Apr/May 2023  •   Fiction

Two Winners and a Two-Time Loser: Original Transcripts from the Federalist Echo Chamber

by Chris Daly

A face in the public domain

A face in the public domain

I. Truman

"In the first war I was not at any table. I was on the front line, like the dumb ass from Missouri I was—fuck college—except at haberdashery (I always wore the same double-breasted suit, even in the shower). I was talented and soon became, in my small way, a stand out political bag man (with principles, cigars, the whole shot) at the high point of the Pendergast machine, when KC was arguably more fun than Paris. Right in the middle of high-level vice, one was untouchable; who knew one would become death? My mug has two or three settings. People underestimated me, talking about at the poker games in the basement of the big house, with Bess, Eleanor, and that whole gang upstairs getting drunk and kicking it." —Harry

"My betrothed Harry S, speaking like a Pendergast you could trust, said he had no opinion or feeling one way or the other about segregation, but that it was a pot due to be stirred. A uniformed man had been pulled off a bus and killed. In one of my own secret, personal lives, I was a jazz freak—Billie and some men with serious faces—and though I could not attend for the usual historical reasons, I was aware of the concert in town on May 23, a Sunday night, billed as Bebop vs. Dixieland, when Bird laughed at a clarinet solo and the big cornet guy stopped the tune, C-jam Blues." —Bess

"In the land of small cold mountains the North Partition dictator, a bum named Kim, thinking he would convert to his commie truth the complete homeland, invaded the South Partition, in which had been placed a puppet. This particular Nouveau Commie individual assumed the southern people were weak with no first cause, the guest army was soft, and the big boys wouldn't proxy this so soon into another big war in this land whipped and shamed and occupied the whole century and more, undeveloped beyond trails in most areas, and because of this long inimitable. So the invaders were marching fairly easily down the dagger that sticks out and hangs above Japan, and one had to respond by once again turning loose Our Man with the Weird Pipe, who was living in a secure all ass-kiss command bunker in Tokyo. A better part of our fighting forces in the area was gathered for his final (as it turned out) brilliant operation, the landing, during a short tide margin at Inchon, of an entire operation behind enemy lines, and then quickly on to Seoul. The nouveau first cause army was routed, and some made it back across the partition, which might have been more or less the end of it, but our maestro, caught with his jodhpurs down in his own area of forward command (and driven by his military birth mee-maw) couldn't resist chasing the encroachers back to their own far northern border, where one could take a whizz in the Yalu, and in fact he would have liked an excuse to direct a brief military operation to get the neighboring Middle Kingdom back into the sphere of influence in which it belonged, give Chiang and his boys another shot." —Harry

"By the way, I liked Mamie, a Denver gal. Something happens up there in that high heart of the west. She could be so open and smart, and not overly concerned, had a hat with huge feather, playing the part of a crazed bird. We could pass a look. A fair number of people figured out Harry and I could be country cute—fuck college. He was a non-sports kid who read like a demon; I was a cruising type of kid, developed a certain level of cultural acuity. That year, his second full year in office, and our second of what turned out to be the four years when we had the bomb and the bad guys didn't, Bogie and Bacall came to town, leading a dozen or two of Hollywood's finest, along crosswalks, etc., dressed beautifully, not quite seriously, which would be a lie. They were citizens with privileges whose industry was suddenly under HUAC scrutiny. It was something more than a lark and photo op. One is enough of a movie fan, slave of the flickering light, to be able to believe stars existed in real life. I didn't want to look, funeral of Pendergast one has to, this: no. One hears they comported themselves well enough, as one would expect of the professional carnival class, even after the story broke that one of them, that big kook of nature, Sterling Hayden, had been a commie, and they had to slink in their interesting fabrics back to the coast. You fuckers sold me out, remarked Bogie. Same year Hughes the air pirate was in the hearing room, an elongated Errol Flynn, being photographed letting the committee, who looked to be from the 19th century, outsmart themselves. The big contracts he'd been given had never produced, yet he was the victim." —Bess

"We're all naked, Marilyn even in a parka, MacArthur with his back-country civil war twisty corn cob pipe dissing me at Wake Island, but I was the better pol and the more Shakespearean. The general had been right at Inchon and was certain the Chinese would not risk crossing the river, so go ahead boys, make the quick sojourn. He didn't count on the huge numbers of long marchers still tough and unquestioning in their quilted uniforms assembled just across the river, the temperature many degrees below zero in the high mountain area around the Chosin Reservoir when they poured in and our forces were strung out in light uniforms and surrounded. It was war horror of the first order, carried every day in US and world papers. Our boys fought their way back on craggy trails and primitive roads, surrounded by crazed fighters in frozen sneakers, the curse of this peninsula deep in their ancestral memory. They may have had primitive drugs, the challenges were staggering, but the select western force, now cold forever, finally partially made it back to the plain where our equipment advantage kicked in and they were able to high-tail it more efficiently, chased to be sure by the red devils south to the original partition and then beyond that, handed over Seoul again, and in an area south of there dug in and by way of certain fairly insane military heroics and tricky luck and historical material determinism, were able to push back again to the north/south line, and a little north of that to new ridges and nick-namable hills, and there a stalemate held for a good part of two years, and a backyard proxy war model was established. The general, who had barely set foot in the embattled countryside, by then had been relieved and back home was at first a hero until senate hearings to review operations in that theater, for which our Golden Boy had taken selective credit, and upon actual scrutiny didn't look that great nor did his big-time civilian future. There was the other muted vain-glorious general who would be stepping in, but it was the crazy guy who finally was the most naked, one gives him that, and one partly blames his whole chain of command, those enablers. The biggest winners were the south, who dictator-less proved rather enterprising, and Long March Guy, soon no longer Stalin's boy, who parlayed the stand-off with the Big Boys into emperor-like craziness such as the Naked Leap Forward." —Harry

"It is noted regretfully that my husband, of whom, Pendergast nonsense aside, I am proud, who is now forever become death, where the buck stops, used in the same denigrating sentence, at this late date, the terms "commie" and "nigger," on more than one occasion, mainly to be one of the guys, which he was and wasn't." —Bess


II. Ike

"As your fairy grandmother general manager, I won a goddam world war. Yes, your granny was on a high, and before the end of that year, I was back in DC as Chief of Staff, pusher of the mountains of paper, by any other name. By the following year an "old polo injury" kept me in town, and in country (except for brief visits to Hawaii, Guam, the P.I. (out of which, in my humble, granny-ish opinion, we, lock, stock and barrel, should get), China, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Panama, Brazil on a continent about which we are somewhat short-sighted, German, Italy, Scotland, England. Trouble everywhere. Most immediately for one's granny, was to prevent demobilization from becoming a complete fiasco. A veteran soldier can lose interest very quickly. They were the first ones we had to get out of there. We did this according to a grading system—time of service, hairiness of same, etc.—and soon we had a bunch of newbies to handle bureaucracy. There were issues of selective service, of placement around the world... it was not polo. A war can make one old, as only a granny can be, so in a way it didn't matter; one could do anything. We were no longer the young, gifted, loner nation, and as a result one acquired tidal hemorrhoids." —DW

"I'm from Denver. DW got along with my people. It was a good situation. Our favorite chapel was in a big building at Lowry Air Field. One can be a fish in all waters and no waters, a flier in the air. Never had so many done it. The chapel was stone, squared, and flatted, with wood. Up in Mountain Time one felt a certain ahistorical fluidity." —Mamie

"By the way, I didn't really dislike Monty. As a professional warrior, one does not carry hatred so much as a sense of rivalry. The general was not an amateur, would not make the same mistake twice in the same year, and he had the look in his eye one only gets after having been in the shit. I'm sure it's not easy to be saved by healthy, well-uniformed innocents; one was still waging it deep into history and here comes the future, in which one will be summarily dismissed, perhaps later to reappear, but here now on this true height, one may be good at blending with what one has to work with. Of course the dismissive press conference sealed the deal for the guy. Even that doesn't bother me, except seriously and socially. His men liked him because they knew he wouldn't throw them to the dogs unless he had to." —DW

"We had our private jokes about the uses of mountain air... and some kids to prove it." —Mamie

"There was a somewhat complex budgetary issue one could not get away from. How much do you wind down the war machine, and when you do, who gets what? Someone, may be better if we don't know exactly who, came up with the figure of $15 billion, for a piece of which everybody was scrambling. The first question was: What's a budget? Just give us everything we want. But it doesn't work that way; even winning can be something of a bitch: to be the model of the world, one had to do things right, to be conscious not just of one's personal details, though it starts there if I read my Con Fu correctly. I got out of government, accepted the presidency of Columbia U in Gotham. It was Operation Underlord. They seemed surprised by how much time I spent in my office, the Man Who Knew Too Much, often unrecognized. My advice to the students was shut up and study, and if you are in athletics, I may speak to you now and then. Out in town I was pulled around like a little carnival horse to the occasions, day and night, and it was this year '48 that I learned to make, if not listen to, a speech. There was the name-your-price drum beat to come into "politics," especially after the Big Upset when Iceman Crime-Buster lost to the well-read, I-am-become-death Pedergrast Hayseed, who could not be trusted to advance certain agendas. But I can be a coy motherfucker, as Monty, as history, will attest. I was still engaged to the octopus apparatus. In consulting trips down to DC, I first got a sense of the creep. It was becoming apparent "the military" was gold out on the trail: Pick me for strong armed forces... It's your duty, and besides, the potential subcontract perks in your particular district. We used to call this a slippery slope. How much administration can one man perform in a life? I remember the cavalry, which I was in—but one learns to delegate, which some comrades in arms did not—there were instances of slightly shocking, high-level fuck-up. There was my friend who began to lose it and checked out before the end of the year. I was supposed to write a book. I would get X$, part of which would be passed on to a number of essential assistants and collaborators. I've had some luck, mostly at home. You could take Mamie the Pioneer to the seventh moon of Jupiter, come back in a week, and she'd have something going on with the locals, so why not involve her directly in my professional life?" —DW

"Lot of reasons, one was I laughed at him too much. I was truth from on high, and love. Something in his training made him DW. He had learned to find and follow the lines of force, as contrasted with the surprise dramatic interruptus bellicosus, which will get you glory and then will get you. Vanity is not wisdom. He liked to sit quietly and think of an empty box or an empty room. This emptiness, he found, worked well with people. One will admit, years later, in the probable privacy of this document, that occasionally the rigor of his opponent's analytical abilities aroused the emotion of shame, which, however, is the other side of vanity, and did not effect the belief that DW was the best, most careful leader of the nation-state emerging as an empire of wealth articulated. Someone needed to be around to send Tricky Dick, who wanted to nuke Korea, China, Dien Bien Phu, on a good will tour of South America instead, where he almost got killed." —Mamie

"'56 was to be my favorite nightmare year. Out in Denver late the previous year, one had cooked a big breakfast, took a brief meeting, hit the links, and on the second 18 went down and into the hospital with thrombosis—sort of a big deal. The slow covert but publicly managed recovery dragged into the new year when the decision to run again, a shoe-in until this sudden thing, had to be made. Was the good ticker tough enough? One could not really separate the macho from the belief in the rightness of the particular self, so on a restricted schedule, one campaigned, endured the smoke and food of a convention. Some say I wanted to get rid of Nixon, but it was too much trouble. Adlai used that, but he was whipped and he knew it, even when in the weeks before and after election day, Hungary and Egypt blew up, Russia went into Budapest, left, went back in... there was nothing we could do short of mobilizing half the world. For the Suez Canal, under attack from our old friends England and France, and our new friend Israel, we had to push back. Colonialism was ending. Nassar was in the nature of Egyptian things. I worked the system. In those years we did things and good things. On one's watch, one allowed for, though lamenting it on the way out a few years later, the rise of the military-industrial-congressional complex. The world was scary at this point along the continuum, light creeping into many dark places. I'd started out on horseback, at a good pace for an undertaker." —DW

"My husband was not often given to irony. He liked to be open, not loose and reckless. Truman played cards in the back room. DW was the first golfing president." —Mamie


III. Adlai

"Adlai Gladly was of the aspiring class who appeared in the upper Lake Shore slums of a given season. In the '20s one was besieged by the unctuous. His family had been around the nation state for a time, that much is established, chiefly visible through the newspaper trade, one believes—not important, owners at least—but as Virginia Woolf says, one cannot possibly be an artist if one actually needs money. One must be able to think naturally, and allow that which should come to arrive unbidden, so to speak. Adlai knew this, abstractly, one suspects, but his engine was always running, and he worked to be entertaining and was a hit. For a time, we were the only possible combination. He went to work in law, about which one always had mixed feelings: a lot of nicety which did provide protections for the non-aspiring demographic. End of the decade, we all took a hit, an ebb tide lowers all boats, but he held firm, my husband in the vocation mentioned, and with confidences accruing from having married so well, he became somewhat social. I.e., both more and less discriminating, seeking the level that may be all that is finally available in politics, yes? One had the three boys, wrote the poetry in the house. When he became governor, end of the '40s, one could only seek and obtain a divorce. In this period one was still occasionally present at family events, the world was at an angle with itself, and one was required to speak truths of the particular moment, though it was no longer necessary to directly address the boys by name, or their climbing fiancés, lust for the life they could never know in the scheme of their eyes, it might be noted aloud." —Helen

"I was not a bean-counter by inclination, nor a man of passion for the law, my profession, but I practiced into my own and the national '30s, somewhat safely in the lower canopy in Chicago, acquiring the taste for social skills, some analytical acumen, heart of the power of mid-west isolationism. Laketown refined one model of the machine. Law for me was too much squirrels and nuts. I had the wrong kind of mind, and the fate of the nation-state began to pull me down to Washington, at first on a consultant basis, and a buzz began to develop about my "talents" and "character." As a sophisticated non-egomaniac, one was a valuable commodity. The work was interesting, the projects complex, the mission of the New Deal bigger, and when the war came, one was pulled into one of the war departments to enhance the utilization spirit. Got around in some fairly high circles, was sent in teams to Europe, attended briefings with generals, met Ike once in a hallway of a villa briefly, surveyed and reported upon civilian areas in states of aftermath. In a post-war world, government spreads, a self-protective instinct. So one was part of that army, supported the development of the higher purposes and the organization of the UN, and back home within a few years received the invitation from the gods in and out of the machine to run for, in other words, to be, governor, and in my case mental health non-secrets in the family blended with egghead cache to add up to, among other things, fun. Helen was rather fabulous until I turned out to be also a star, and she felt she had no choice but to go around the twist." —Adlai

"In the Democrat party there was the progressive wing and the southern. To the latter the governor was a black ladies and gentlemen lover, a yankee, head like an egg, a Catholic divorcee unable to re-marry, not a true American in that sense, and in fact, given the chance in a bucolic setting that included a body of water, even in the presence of movie personnel, was an impulsive nudist." —Lauren Bacall

"One might refer to Marx re-commodification and alienation. My opponent sold himself as a familiar condiment, a bottle of ketchup on the kitchen table. At the particular moment, not beatable. One had to be content to present thought approaching the complexity of things (too much for human scale, but there is no choice in the matter), which could not then be un-thought. Connections were made in the circuits of consciousness." —Adlai

"Losers weepers. One can only try to teach the secret knowledge of the higher social life." —Helen

"Being shook up was no longer a part of one's process, especially if one is able to get out of the country for a few months, stopped first at the stalemate that was still Korea. It was a modern war and one could go right up to the front lines, then on to see Chiang on his island and note his army that couldn't have fought its way across Lake Shore Drive..." —Adlai

"The glomming upon the better life never ends." —Helen

"...between any personal hotel nightmare events one continued around the world, greeted by crowds everywhere, gave original speeches to the local higher-ups in genteel gatherings, chatted with various fellow eggheads of the world (refer to my articles commissioned by Life Magazine, not to mention the reams of letters one managed to attend to); one met many varieties of fabulous men and women; one ate, drank, talked, read somewhat, snuck out to markets, developed international empathies that would make the second run harder..." —Adlai

"It was not meant to be, but later was set up man for JFK with the healthy life of active intelligence and a certain freedom accruing to the position of Ambassador to the UN, during which assignment he entertained extensively in his large rooms high up in the Waldorf-Astoria, expertly mixing representatives of the various power groups and high-mission people, including us carnival folk, and the new smart boys and girls from smart colleges. May count as a peak non-common experience of a particular nation-state. It was this night life as much as the various crises that wore the man down. It happened late one day right on a New York sidewalk. Many raised a glass that night (as they did many nights, in order to climb out of bed the next day)." —Lauren

"I sculpted the newspaper son of a bitch from the wet clay. A year or so later I made the front page when I was evicted as a financial incompetent, from my nine-room spread in Chicago. One of my shoes had slipped off. The big cop had my arm. One looked like a crazy bag lady, but one had the high comprehensions never to be understood by the Adlais of this world." —Helen

"One won't argue, but will note one is not sure that the crazies, in their distractions, can understand or honor love. One had never re-married, and who knows what even did or didn't happen with all those women who enjoyed the company of a digestible, well-minded, entertaining example of fame. One did finally regret one thing: dying with one's clothes on." —Adlai