Tip McLane had already adopted his characteristic pose, leaning forward toward the camera, head down, staring intently into the lens. As soon as the red light came on, he unloaded: “First of all, Dr. Lawrence, let me say that I would like to thank you, and the people of Decatur, for the opportunity to come here and participate in this forum.”

A few hundred yards away, Cy Ogle was crowing. He had thrown his head back and broken into triumphant, falsetto laughter. All around him the Eye of Cy had gone into various shades of blue. It had happened the moment the phrase “first of all” escaped from Tip McLane’s lips.

“Lemme just jot that one down,” Ogle said, making a note. “Never begin with ‘first of all.'”

Ogle was also happy because only three of the screens were blank. They were getting 97 percent compliance. Back in Falls Church, Virginia, three ropers were on the phones, trying to get through to the three delinquent members of the PIPER 100. Over the next few minutes, two more screens came to life.

Almost thirty seconds had gone by, and Tip McLane still hadn’t begun to answer the question: “… people who say that presidential campaigns are all style over substance obviously haven’t been paying attention to fine, substantial programs like the one that we are participating in tonight.”

“Thank you, Tip,” Ogle said, “I did my very best.”

“Now, as far as the auto industry. There are a lot of so-called conservatives who would disagree with me on this and say that we should just let the Japanese come in and walk all over us. That somehow, this constitutes free trade. Well, it’s not free trade. It’s an economic Pearl Harbor, is what it is. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to stand by and let it happen to American on my watch. And that is why, when I am President-“

“-thank you, Congressman McLane, your time has expired,” Dr. Lawrence said, amused but firm.

“-we should deal with this in a tough, but not protectionist way-“

“-thank you, Congressman McLane.”

“-and even out this trade balance-“

“-your time has expired and we must now move on to Governor Cozzano.”

The verbal duel between Representative McLane and Dr. Lawrence petered out gradually. By that point, the screens were largely bluish and reddish. “Well, that just makes them all look like assholes,” Ogle said. “I can’t tell if they’re reacting to McLane or Lawrence.” He turned and caught Aaron’s eye. “Can you give me a breakdown by economic bracket?”

Aaron grabbed the mouse attached to his Calyx workstation and chose a couple of items from menus. A graphic flashed up on his screen and he bounced a copy of it to one of Ogle’s screens.

“What this tells me is that everyone dislikes Tip McLane just about equally,” Ogle said.

“That’s about right. Which is interesting, coming from the upper income brackets.”

“Yeah,” Ogle said. He held one index finger up in the air. “I am about to make a prediction,” he said.

“Shoot,” Aaron said.

“I predict that we are going to see a whole lot more data to the effect that people think Tip McLane is too rough. Too coarse to dance with the Queen of England.”

The Eye of Cy grew brighter and took on a decidedly greenish tinge. “Hot damn,” Ogle said. “Now just hold it, baby, don’t squander this.” As he spoke, he was pressing a couple of buttons on the pad that he used to communicate with Cozzano.

Cozzano looked great on TV. The stroke had aged him somewhat. He had lost some weight without becoming gaunt. It had brought out his features, which were worth bringing out. He had a serious, thoughtful, rock-solid look about him now. He could probably win a lot of votes simply by doing what he was doing now: sitting in front of a camera and not saying anything.

This was new behaviour for him. Cozzano loved to argue. He loved competition in any form. He had always been the first to show up for football practice. Whenever he appeared in one of these debates he always leapt into the fray as soon as his turn came up.

But you didn’t become president by seeming eager. Ogle under­stood this perfectly well, and so, as soon as Cozzano’s name came up, he began to stroke that keyboard, sending calm, solid, quite images into Cozzano’s brain. Cozzano just sat there, quite, solid, contemplative. The longer he sat there, the brighter, and greener, the Eye of Cy became.

“Getting good results here,” Zeldo said, looking at the readouts of Cozzano’s blood pressure. “He’s calming down. He was a little nervous before.”

“Perfect,” Ogle said. “I just invented a new form of political rhetoric: don’t say a damn thing.”

It was perfect, Aaron realized, sitting there staring at Cozzano on the TV. He had seen a lot of these debates. The candidates always came off as high-strung, bickering game show contestants. But Cozzano had a solid dignity that was way above all that. He gave the impression of a man who had been deeply absorbed in thinking profound thoughts, not paying any attention to his surroundings, who had suddenly been interrupted by the nervous, carping moderator of the debate. Who was now giving the matter some serious thought before he blurted anything out.

Aaron felt as though he should jump to his feet and salute Cozzano. He felt that way even though he was sitting ten feet away from Ogle and knew damn well this was a manipulated image.

“I have certain values that I am not willing to play games with,” Cozzano said. Then he paused for quite a while, thinking. The audience was dead silent. Even the inside of Ogle’s trailer was dead silent. The whole universe seemed to be revolving around Cozzano. “One of the things I value is dignity and self-respect. These things are our birthrights. Some squander them. Once you have lost them, you can’t get them back. And one way to squander your dignity and self-respect is to whine and carp and beg.” Cozzano pronounced these words with almost palpable disgust. “My attitude is that I don’t care how unlevel the playing field is. I’m going to play by the rules anyway.” At this point Cozzano seemed to become visibly pissed off. He leveled his gaze directly into the camera for the first time, held up his meaty right hand, pointed into the lens. “I will never crawl on my knees to Japan or any other country and cry uncle, the way George Bush did in 1992. I’d rather die.” Cozzano sat back in his chair, held his gaze on the lens for a few more seconds, then looked away.

The Eye of Cy had become blindingly bright: America was feeling strong, conflicting emotions.

There was silence and then confusion. He had only used up a small portion of his allotted time. Dr. Lawrence wasn’t sure what he should do. The TV feed cut uncertainly back and forth between Governor Cozzano and Dr. Lawrence.

“You still have thirty seconds,” Dr. Lawrence said. “Would you like to elaborate?”

“What’s to elaborate?” Cozzano said.

A definite pattern was now noticeable when the feed cut between Dr. Lawrence and Cozzano. People had generally made up their minds that Dr. Lawrence was a jerk.

“That was wild,” Ogle said. He sounded a bit uncertain. He grabbed the POPULIST-ELITIST joystick and shoved it a little closer to POPULIST. “That took balls. Aaron, don’t we have a toilet-scrubbing ex-autoworker?”

“Yeah,” Aaron said, choosing a line of the same name from a menu on the computer screen. A graphic came up summarizing the way that this particular member of the PIPER 100 had reacted to Cozzano’s speech.

It was all jaggedy contrasts and mood swings. Clearly this man’s feelings had been hurt. But it wasn’t all negative either. Toward the end of Cozzano’s statement, the ex-autoworker’s emotional state had swung sharply upward.

“Huh. That’s interesting,” Ogle said. “The appeal to pride seems to work. But it’s not old-fashioned jingoism. It’s a question of personal, individual pride. Core values.”

On TV, Dr. Hunter P. Lawrence was explaining that the candi­dates could now rebut each other’s statements.

McLane flashed up on the screen with a bit of a stunned, nervous, beady-eyed look, as if he wanted to stare at Cozzano but couldn’t. “Well, it seems to me that, uh, the best ticket to self-esteem and dignity is to have a steady job. Everything else follows from that. Under my administration, I’ll be pursuing policies that will stimulate the vigor of our free enterprise system and lead to job growth in general. After all, it’s hard to be dignified when you’re living on welfare.”

The Eye of Cy pinkened briefly as the word “welfare” was spoken. “Cheap shot,” Ogle mumbled.

“It’s easy to scoff at the concept of the unlevel playing field when you have been born into an affluent family and haven’t suffered from massive layoffs the way our auto workers have,” McLane continued. “But for those people in Detroit-“

The Eye of Cy displayed a few brief flashes of green as several people took pleasure in McLane’s personal attack on Cozzano. But most people didn’t like it. They didn’t like it at all.

Cozzano had turned slightly in McLane’s direction. He looked like a great man, alone in his study, busy with important matters, who has to get up and discipline a puppy who has just piddled on the rug.

“My family is affluent because we love each other and we work hard,” Cozzano said. “And I can promise you, Tip, that if you seek to gain the esteem of the American public by running my family into the ground, I will make you regret it on many levels. When a man makes cracks about my family, my natural response is to invite him to step outside. And I’m not above doing that here and now.” Ogle rocketed half out of is chair and started screaming. “CUT TO TIP! CUT TO TIP! CUT TO TIP!” Aaron could hardly see anything; the Eye of Cy had become blindingly intense, like a parabolic dish pointed directly into the sun. But the image in the middle changed and Tip came on the screen; his mouth was half open, his eyebrows somewhere up in the middle of his forehead, his eyes darting back and forth nervously. The Eye of Cy turned blue (people who, as of three seconds ago, hated Tip McLane), with a few angry red screens (people who wanted Cozzano to punch McLane right here and now).

“Knockout punch,” Ogle said. “Tip’s out of the race.” But just in case, he shoved the KIND/GENTLE-BELLIGERENT joystick toward KIND/GENTLE. Then he moved the MATERIAL-ETHEREAL joystick a lot closer to ETHEREAL.

It was almost possible to see the wheels turning in McLane’s head. The look of surprise gradually faded, until he looked impassive, then calm and almost coldly defiant. “It wouldn’t be the first time I had settled an argument that way,” McLane said.

“Ouch,” Ogle said.

“But one of the first things a president has to learn is to separate his personal feelings from the affairs of the nation, and-‘

Colors shifted all over the Eye. “Damage control!” Ogle said, and slammed one of the buttons on the armrest.

“-as for the issue of the auto industry,” Cozzano said, continuing his own sentence as if McLane had never opened his mouth, and blithely running him off the road, “it is simply wrong to say that people get jobs first and then feel good about themselves. That is a shallow view of human nature. Dignity can’t be bought with a paycheck. Your student deferments kept you out of Vietnam, Tip, so you never saw what I saw: stooped peasants in the rice paddies who never made a dime in their lives but who had more dignity in the last joint of their little finger than a lot of highly paid lawyers and chief executives I can name. It goes the other way: if you have dignity, if you respect yourself, you will find a job. I don’t care how bad the economy is. When my great-grandfather came to this part of the country, there weren’t any jobs. So he came up with his own job. He had only been in America for a few weeks, but in that time he had become thoroughly American. He had come to believe that he could change his own life. That he could take charge of his own destiny.”

“Very inspiring. But when my family came to California-” McLane began.

“Some think that unemployment hurts because of money,” Cozzano said. “Because you can’t afford to buy Nintendo games and fancy sneakers. That is shallow and cheap. Americans are not pure, money-grubbing materialists. Unemployment hurts people’s feelings far more than their pocketbooks.”

In the past few seconds all the graphs had veered downward, the colors turned bluish. “I fucked that up!” Ogle said, whacking keys and sliding joysticks furiously. “Bad move!”

Suddenly Tip McLane was on the screen. It was too late for Cozzano to dig himself out.

“Shit!” Ogle hissed. “Where does he get off saying that Americans are not shallow materialists?”

McLane was amused. He knew he had Cozzano. “Apparently the Governor of Illinois thinks that we’d all be happier being fully employed … in rice paddies!”

The audience laughed. The Eye warmed suddenly to Tip McLane.

“Damn!” Ogle said. “Why’d he have to get profound on us?” He scratched his chin nervously, thinking hard, and fussed with the controls. “We have to suppress that urge to philosophize.”

“Maybe the Governor hasn’t been seeing a full cross section of the American public from his backyard in Tuscola,” McLane said. “But I have, because I’ve visited all fifty states during the long primary campaign – even smaller states that my campaign manager begged me not to visit because he said they weren’t important. I have talked to a lot of people. And over and over again, I get the impression that the people of America don’t like being talked down to by politicians.”

“That’s for damn sure,” Ogle said, punching a key that caused a hallucinatory bullet to whiz past Cozzano’s head.

“They know what they want: jobs. Good jobs,” McLane said. “What they don’t need is vague talk about how to feel more dignified.”

Ogle groaned. The PIPER 100 were showing strong support for McLane now. “They’re killing us,” he said, and slammed a big red button that said, simply, FLIP FLOP.

“When the forces of freedom and democracy stormed Hitler’s Fortress Europe on D day,” Cozzano said, “the elite spearhead of that invasion rained down out of the sky on parachutes. Parachutes made of nylon that was manufactured about half a mile away from my house in Tuscola, by my family. The nervous paratroopers, standing in the open doorways of those airplanes, looking down at the landscape of France thousands of feet below them, were putting a lot of trust in those folds of nylon.”

“What does this have to do with anything?” Aaron said, mirroring the feelings displayed on the Eye of Cy: a state of chaotic flux.

“Shut up,” Ogle mumbled. “This is good material. Reaganesque in its cloying nostalgia – with the metaphorical punch of Ross Perot before he went batshit.”

“When you jump out of an airplane flying over a war zone, you need more than self-esteem to get you safely to the ground,” Cozzano said. “You need a solid, well-made parachute. Young people leaving high school and college within the last few weeks have a lot in common with those troopers jumping out of that airplane. And if you think that William A. Cozzano intends to send them out that door with nothing more than some feel-good talk, you’re dead wrong.”

“But that’s the opposite of what he just said,” Aaron said.

“Just shut up,” Ogle said. “I think he’s got them going.” As Cozzano’s analogy started to become clearer, the monitor screens had stopped fluctuating and begun settling down into a dim greenish pattern. “We need to get Anecdote Development working on that D day thing.”

Cozzano continued. “Just as nylon replaced silk in parachutes, new technologies have to replace the old ones in our job market. And I can promise you that no country in the world is better than America when it comes to inventing new technologies.”

McLane interrupted him. “And no country is better capitalizing on those inventions than Japan,” he said, “which is why I’m going to make sure that America, not Japan, reaps the benefit of her creative powers, unique among all the nations of the world.”

Ogle slapped his face and groaned. “That McLane son of a bitch is a vampire. Give me a projection.”

Aaron worked at his computer for a minute, running some statistical routines. “Based on the reactions of the PIPER 100, allowing for a typical seventy-two-hour debate bounce, correcting for their likelihood to actually cast a ballot, we get 27 electoral votes for the President, 206 for Cozzano, and 302 for Tip McLane.”

“We have a long way to go,” Ogle said.

“Seems pretty good to me,” Aaron said, “considering he’s not even running for president.”

“Details!” Ogle scoffed.