“I have some questions, Mr. Raffetz,” Sen. Flik Maynard said from the dais.
Josh thought the senator looked beat down, and he could see Chairman Blogo Landry dozing off with a content look on his face. Unbelievable. Defeated so quickly by an octogenarian who was sleeping his way through the victory.
Josh sank lower in his chair and wished he could melt into the floor. His story really was garbage. It was true. It was one thing to speculate, have some fun by tossing some facts around, turn it into a cute headline. But it was another thing to use that as evidence in a public case against the president.
What did they call it in the courtroom? Something like a standard of evidence. Evidenciary standards? Whatever it was, Josh’s story wasn’t even close.
He looked up at Flik, and realized the senator was part of the problem too. The story Josh wrote was perfect fuel for Flik’s right-wing, anti-debt crusade, but that didn’t mean the story was correct. It was a perfect trap for a guy like Flik, who was ready to pounce on any scrap of evidence to prove his case. And now, here was Flik, about to dig the hole even deeper.
Josh tried to make himself even smaller, but it was impossible.
“First of all, I think we should all thank Josh here for writing what he wrote,” Flik started. “It’s not easy, writing the first draft of history like this, especially on something so complicated.”
“Are there mistakes in there? Sure, maybe,” Flik said. “But that’s why we’re here, to talk about the issues he’s raised. I notice, Mr. Raffets, that you haven’t said his story is wrong, just that it hasn’t been confirmed by the government. Maybe that’s something you could do for us here today.”
“And you haven’t mentioned the work done by the Wall Street expert he interviewed for the story,” Flik added. “His analysis revealed the truth, didn’t it? We bomb countries once they get tired of lending to us. Simple as that. Nothing you can say erases that fact.”
Raffets looked over at Zak, who sunk down in his chair.
“Oh, you mean this Wall Street expert,” Raffets said as he pushed a lock of his greasy hair behind his ear. “They make a lot of money up there, those traders. Ruthless people. Are you really sure you want to hold them up as an example or morality?”
“Morality has nothing to do with it,” Flik said.
“Morality has everything to do with it,” Raffets said, ignoring the senator. “We acted morally. We had national security reasons for bombing China, so we acted.”
“But people like Zak Winston here, they acted for different reasons entirely,” Raffets said. “Did you know that as soon as the bombs started falling, Zak Winston’s firm was up bright and early, trying to make money off of our policy decision? Profiting off of politics, and enjoying it.”
“I don’t see how this matters,” Flik tried to reply calmly. “People have a right to protect their life savings when the government does something stupid. That doesn’t make them evil. They move their money because you guys were crazier than we all thought.”
“You don’t think Zak and his coworkers are evil?” Raffets asked. “What if I told you everyone in Zak’s company got a new BMW for their efforts?”
That caused some rumbling in the audience. Raffets amplified it by calling up a video that somehow looked familiar to Zak. A crowd of people in an office. It was his office. There was his boss, there were the people he worked with.
“After a few days of trading, Zak’s firm made billions of dollars, moving money around,” Raffets said. “Helping people along the way, for sure, but pocketing a lot of that themselves. Zak and everyone he works with got a BWM, and they drive them around as a reward.”
Zak recognized the picture shown on the frozen video. It was the day his company was handing out the cars. As Raffets said, the cars they were given as a reward for profiting off the war. This looked bad, Zak realized. Everyone admitted Wall Street was necessary, but no one wanted to hear about people on Wall Street making tons of money and giving themselves new cars.
He saw some of the reactions piling up on his screen. It was pure rage.
One entry was titled, “Bloodsucker!” and there were plenty others just like it. OK, Zak reasoned. People were adults. They knew guys on Wall Street did pretty well. It could be worse.
“And it gets worse,” Raffets said. “Zak and his company saw themselves as heroes. You perhaps remember something about World War II, how the German Nazis tried to eradicate the Jews? And you may have read something about the brave people who tried to help those poor people escape their tormentors. Six million died, but thousands were saved, quietly, secretly.”
Oh shit, Zak thought. He vaguely remembered where this was going. It was going to get worse.
“Zak and his friends, after making millions for themselves, fancied themselves as the same kind of heroes as those who liberated the Jews,” Raffets said.
“Oh, stop it,” Flik said. “You’re exaggerating.”
“I’m not,” Raffets said. “Here’s how it went.” He played the scene from Zak’s company. It was Brent talking, his manager.
“More than 100 years ago, Jews were trapped in Germany, and millions died at the hands of the Nazis. Who were the heroes of that day? The brave people who did what they could to set people free. The people who sheltered Jews as they sought a way out of the gas chambers and furnaces, and out of the country altogether.”
“Every time has a different hero. What do we see today? World War III. Who are its victims? Anyone who trusted their college savings, their retirement funds, their life savings to the stock market. That money represents people’s lives. Each time we rescue that money, we rescue a real person.”
“And who are today’s heroes? Every goddamn person in this room who helped people move their assets to safe havens. How many lives have you saved? How many families have you spared from the metaphorical gas chambers of today? The historians will have to sort it out.”
“Those people, those families… each of them thank you. And I thank you, for setting firm-wide records this month. Sales were through the roof, commissions were through the roof, and profits were through the roof!”
The recording stopped and Zak could hear people groaning behind him in the audience. Many of the senators were whispering to each other and nodding toward Zak. Chairman Blogo Landry was leaned over and consulting with one of his aides, then turned to the microphone in the stunned silence of the room.
“Mr. Raffets, that is indeed a stunning piece of evidence,” Blogo said. “You’re Jewish yourself, are you not?”
“I am,” Raffets answered, and there were more gasps from the crowd.
Now it was Zak’s turn to stare down at the table. Josh dared to look up a little to view the wreckage of the hearing. Strike one, Josh Pinner. Strike two, Zak Winston. He glanced up at Sen. Flik Maynard. If anyone could salvage this mess, it would have to be him, and even now, he saw Flik in furious consultation with his aide, Tika, who didn’t seem to want to listen.
Holy hell, Josh thought, it was like the whole roof was coming down on them.
Blogo looked even more relaxed and might have actually been asleep by now. But then a staffer got his attention, and Blogo leaned into the microphone to try to shut down the hearing.
“Are there any other questions for Mr. Raffets, or can we be done with this?”
Flik gritted his teeth at the task that was set before him. The hearing was a bust, but he still had the floor, and he was the only working weapon left.
Flik was always an optimist, and even now he was bucking himself up for the job at hand. What a mess. But the cameras were all trained on the hearing, and millions were either watching live or would see replays of all the drama in the next few hours. For better or worse, the spotlight was on, and it was time for Sen. Flik Maynard to take his place, right in the center of the beam.
He turned on his microphone.
“I have a few more questions,” Flik said, to the audible annoyance of many in the crowd, and even some senators. The Nazi stuff seemed like a home run, the kind of thing that should have shut down the effort. But Flik wasn’t done. He faced Raffets, who was staring back at him in disbelief, as if Flik were a man who had been gunned down only to find his way back on his feet again, ready, somehow, to fight on.
“Mr. Raffets, you are President Dawson’s deputy national security adviser, and every one of us here knows that our economic security is perhaps the most important part of our national security,” Flik began. “Our economic strength is what allows us to afford the technology and the infrastructure that literally makes our national security possible.”
“And yet we face a major problem,” he continued, trying desperately to keep his voice firm and steady. “We are $67 trillion in debt, and the debt is growing a few million dollars every minute. Many are just fine with that, and believe the debt can rise forever. But that’s dangerous. No one here knows when the debt crisis will hit. Maybe we can survive another decade, or maybe just another day.”
“But that’s even more reason to act today,” he said. “Because when the crisis hits, everything we’ve all worked for, for generations, will be at risk.”
“When the day comes that the government can’t borrow anymore, what then?” Flik asked. “We’ll be forced to radically shrink spending, but what do we cut? Do we slash trillions in domestic programs that low-income people around the country desperately need? Do we lower our defenses and put ourselves at risk of a foreign invasion?”
“It will likely depend on who’s in office,” he said. “If you’re a Republican and a Democrat is making those cuts, you won’t be happy. But if you’re a Democrat and a Republican is in office, you also won’t be happy. And whatever we choose, it’s management by crisis, and no choice will look good.”
“Worse, we’ve seen what happens when a debt crisis hits our own cities, or nations around the world,” Flik said, his voice rising uncontrollably as he delivered what he knew was the speech of his life, the speech he was born to deliver. “The masses revolt. Cities burn. People die. Entire regions fall into chaos, because a spending cut isn’t just something that happens on paper. Those cuts are real help, to real people. A debt crisis like the one we face sometime in the future is one that will change us irrevocably, and most agree, for the worse.”
“And now, we see some evidence of our growing desperation,” he said. “Congratulations, Mr. Raffets, you’ve found flaws in The Rumpus’ story. But you still haven’t said you disagree with its basic premise: that we are so hooked on foreign debt, that we would destroy any country that threatens to cut off the supply. No other public justification has been given for the war.”
Flik paused for a few seconds to catch his breath. He looked around the room. He had them. People were listening. He cleared his throat and took the few last steps toward his conclusion, and his destiny.
“But Mr. Raffets, and my colleagues, and President Dawson, if you’re listening, there is another way,” Flik said. “Many in this country have given up. They say the debt is too big to fight, an insurmountable obstacle. But we don’t need to resolve this problem in one day. We can remove the obstacle brick-by-brick, by making slow, steady decisions to manage our spending down, and all the while give confidence to companies and our creditor allies that the U.S. is not a bankruptcy waiting to happen, but instead a responsible nation that is managing this problem before it becomes a crisis.”
“I’ve developed a plan I call the Glide Path,” he said. “It calls for 50 years of spending reductions, a balanced budget in 20 years, and making both principal and interest payments over the next 30 years to bring us to a sustainable debt load. It’s a plan to save the country.”
“Mr. Raffets, for years the government’s response has been to downplay the debt,” Flik said. “When it finally got too big a generation ago, the government dodged by comparing it to the size of U.S. gross domestic product. Why? Because that was the biggest number the debt apologists could think of. But the debt is even larger now, and I fear the only last way to minimize it is to compare it to the number of stars in the sky.”
“Or, we can manage it,” Flik practically begged. “We can face our problem, acknowledge it, and deal with it. And we can save America. Can you commit your administration to work with me toward that goal? What do you say to that?”
Nobody moved, and all the robot cameras swiveled to face Raffets in his chair. Josh marveled at the senator’s performance. He had managed to get out of the gutter of small details, and make it about the giant issue facing everyone. He was reasonable, logical, and somehow humble, and it seemed to Josh that the world seemed to stop for an instant to listen to his wisdom, and soak it up.
The world’s ears then turned to Levi Raffets, to see how he would respond to Flik’s earnest request for help in what was one man’s quest to save the world, but what would surely have to grow into a global movement.
Raffets cleared his throat and turned on his microphone.
“To that I say… that Sen. Flik Maynard of New Hampshire has been sleeping with a female aide of his, even though he’s a married man. He’s been cheating on his wife for two years now,” Raffets said flatly as he pointed up to the dais. “That’s her, right there. Her name is Tika and she’s 24-years-old.”
The room exploded as cameras swiveled to stare at Tika’s face, which quickly turned red. Loud shouts of surprise and awe burst from the audience, and several reporters rushed to the dais shouting questions to both Tika and Flik.
Tika wobbled, then got up to leave but fainted and slumped over the dais. Flik jumped up and tried to revive her. He called madly for medical help, and soon men in suits rushed out from the sides of the dais to administer aide.
Reporters shouted questions from the gallery, and supporters and opponents of Sen. Flik Maynard rose up in the stands and shouted at each other in disgust.
It was too loud for anyone to hear Sen. Blogo Landry bang his gavel and whisper into his microphone.
“I believe we will conclude today’s hearing there. I’m so sorry your witnesses didn’t get to testify, Sen. Maynard. Perhaps another day.”