy with relief): Of course we do! Come on, Rahm. Do you really think Barack can handle what’s going on in the world today? She is going to save his bacon – and he can take all the credit for everything she does! It’s absolutely brilliant!
JARRETT: Yeah! Obama is a genius for picking her!
PLOUFFE (smiling): I couldn’t agree more! Come on guys, let’s get out of here. I hear there’s a big pre-inauguration party at Matthews’ place tonight! Catch you later, Rahm!
(The screen goes dark. ALL get up and start to leave.)
JARRETT: Awwww, Matthews again? Just make sure you guys don’t leave me alone with him. Last time he cornered me in the upstairs hallway and told me I gave him a tingle up his leg!
PLOUFFE: No way! I thought he was gay!