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Plumage from Pegasus
by Paul Di Filippo

HAIL TO THE HACK

"When Charles Brockden Brown, the first professional American author, sent a copy of his Wieland to Thomas Jefferson in 1798, he must, beneath his modest disclaimers, have had some sense of his and the President's kinship as revolutionaries. . . . But if Jefferson ever found the time to read Brown's novel, he left no record . . . "
--Leslie Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel

I smiled broadly for the reporter's tiny wireless webcam pasted like a bindi to her forehead. My last answer had been exceptionally well-phrased, and both of us knew my clever words would go down well with her literate online audience at the venerable Salon/Onion/Washington Post. Suddenly the Oval Office seemed a warm and cozy parlor, despite all its ostentatious trappings of mid-twentyfirst-century status, from genetically modified Secret Service bodyguards to the laserline link to the Lunar Republic.

"So," the young woman continued, "you ascribe the remarkable rise to power of your party mainly to the exhaustion of all other factions, and to the public's disgust with their many scandals and unappealing candidates. 'The blindly unimaginative misleading the marginalized and blindsided' I believe was your phrase of a moment ago."

"Exactly so. Leaders without vision and visionaries without leaders. A regular mess--until we came along. But there was also the not insignificant matter of our enticingly revolutionary platform."

The young woman grinned. "Ah, yes, that famous exhortation. 'Don't leave the lying to the amateurs! Elect the most qualified fictionalizers around!'"

"We adopted that policy from a best-selling book by one of our members who had actually dabbled in politics in the twentieth century. As one of his characters noted: 'They'll vote for me because I'm the best liar, because I do it honestly, with a certain finesse. They know that lies and truth are very close, and that something beuatiful rests in between.'"

"And this genius was--?"

"Mark Helprin."

The woman winked, but I didn't misinterpret the gesture as indicating she was offering me a lewinsky. She was only using her wetware to establish a hyperlink to Helprin's name. "So having adopted this revelation as your party's platform, you effectively stepped into a vacuum and took control."

I templed my fingers together thoughtfully. "Not a vacuum, but a chaos. Try to recall the aftermath of the election of 2012. I know you were probably only a child then, but surely some of the national confusion must have registered even on your generation. President Ventura rendered an ineffectual quadriplegic by a Head Drop during his Inaugural Smackdown. Vice-President Rodham holding off the New York State Attorney-General and his charges of Catskill real-estate fraud with one hand, while with the other she tried to dismiss the paparazzi photos of her and Martha Stewart skinny-dipping together off Nantucket. And of course the complete collapse of that economic powerhouse Hasbro-Microsoft-Starbucks under the triple assaults of plastic-eating bacteria, cheap qubit computers in a test-tube and terrorist-unleashed coffeeplant-killer viruses. Why, it took Seattle a month to stop all the riots and fires! And once Speaker of the House Beatty ascended to the Presidency, the moral decline was complete."

"But I still don't see how all this allowed your untested party to sweep the 2016 elections. Coming from nowhere to capture the Presidency itself and a majority in both houses---it was just unprecedented!"

"Agreed. But you have to remember that the voting public was truly desperate for uncompromised leaders. Everyone else had already had their chance at running the country, and blown it. Lawyers, businessmen, generals, entertainers, teachers, gangsters--- The only organized and capable group that hadn't had its shot at elective office yet was us."

"The Science Fiction Writers of America."

The majestic words resonated mellifluously in the Oval Office, and I paused to let them sink deeply into the unseen audience's ears.

"Yes, the SFWA. I'm surprised you even recall the origin of the acronym. Nowadays, it's such a well-known political trademark that most people don't have much awareness of its original meaning, anymore than folks once thought 'Grand Old Party' when they heard GOP. But your derivation is accurate. The roots of our party lie in a writer's union."

"It must have been some union."

"Indeed. By 2012, practically every best-selling book and movie in the nation was science fiction or fantasy of some sort. Members of SFWA accounted for the direct production of approximately twenty-five percent of the GNP, and had almost single-handedly eliminated the trade deficit. If you added spin offs and subsidies, our contribution approached thirty percent. Only the popstars and pornstars rivalled our dominance, and we had cleverly established close alliances with them."

"With an eye toward future political maneuvers, perhaps?"

I gave her the same smile that had once caused Oprah to label me the sweetest writer she had ever spotlighted. "It's hard to say now what we had in mind---although we did devote a lot of our energies to internal elections even then. But we were still getting used to national power. We weren't always a major player, you realize. Once upon a time, we were an insignificant ninety-pound weakling of an organization. But the turning point came with two crucial decisions. The first was rather arcane: the decision to reinstate the Dramatic Nebula. I don't expect you to comprehend all the minute historical details of this award, but basically that move tightened our ties to Hollywood, considerably broadening our membership, and hence our clout."

"And what was the second decision?"

"Making J. K. Rowling our permanent Wizard-in-Chief."

The reporter reached religiously up to fondle the pendant of Saint Potter that hung from a chain around her neck, and whispered a short anti-Muggle mantra. "Of course. Immediately you would have enlisted half the nation in your camp, a whole generation. What a stroke of genius!"

I modestly bowed my head. "Thank you. I was Membership Secretary at the time."

"By 2016, then, SFWA felt ready to lead the country."

"Not completely. But we had no choice, due to the chaos I've described. Hastily, we mounted candidates in as many national elections as we could. We couldn't run Rowling for President, of course, as she was a foreigner, but she campaigned like a trouper for us. Still, no one was more surprised than we were swept into office by the landslide results you described earlier."

"And it was smooth sailing from that point onward."

"By no means. We've always had internal dissension, even if we've maintained a smooth facade for the good of the country. The tussles between the autocratic and libertarian elements of SFWA were rivaled only by those between the fantasy gals and the Hard SF boys. If you've ever wondered why we have both a Ministry of Surveillance and a Free Dope bureaucracy, now you know."

"Ah, I see! That also explains why the Mars Terraforming program has a Unicorn Repopulation component."

I shrugged. "No matter what changes superficially, compromise lies at the heart of politics."

"Well, you can't fault success. The United States of America has never been stronger or more dominant. Our mode of government by writers has practically swamped the globe. I understand that even that last holdout, France, is finally turning over the reins to their Academy."

"Yes, it looks rather as if the Utopia we long speculated about is finally here. But that reminds me of a pressing chore. I'm afraid we'll have to terminate our interview now."

The reporter followed my lead and arose. "Time to negotiate a treaty or address the UN perhaps?"

"Not at all. I've got the last volume of a trilogy due this week, and my publisher has already told me he's going to demand my advance back if I don't deliver!"

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