Ever since they lost the 2008 presidential election by seven percentage points and 192 electoral votes (as well as eight Senate seats and 21 House seats), the Republicans have been busy trying to "rebrand" themselves, which is to say they're trying to figure out a new way to fool people into voting for their unpopular policies. In fact, there have been so many rebranding efforts launched that it has become necessary for David Weigel of the Washington Independent to create a list in his "People's History of the Republican Comeback". Weigel's reference to the Republicans' "Hari Seldon-ish organizations" got me thinking about what the Republicans really need. Here's what I came up with.
* * *
Newt Gingrich was feeling more than a little anxious as he escorted his fellow Republicans into the Time Vault. He had copied the layout of the place from Asimov's original: fifty seats all facing a large, featureless cube sitting on a stage.
"Will someone finally tell me what the hell this fucking shit is all about?" complained James Dobson. Gingrich winced. Whenever he was out of the public eye, Dobson tended to swear like a sailor. Gingrich figured he was just one open-mike gaffe away from losing control of Focus on the Family, but so far the potty-mouthed zealot had managed to maintain his pious public persona.
"It's something I set up twenty years ago," Gingrich explained. "I was worried that we might face a, well, a crisis, so I decided to prepare a countermeasure."
John Boehner looked around unhappily. "This isn't one of those stupid sci-fi things, is it? You spend too much time thinking about that stuff."
"Please, everyone, just have a seat," said Gingrich as he gestured for the others to help themselves to the front row. "Everything will become clear in," he checked his watch, "two minutes." Was this what it was like for Salvor Hardin? he found himself wondering. Hardin had been the only intelligent man among a small group of hopeless incompetents, and Gingrich felt that life was imitating art just a little too closely. Rush Limbaugh was jittery, clearly coming down from one of his Oxycontin jags. Sarah Palin had that half-shrewd look on her face, as if she were wondering how to get someone else to pay her travel expenses from Alaska. John McCain was giving Palin the skunk eye, Michael Steele was grinning nervously, and Mitch McConnell wore his usual expression of acidic disapproval.
"This isn't gonna take too long, is it?" asked Palin. "I promised to take the First Dude to lunch at Ray's Hell Burger." She tittered, as she always did when she said "Hell Burger".
"Hell of a name for a goddamn fucking burger joint," muttered Dobson. Palin tittered again.
"I don't think so, but I can't be certain," said Gingrich, as he studiously ignored the sight of Limbaugh surreptitiously snorting more of his hillbilly heroin.
Suddenly the lights in the Time Vault went out, and Gingrich realized with a shock that the featureless cube was no longer empty. It was now occupied by a figure -- a figure in a wheelchair!
"Jesus motherfucking Christ!" exclaimed Dobson. "It's Reagan!"
It was indeed. The features were unmistakable, despite the rainbow effect of the twenty-year-old holographic technology.
"What's he doing in a damn wheelchair?" McCain wondered, but the others shushed him.
The holographic Reagan was looking down at a stack of index cards, but he set them down and looked up at the assembled Republicans.
"Well," said the figure in the wheelchair in the familiar smooth tone of voice, "I guess we should get started. I'm not really here, so you don't have to get up or salute or anything." He chuckled and grinned the familiar grin. "Smoke 'em if you got 'em, heh heh. I don't know if anyone's out there. Newt says there's gonna be, but we all know how full of crap Newt is." Among the darkened seats, Gingrich heard Palin titter.
"Well, Nancy's astrologer has been casting horoscopes like crazy, and if she's right, then the Grand Old Party is in big trouble in the year 2009. America's stuck in a hopeless war that one of our guys started, the economy's in the tank, and the country elected a really popular black guy. So, what do we have to do to get the Republican Party back on top?
"Well, first thing is, we have to dump the God-botherers. Jerry, if you're out there, I'm real sorry about this, but that's the way it's gotta be. Joan says that we've got to get the queers voting for us or we're screwed, and the Moral Majority types will never go for that.
"Second, we have to get all the Spanish people voting for us. I thought we worked all this out back in '86, but Joan says they're all angry at us in 2009 for calling them all wetbacks. So, cut out all that wetback talk. Oh, and stop trying to deport the real wetbacks. We need them, and trying to ship them all back to Mexico or wherever is making their relatives angry, and their relatives are legal so they're the ones whose votes we need.
"Finally, and I know this is gonna sound funny coming from me, but Joan says we have to ditch all the KKKers. No more talk about welfare queens and affirmative action. If there's a black guy in the White House, then that means there's not enough honkies to swing elections any more. That well's gone dry, and we're only gonna look like a bunch of Archie Bunkers if we keep trying to win them over.
"Well, that's pretty much it. Joan says if you can win over the queers and the wetbacks and lose the racists, we just might get someone elected after the black guy's second term ends. She says it doesn't look good right now, but that's your best shot. So go out there and win one more for the Gipper."
The holographic Reagan picked up his index cards and began shuffling through them. Then the cube went dark and the lights came back up in the Time Vault.
Dobson had risen from his chair, and his features were livid. "Gingrich, if this is some kind of goddamn motherfuckin' joke, it ain't funny! If I ever catch you at another goddamn values voters summit, I'm gonna punch your fuckin' lights out!" He stormed out of the room, and the other rose and followed him, giving Gingrich a collection of dirty looks as they did so.
"Mike!" Gingrich called out desperately as the RNC Chairman passed by. "Come on! You know he's right! We gotta do what he says or the party's fucked!"
Steele paused for a moment and looked back. "Newt, I got enough troubles as it is without all this crazy talk about dumping the Bible-thumpers and the crackers. If you want to try spouting that shit, you're welcome to, but leave me out of it." He followed the others out the door.
Salvor Hardin, Gingrich knew, would have come up with some pithy epigram to sum up the situation. Gingrich tried to think of one.
"Shit," he finally muttered, and hurried out of the room.