The 2nd Presidential Debate of 2020 has been cancelled, but fear not. If you crave the back and forth of right vs. left, you'll enjoy this debate you probably missed, when, rumor has it, President Obama visited San Diego to join a "Wine Summit" attended by Joe the Wino (a surrogate for President Trump and the Tea Party), Miguel (the local migrant labor boss), the Bishop, and a local winemaker named Paul. Here's the full story, excerpted with permission from the forthcoming novel About That Wine I Gave You.
After the 2010 mid-term elections when the Democrats got “whupped” to Joe’s jubilation, the president felt a need to get out of Washington to reconnect with and bring his message direct to the people. Keisha proposed an event to bring together non-politicians, real people with opposing views, to see where they could find common ground. The president was due for a fund-raising trip to California to refill coffers depleted by the midterms and was itching to play golf at Torrey Pines. A presidential visit to San Diego made sense.
“That’s a Republican stronghold,” said the Director of Communications. “Are you nuts?”
“I’ve been researching a congressional district where there’s a pocket of support for the president. It’s the perfect setting for an event,” Keisha countered. “It’s scenic and one of the residents is Joe the Wino.”
“What a work of art. He’s donated millions to the Tea Party.”
“There’s a vineyard there owned by a dog – an Australian shepherd. Almost as smart as POTUS.”
“Vineyard owned by a dog?” the director asked with arched eyebrow.
“His owner is named Paul. Seems to be a down to earth guy sympathetic to our message. You said you wanted ‘real people.’ The president could tour the vineyards – think of the photo opp – POTUS nurturing ‘green shoots’ of the economy – and meeting with migrant laborers, too.”
“To build closer ties with the Latino community and support for his immigration policies.”
“Exactly. And, I think we can flip the district.”
“I like this,” said the communications chief. “Ever since the Beer Summit last year, the American Association of Wine Distributors has been after me to organize a ‘Wine Summit.’”
“What did Jessica Fachhandler promise you? A date?”
The director smiled and replied, “She’s very persuasive.” Jessica was the executive director of the distributors’ association whose charm and powers-of-persuasion were legendary.
“Imagine the scene: The Communicator-in-Chief bringing all sides to the table to unite a divided community. Joe the Wino and the Tea Party on one side; the winemaker Paul and a representative of day laborers on the other.”
“What about FLOTUS?”
“Michelle loves wine. They could make it a date-day as they tour the vineyard.”
“And Toto, too?” mocked the intern. “Yes, and Bo-Bo too.”
“Go ahead and set it up.”
Keisha contacted Paul with the news, who enlisted Joe, pleased to be given a national platform for his second fifteen minutes of fame. Miguel and the Bishop also agreed to participate, so that a trinity was represented – left wing, right wing, and the angels’ wing.
The White House welcomed an opportunity for Bo to engage in dog diplomacy. The American people loved dogs, at least over 50% did, and canine affection crossed political boundaries. But the divide between Republicans and Democrats was worse than dog lovers vs. cat lovers. Could a glass of wine, the Charmer-in-Chief, and their dogs elevate civil discourse and bring the nation closer together?
When the presidential visit to Hidden Hills was announced, the press christened it “The Wine Summit,” in accordance with Keisha’s plan. In the plush Washington D.C. office of the American Association of Wine Distributors, Champagne (with a capital C because it was the real deal from France) corks popped and shot down a chandelier in the boardroom and the bubbly flowed as the staff watched the news on a 96” flat screen. They had a strong horse in this race – with Joe the Wino a surrogate for their conservative views, although Jessica Fachhandler became wary of Paul after reviewing his social media feed. She would keep an eye on him.
A week before the summit, a Secret Service advance team scoured the area to remove security risks. They reviewed the social media feeds of all the neighbors (spending an unusually long time ogling the Cougar’s selfies) and were concerned by Joe’s history of inflammatory remarks. He was the first visited by FBI agents who quickly determined he wasn’t a physical threat to the president. However, they confiscated pistols and rifles from Paul’s neighbor, who used his backyard as a firing range in violation of county statues requiring 2,000 feet distance between residences. Joe notified Tea Party officials and the San Diego Union Tribune which wrote an editorial denouncing Obama for confiscating peoples’ guns in violation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. When Harlan saw this news on his prepper’s Facebook page, he got all up in arms convinced Obama was planning an attack on Texas to disarm it. Jenny Lea told her husband to shut-up and stop believing everything he read on the internet. “How could you believe this, Harlan? Even my sixth graders wouldn’t fall for such horse dookie,” she said, putting him in his place.
The Secret Service inspected Paul’s winery, taping black plastic trash bags against the windows to block the view of sharp-shooting assassins. They insisted he remove boxes stacked to the ceiling filled with forty-five years of elementary school report cards, college blue books, textbooks, research papers, note books, all the books he had read, and bird sketches – so a ninja couldn’t hide behind the stacks and strike the First Couple.
The Secret Service selected the Yellow Room, decorated in Provencal shades of lemon, sunflower, and fields of hay, as the Hold Room in case POTUS was called upon to deal with a crisis. They ran cables from the Yellow Room to microwave receivers they installed on the roof for encrypted satellite communications. From the roof, agents surveyed for possible sniper threats, taking longer than usual as they observed the Cougar in the valley soaking up vitamin D in the privacy of her back porch.
Years later on a visit to Obama’s presidential museum and library, I found the day’s official schedule in the archives. When Obama started calling Paul BOOTLEGGER, the tag assigned by the Secret Service, the name stuck. Here’s an excerpt:
09:30 H: Arrive Miramar Air Base on Air Force One
09:45 H: Greet Top Gun Commander
10:00 H: POTUS, FLOTUS, FIDOUS board limousine. Drive to Blue-Merle Winery.
10:45 H: Arrive Blue-Merle Winery. Receiving line. Greet Host Family (BOOTLEGGER – host), WINEDOG (Australian Shepherd), VINEYARDISTA (hostess), and guests including PIRATE (Miguel, migrant labor leader boss), RICHMAN (Joe the Wino, businessman and Republican fund raiser), PURPLECOLLAR (Bishop of San Diego)and selected neighbors including COUGAR, CHICANOCHICK, MRFIXIT, MERLOTMAN, others.
11:00 – 11:30 H: First Family vineyard & winery tour on property led by BOOTLEGGER. Plant ceremonial vines. Golf swing practice with LEFTYFLOP
11:30 – 12:30 H: Lunch inside house
12:30 – 14:00 H: Wine Summit Forum On Terrace: Attending: POTUS, PURPLECOLLAR, PIRATE, RICHMAN, BOOTLEGGER.
14:30 H: Depart by Marine Force One for Torrey Pines Golf Course for golf with (names redacted)
To keep us and adversaries guessing, we didn’t know if Obama would arrive by air, land, or sea, the latter a theoretical possibility, since there were amphibious landing craft at Camp Pendleton that could be seen from Paul’s property by telescope. Air traffic control implemented a no-fly zone except for helicopters based at Pendleton that patrolled the skies, their distant hum piercing the peaceful scenery. The 15 was closed from El Norte Parkway to San Louis Rey, angering motorists, but to many, it was just another sig alert for the 15, a parking lot during rush hour, although traffic congestion eased during the Recession.
Three days before the president’s arrival, Paul’s Buddhist leanings regarding possessions were tested when the water heater in the winery-formerly-known-as-the-garage leaked, sending water onto the floor absorbed by cardboard cases. A dry box is strong and supports more than 150 lbs. but wet cardboard is weaker than a spent erection and although the flood wasn’t a threat to the house it was a threat to the wine.
With his new Washington connections, Paul thought about calling FEMA to help but it might take them days to respond – worse, they might condemn the property – the government having powers of condemnation and exclusion in an emergency preventing him from returning to save his own property. Paul and Sheila scrambled to save the towering stacks of wine, forming a two-person brigade carrying boxes one at a time to higher elevations. Sheila shrieked as she uncovered Templeton the Rat’s winter sanctuary abandoned, except for a Black Widow, and littered with carcasses of three months’ meals of roly polys, stink bugs, and crickets, covered like an ice cream cone with chocolate sprinkles of dried rat feces. After Paul dispatched the spider there was only one thing to do before Food and Drug Administration officials condemned the property – clean it up.
He put on a mask, eye googles, and rubber gloves and swept the rat’s nest mess. He poured non-chlorinated TSP cleaner into a bucket of water, took one of the dog’s towels as a rag, got on his knees and washed, the white towel blackened as he wiped. And as he prepared to sterilize after he cleaned – friends, beware of sterilizing your winery with bleach because you don’t want the stench of cardboard infused chlorine seeping into your wine – he took a fresh rag infused with citric acid and wiped, and as he wiped, the rag moving in a rhythm like windshield wiper blades, he imagined washing the bare feet of the president, soon to be his guest. Paul joyfully cleaned the winery floor and he and Obama dodged the hantavirus bullet. Never before had their winery been so clean and Paul hadn’t seen Sheila this happy in months.
With the press crawling into the quiet community like a hoard of ants looking to feed on mealy bugs’ dew, Karianne postponed her full-frontal vitamin D absorption ritual because paparazzi with long-range lenses were searching for racy photo opportunities. The Secret Service rated her photos and videos. If you throw out the high (one gave her a 10), and the low (one ranked her 5 saying she was too old), she averaged 8.3 If Karianne had known which agent considered her beyond prime, she would have fucked his brains out to teach him a lesson he’d never forget.
Making wine is a three-ring circus and the property took on the look as the driveway was tented as a security measure along with the house’s terrace. Canvas was also strung along the Poplar trees bordering the road, blocking the views of anyone below who tried to gaze up.
The big day was a media circus with Joe the Wino reliving the attention he enjoyed during the 2010 elections. Ms. Palin, in search of a new job, made overtures about attending the summit, and Paul said he would be honored to host the former vice-presidential candidate so long as her participation was balanced by Tina Fey as Mistress of Ceremonies. Ms. Fey never responded so Paul thought it better Ms. Palin stay away. “I can see Alaska from my house,” Paul told a reporter from NBC News, suggesting his view would be almost like having the Alaska Governor seated at the table. Moreover, Joe, who almost succeeded putting her into the White House, could rigorously represent her positions. A summit that included Joe, the president, the Bishop, and Miguel at the table would be enough, without the glamour of Ms. Palin and Ms. Fey, much to Paul’s chagrin, as he thought they were the hottest candidates ever, real and imagined, and though he wouldn’t vote for either, after a glass of wine, or even without, he would kiss either if invited.
The nation was up in arms about illegal immigrants, their health care costs (not to mention the health care of the rest of us), and their employment (not to mention the unemployment of the rest of us), searching for solutions and San Diego, sharing a border, economic, cultural, and family ties with Mexico, was a good place to look for answers. Paul noticed convoys of vigilantes, many funded by Joe, following the coyote paths in the valleys below his house headed south to secure the border. Although billed as a Wine Summit, Miguel made his preference for Corona known, but the National Association of Merlot Makers, who had launched a counter-offensive after being blind-sided by the insult slinging Pinot Pussy of Sideways, persuaded Miguel to request a glass of Merlot. Miguel proved his loyalty to the local community by “eating his own dogfood,” ordering wine made by Merlot Mac, chuckling as he requested a cute White House staffer, “Make it ‘fine’ Merlot, más fina please, heh, heh.”
Jenny Lea was excited for Karianne, approved for the guest list, and called to learn more. “Sugar, is it true what they say about those secret service agents?”
“If I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret now would it?” Karianne answered.
“Oh my God. You didn’t, you know, did you?”
“Jenny Lea, stop beating around my bush. You wanna know, ‘Did I fuck him,’ right? Let’s just say the president needs to strengthen his security.”
Paul noticed an aircraft carrier cruising the waters between Camp Pendleton and Catalina Island. Security scanners and metal detectors were set up at the property’s entrance, which all guests were required to pass. The Secret Service used their authority to provide an extra pat-down screening for Karianne. They confiscated Paul’s flask of homemade brandy as a liquid explosive he volunteered to drink to prove it wasn’t. The SS enjoyed it at their after-party that evening according to a reliable source from the neighborhood who was there.
The presidential visit brought all kinds of people out of the woodwork – hermit crazy ladies painted signs “Welcome President Obama” nailing them to poles at the bottom of Paul’s road. A protest area was set aside at the base of the mountain near the intersection of the 15 and Deer Springs Road. Belle Marie Winery, which offered a good view for protesters, offered free wine tastings to registered Republicans if they showed their Republican ID, and to anyone else over 21. The California TTB, conducting a sting operation against the winery to trick it into serving minors, declared an unofficial truce for the week. Students from the University of California San Diego strung a large banner from the bridge over the interstate “Make Wine Not War”. Others carried signs “Out of Iraq Now” and “Close Guantanamo.” Some protesters purchased vegetables from the organic produce stand at the bottom of the hill and stood behind birthers carrying signs “Show Us Your Birth Certificate” and threw eggs, tomatoes, cauliflower, and avocados at the long black limousine (the president arrived by land), none penetrating its armor.
The limo climbed and slalomed five miles into the hills until it reached Blue-Merle Vineyard’s entrance. The driveway was too steep and narrow for the vehicle, so the president, First Lady, and Bo emerged at the cul-de-sac and Bluey barked in sheep herding mode to welcome them and make clear to Bo who was top dog. Bluey announced Bo’s arrival to neighborhood dogs who rushed through the neighbor’s locked gate, unforeseen by the Secret Service.
“Hey man, how you doin’?” said a jovial president as he walked up to Paul with a fist pump and handshake. “The Secret Service tells me they have a special name for you – BOOTLEGGER.”
“Let’s see if I can live up to that,” replied Paul. “Mr. President, we welcome you, the First Lady, and the First Dog to Blue-Merle Country.” Bluey, enamored by the First Lady who wore a bright yellow dress, was taken to the other side of the vineyard to keep him from lunging at her crotch, where he and Bo hit it off running around with the other dogs.
“Thank you for the letter and wine you sent,” Obama said. “It’s encouraging to see parts of the country turning around.”
“Let me show you around,” said Paul who lead them uphill. They started at the Via Dolorosa, where the Bishop noticed carved wooden figures nailed to posts signifying stations of the cross. Paul paused at each vineyard block to explain the varietal, pointing out differences in leaf patterns, cluster shapes, and berry sizes.
“There was a lot of work that went into this,” observed the president.
“Yes sir, and satisfaction. I suppose George Washington and Thomas Jefferson found satisfaction in working the land when their crops turned out well.”
“They had slaves and you have me,” Miguel interjected.
“Gracias Sancho Panza,” said Paul, referring to Don Quixote’s sidekick. Paul turned to Obama and continued, “After a hard day’s work, it’s refreshing to take in these views. Working among the vines, everything becomes clear. I invite you to take a few moments of quiet time to find clarity and answers to the country’s challenges and hope you leave here re-energized.”
As Obama listened, he imagined hitting a hole-in-one at Torrey Pines and getting 10 million people back to work.
“Let’s pick avocados for Sasha and Malia,” Paul suggested. The president and First Lady twisted the green softball-sized fruits off a tree.
“I’ve never seen avocados this big,” said Michelle.
“It’s a Reed – the flavor is good. It’s ripe when you shake it and the seed inside rattles. Cut it in half and pour a little olive oil into the avocado’s cup and sprinkle it with Hawaiian red clay sea salt. It’s delicious, and on the menu for today’s lunch. Speaking of olive oil,” said Paul, pointing to a grove of Picoline and Arbequina trees, “This is our Mount of Olives. Bishop, you’ll appreciate our theological garden.” Paul pointed to Golgotha and the Cross of Calvary at the summit, and beneath it, a cave symbolizing the Tomb of the Holy Sepulcher. The president pulled a ripe olive from a tree and popped it into his mouth before Paul could stop him.
“Damn, that’s the bitterest thing I’ve ever tasted,” Obama said, spitting the remains to the ground.
“I was about to warn you not to eat it,” said Paul. “It needs to be cured. Don’t worry, we have estate grown and cured olives on today’s menu.”
“What are those flowers?” the president asked.
“They’re Proteas. Some look like yellow pin cushions. Their origin is South Africa where they grow like weeds. The climate here is similar. Why don’t we cut some for Michelle and the girls?”
“You really put a lot of work into this place,” the Bishop said to Paul.
“Gracias monsignor,” said Miguel.
“Most of our neighbors have put a lot of work into their properties as well, right Joe,” said Paul. “Joe’s place is magnificent. It’s a shame to see people lose their houses – it’s even happening here.”
“We’re looking at things we can do to keep people in their homes,” Obama said.
“That seems like a good idea,” said Joe, “But it’s complicated. There are legal contracts involved. The best way to solve the problem is for homeowners to declare bankruptcy and start over and for banks to foreclose. With the slate wiped clean, houses will sell at market value.”
“You know,” Paul said to the president, “We bought this property near the height of the market, and there’s a pretty large mortgage on it – at least large for us. Interest rates have dropped, but since the house’s value is underwater, we can’t refinance. I’m not asking for a handout – all I’m saying is if my interest rate were lowered, we’d have more money to spend on other things that would be good for the economy. Right now, all our money goes to mortgage interest and Miguel over there.”
“Why don’t you pay me as much as you pay him?” Sheila asked. “I do more work than he does.”
“How much do you earn working in the vineyard?” FLOTUS asked Sheila.
“About as much as the First Lady,” she replied, to which the president and Michelle, paid $0 for her duties, chuckled.
“There’s much more to see,” said Paul changing the topic. “Bluey! Go to gazebo!”
They walked along the Great Wall of Merle behind the trotting Aussie and Bo, crossing the Zinfandel block to a flat area with a Gazebo from where they could see more mountains, valleys, Camp Pendleton, and the ocean.
“Do you have snakes on the property?” Michelle asked.
“There’s always a serpent in the Vineyard of Eden and the corridors of Washington,” replied Paul. “Don’t worry. Bluey is trained to detect snakes. If he smells one, we’ll know about it before it reaches us.”
“I told the snakes you were coming and asked them to stay away,” Sheila said. “You’ll be fine.”
Paul said to the president, “One of my favorite memories of President Reagan is him hiking through his Santa Barbara ranch and crushing rattlers with his boot heel.”
“No problem,” said Obama. “I’m better with my feet than Reagan ever was.”
Paul pointed to the horizon. “I can see Sarah Palin’s Alaska from my house – and Russia, and all the way to Japan and China.”
“You have a wonderful place,” said the Bishop.
“It’s God’s Country,” said Paul.
The president was a pied piper followed by a pack of dogs that barked and ran circles around him. A little, feisty, Jack Russel terrier led the dogs and invited Bo to play. Even Joe’s Weimaraner and Miguel’s Pit Bull joined in. There were no purebreds or mutts. No AKC pedigrees or rescues. No rich or poor. There were just dogs – black, white, yellow, brown, red, and blue – all playing together. The Canine Coalition. And for a moment, there were no Republicans, no Democrats – just people and dogs. Karl Rove, the neighbor's cat, wisely watched from a tree.
The president petted all the dogs then took a frisbee and winged it – the disk soared like a hawk riding thermals all the way to the property’s bottom where the dogs sprinted to catch it. The Jack Russell outleapt Bluey and the others to snag it.
“We wanted to let you roll up your sleeves, dig in, get your hands dirty, and experience a little vineyard work,” said Paul. “We’ve got three vines for you to plant around the gazebo. The first is a Spanish varietal, Tempranillo, to honor the Spaniards who planted the first grapes in this area. The second is Alexander Muscat, widely planted here last century, and the third is a Champagne grape – because my wife has been after me for years to plant Champagne grapes,” said Paul, handing the president and Michelle a shovel.
As the guests inserted the vines into pre-dug holes, Miguel showed them how to form a ball of dirt and place the roots over it. Paul noticed two secret service agents on his roof and sharpshooters (the kind with rifles – not the pests carrying Pierce’s disease) on the roofs of houses below. If I give them a bottle of wine, would they pick off some squirrels? Paul handed Michelle a hose to soak the vines. When they finished, Paul announced, “Since you like golf, I asked my fellow San Diegan to set up a hole so you could warm up before your round at Torrey Pines,” introducing everyone to Phil Mickelson.
“My afternoon schedule was supposed to be a secret,” said POTUS.
“A lucky guess,” replied Paul, who with Phil had groomed a T-Box on Gazebo Hill and landscaped a green with a cup and pin flag 175 yards away. It was as scenic as any hole on the PGA tour. “Just one request, Mr. President,” said Paul. “Please don’t hit the aircraft carrier – I don’t want them returning fire with a cruise missile.”
Obama took a few practice swings with a club handed to him by Keisha. Paul observed the president had a good swing and gave a few tips to Phil, who was working on his. Paul handed Obama a golf ball with Bluey’s logo on it saying, “This is my favorite ball. I know you won’t shank it into the canyon. Take the honors and hit away.” The president set the ball atop a tee, addressed it, took a breath and swung a controlled swing, “Swooshping!” the impact of the ball combined with the swoosh of the club triggered Bluey who barked an alarm. That dog hated golf. Paul could never stream the Masters, because the sound of a drive set Bluey off. The president’s shot followed the arc of a perfect parabola landing on the green.
“Nice shot!” The onlookers clapped.
“Let it be a good sign for the country,” said Paul. “Let’s go for a quick tour of the winery then have a bite to eat.”
As they walked downhill, Sheila veered to the kitchen and Paul volunteered to enter first in case any ninjas waited in ambush. He noticed a military officer with a large black case. “Is that the nuclear football?” Paul asked the president.
“Heck no. He’s carrying my Honest Tea.”
Paul invited the commander-in-chief to sniff the barrels since he couldn’t drink on the job. The president bent over and inhaled. “Come on back when you retire and we’ll taste them all, just like old bulls,” said Paul.
“Deal,” said the man.
“If you retire after your first-term, you can drink all the wine you want sooner,” suggested Joe.
“Thanks Joe. I’ll think about retiring when my work is finished.”
“Hey, thanks for approving our winery application,” Paul said to the president. “The TTB staff were terrific. The first thing I learned after becoming a professional winemaker was how to spit wine to taste without swallowing. Because if you drink ten different wines in ten minutes, you’re looking at a DUI.”
Sheila, who hated to cook, insisted on having the summit catered. Three days earlier, the caterer, Les Gourmands Françaises, was raided for hiring illegals. Sheila rose to the occasion claiming it would be just as easy as cooking for the harvest crew, and Karianne and Steph leaned in. Twenty-four hours before the guests arrived, Sheila started cooking her well-tested dishes and, without stopping to sleep, at lunch time plates of food covered every table, counter, and desk in the house. No one ever left her home hungry – and she paired estate wines with each dish the media and NGOs could sample. Sheila shrieked when she saw a glass falling to the ground and a vision of throwing out all the food flashed before her. She didn’t know the Secret Service had substituted plastic for crystal as a security measure and she was astonished, and relieved, when the cup didn’t shatter.
Michelle’s condition for attending the summit was permission to drink one glass. Paul poured her Petit Verdot, the same wine he and Bluey were making when they first heard candidate Obama speak. “Barrack, honey, this smells so good I could wear it,” she said, placing a few drops behind her ears.
After lunch, the guests gathered on the terrace where the Bishop recited an invocation, the Wine Summit officially began, and the harmony of the day evaporated with the spirit of the Bishop’s prayer.
“Mr. President,” Joe began respectfully, “Obamacare is a job killer. As a business owner and job creator, I know first-hand forcing company owners to pay more for employee insurance will raise costs and result in less hiring. If you want companies to hire more people, repeal Obamacare and reduce the corporate tax rate.”
“What about the deficit?” asked the president.
“When the number of tax paying employees increases, tax receipts increase and the deficit will decrease. Look at the economic growth under Reagan spurred by tax cuts.”
“Joe,” responded Obama, “When President Bush cut taxes, how many more folks did you hire?” After an awkward silence, the president continued, “From what we see, the only thing tax cuts did was put more money into the pockets of business owners and increase the budget deficit. Moreover, in 2008 after a year of record sales and profits, you laid off 25% of your company’s staff.”
“It was a pre-emptive strike.”
“Is that the Bush Doctrine for business?” asked the president. “Look, uh, Joe, I’m not convinced company owners like you would hire more people with a tax cut – for sure, the deficit would increase. It sounds like voodoo economics all over again. I want to see more data.”
“Perhaps the Bishop,” Paul interjected, “Sees a middle-ground to this policy conundrum?”
“Work is important for human dignity,” said the Bishop. “Since the time of Adam and Eve, people have had to work for their livelihood. Any responsible government policies that increase employment are a good thing.”
“I respectfully disagree,” countered Joe. “It’s one thing for the government to create a heathy framework for business to operate and create employment – but it’s better for the private sector to create jobs through the market, rather than wasteful government spending. Look at the trillion dollars the government just pumped into the economy – if that money had been put into the hands of people to spend, and not spent by the government, the impact would have been much greater.”
The president nodded attentively.
“What will we do as a society,” asked the Bishop, “When artificial intelligence improves and machines can perform many jobs? How will society organize itself as peoples’ jobs are replaced by machines?”
“That’s an interesting question,” said the president, “Fortunately, that time is far in the future. I’m concerned about the millions of people who need a job now.”
“To continue with the Bishop’s inquiry into how society organizes itself,” said Paul. “What moral obligation does a government have to provide health care to its citizens?”
“None at all,” interjected Joe. “America was founded on the principle of self-reliance. People are responsible for taking care of themselves and managing their own health.”
“What about those born with an ailment? Is that their fault? Should they be denied insurance and care?” asked the Bishop. “Joe, there’s something I’d like to ask you,” the Bishop continued. “Business leaders are for free enterprise and prefer government take a laissez-faire approach to the economy. Why is it the owners of the San Diego Chargers demand public funds to subsidize their new football stadium? To me, it seems our city’s scarce discretionary funds could be better used to help the homeless become independent, to assist at-risk children grow into productive citizens, and for other pressing needs. Is subsidizing a private business to build a sports stadium the best use of public funds?”
“Well, at least we fixed the college football playoff system,” interjected Obama. “A new stadium for San Diego is a local issue beyond the scope of federal government. Let’s steer the conversation back to federal programs.”
“Why don’t you give me money to buy a new truck?” asked Miguel.
“And why is that?”
“Mr. President, why don’t you just condemn Miguel’s truck?” suggested Paul. “It’s so old, it’s a road hazard and polluter.”
“If you give me an incentive to buy a new truck, it will help the auto companies,” Miguel said.
“We did that already – don’t you remember cash to clunkers?”
“I couldn’t buy a truck then – I had no money.”
“I guess you can buy one now since you took all my money,” Paul said to Miguel.
“It’s something we could look at again,” Obama said to be polite. “We threw a life-line to the auto industry and it worked. We’re glad to see Detroit on the upswing.”
“That’s what’s wrong with government spending in this administration,” said Joe. “Increasing the federal deficit to help Miguel buy a vehicle he’s going to purchase anyhow when his truck dies. That’s not wise – it’s not an investment.”
“Let me tell you about the real world,” said Miguel. “Joe talks about buying new things. My car won’t die – I’ll just keep fixing it and it’ll run forever. We Mexicanos can fix anything,” and Miguel whispered to Paul, “You can’t fix shit, amigo.”
“If you’re still looking at pumping money into the economy that’s an investment, why not put solar panels on every roof here in southern California?” Paul suggested.
“Keisha, write that down.”
“Ok, here’s something we can agree on,” said Paul, “Joe, help me out here. Mr. President, the Clean Water Act is killing us. It’s turning us into criminals. Look outside at the ivy and bushes. During harvest, we pick grapes and put them in containers and carry them to the winery. We used to wash the containers with a hose over the ivy. The government says that’s water pollution. Why is it a crime to water your plants if the water has a little grape juice in it? How is that polluting anything?”
“It’s a perfect example of too many government regulations stifling business,” Joe added.
“We’ll look into that,” said the president. “Keisha, make a note.”
“Mr. President, here’s another thing I’d like to ask you to look at where Joe and I agree,” Paul said. “Since you’re a constitutional scholar, this is right up your alley. Doesn’t the ‘commerce clause’ of the Constitution allow Congress to regulate commerce between the states? Our winery is licensed by the federal government to make and sell wine – yet many states don’t allow us to ship wine direct to their residents. Those states are interfering in interstate commerce. Isn’t that unconstitutional?”
“What about the Twenty-First Amendment?” replied the president, who knew his constitution.
“The what?” asked Paul.
“You know, the amendment that repealed Prohibition.”
“It gave states the right to limit or prohibit the import of alcohol.”
“Sounds to me like a violation of the ‘commerce clause.’”
“Look, Paul, I like the way you think. I know Michelle likes your wine and we’d like to order some – Keisha, can you work up an order?”
“He can ship to Camp David, but not Virginia.”
The President became serious and looked Paul in the eye. “I understand you advocate shipping wine across state lines – I hope you’re not breaking any laws, or I may have to ask the Justice Department and J. Edgar over at FBI to investigate you.”
“I heard you’re really good putting people at ease,” Paul replied. “I think I just stained my pants.”
“Keisha,” said the president, “Let’s look into interstate wine shipments and let’s order a case of wine from each winery here and have it shipped to Camp David for the upcoming meeting with the French President. I’d like to show him how well grapes grow in America.”
“We haven’t discussed the elephant in the room,” said Joe.
“What’s that?” asked Obama.
“Illegal immigration – why doesn’t the government enforce our immigration laws?”
“We do, Joe. Look how many illegals we’ve deported since I assumed office.”
“We need to send more back. You say you want to create shovel ready jobs – illegals take away work from American citizens. They lower the quality of education in our schools. They increase healthcare costs for all of us when they go to emergency rooms without insurance. And, they taint our elections by voting illegally – that’s why California always votes blue.”
“What are we supposed to do with the people here working hard contributing to society?”
“Send them back. And then build a wall, like the Great Wall of China, to keep them out.”
“We should be building bridges with our neighbors in Tijuana, not walls,” said the Bishop.
“The only bridges being built are underground tunnels for trafficking drugs, people, and terrorists,” said Joe. “We need to defend our borders.”
Miguel injected, “You guys should know we got alota people in my community upset with the police – it’s gotten to the point where we don’t want to see any police near us.”
“A city shouldn’t be responsible for enforcing federal immigration laws of the United States,” said Obama.
“The city is creating a situation where we fear talking to police,” said Miguel, “And I’m not talking about illegals. Even me. I’m a U.S. citizen, but if I go to the cops to report something, they’re gonna ask for my driver’s license. What if I forgot it? They’ll throw me in jail. That’s gonna hurt law enforcement when everyone is afraid of police.”
“Look, Joe,” Obama said. “I agree with you we must protect our borders and that’s why I’m increasing Homeland Security’s budget for border security.”
“That’s something we can agree on,” said Joe.
“Joe, tell me something. Where did you get the intel about terrorists infiltrating the country through Mexico?”
“I read it in a Tom Clancy novel – everything Clancy writes comes true. Everyone knows the border is porous and people who shouldn’t be here are coming in.”
“Clancy, huh? He’s a lot better than Fox News,” said Obama. “If you get all your news from Fox, you’re living on another planet. Uh, Bishop, for a non-political organization, the church seems to be taking a stand offering sanctuary to illegal immigrants.”
“The church’s doors are open for all who seek refuge. We mustn’t close our doors on political refugees,” replied the Bishop. “Before entering seminary, I served in the Peace Corps in El Salvador where my friend the Archbishop Romero was gunned down during worship services. When even the bishop of a country isn’t safe, how safe are its people? I felt a moral obligation to assist Salvadoran refugees escape death squads and flee to the U.S. – and you’re right, many entered the country illegally, and we sheltered them in churches, and I’m glad we did. It was the right thing to do.”
“If the government can’t control the border,” said Joe, “A well-regulated militia can, and, it’s in the Constitution.”
“We can’t have armed citizens taking justice into their own hands. We welcome the assistance and support of concerned citizens who want to assist the Border Patrol – but we can’t have them carrying arms and arresting people. Let’s set up a task force to work on this. What about the HB1 visa program – how do you feel about legal immigration and bringing skilled people into the country?”
“Hell yes, we need more software engineers and programmers,” said Joe.
“We’ll work to expand it,” said the president, “While increasing investment in schools. Our students are our future. There’s not just a shortage of skilled workers in tech. There’s a shortage of farm workers, too – how do you suggest we address it?”
“Take all the people on welfare and food stamps and make them work on farms. And if there’s still a shortage, then a guest-worker program might work.”
“What if we hit the demand side of the problem and increase enforcement and fine companies that hire illegals?”
“That’s a good start,” said Joe.
“Hey Joe, good luck finding guys to take care of your vineyard,” Miguel said.
“Uh, Bootlegger,” Obama said, “We’ve already got an issue with you shipping wine across state lines. Are you hiring illegal aliens, too?”
“Mr. President,” Paul replied, “A moment ago you asked me a pointed question and I did #1 in my pants. With your latest question, I just did #2. We don’t hire any aliens; we hire human beings.”
“I’m just jivin’ with you man – take it easy,” Obama said.
“I’ve got something to add,” the Bishop said. “After Jesus rose from the dead, his very first appearance to one of his followers was as a gardener. Think about it.”
Jesufuckingcristo thought Miguel.
After a moment of reflection, the president spoke. “There’s something I’d like to ask the Bishop. I hear you’ve been having a little trouble in your church about gay marriage? Please share with us what you learned from your experience.”
“The Lord brought his ministry to all people – if we focus on the mission of the church, to bring God’s grace to everyone, we wouldn’t waste energy on political fights.”
Obama was still formulating his policy on the topic and listened intently. The Bishop asked, “Isn’t it the government’s role to create a legal framework to protect people from discrimination? What similarities do you see, Mr. President, between the struggle for civil rights and the struggle for gay rights?”
Joe the Wino detested the Bishop almost as much as Obama and funded break away churches that occupied property owned by the Diocese of San Diego. Before the president could answer, Joe jumped in, “The next thing you know, homosexuals are going to be getting married in church – it’s disgusting.”
“Joe, you’re a Christian, aren’t you?” asked the Bishop.
“Yes – and the Bible says holy matrimony is between a man and a woman.”
“If you changed the words ‘between a man and a woman’ to ‘between two people’, that would take care of that,” Paul offered.
“Yeah, I get that,” said Joe, “But I can’t understand men marrying men.”
“Mr. President, I think the public is optimistic and looking for leadership from your administration on this. What are your thoughts?” Paul asked.
“Michelle and I know what it’s like growing up with prejudice. I believe the role of government is to ensure all people are treated fairly without regards to their religion, race, gender, or sexual orientation.”
“What about chicks with dicks who want to use the ladies’ room?” asked Miguel.
“Miguel!” – exclaimed Paul.
“That’s alright – let him speak,” said Obama.
“Man, ask the fucking dog over there for his opinion,” said Miguel.
“I’m sorry,” apologized the Pirate. “Look at the fucking dogs,” and it wasn’t a figure of speech as Bo, who started by sniffing Bluey’s butt then licking his willy-wonker, had mounted Bluey from behind in the style of dogs. Canine psychologists said it was a display of dominance by Bo trying to tell Bluey who was top dog. The Aussie was having nothing of it, snapped at Bo, then mounted him. The headline in the French media was “Le Sommet Levrett” which couldn’t be printed by prudish English publications. Rumors began circulating the president’s dog was gay. Any suspicions about Bluey’s sexual preference were dispelled by the attention he paid to FLOTUS’ flower.
“My position on this is still evolving,” said Obama, who lowered his voice and continued, “Since this is off the record, ask me this question during my second term,” which Joe leaked to a Fox News reporter within five minutes of the president’s departure, warning Obama was going to legalize same sex marriage if re-elected.
A president’s schedule is strictly followed and at 14:30 H, Keisha interrupted to call time. The president stood, invited the Bishop to make a closing prayer, and all rose and bowed their heads.
“Today, the president talked about respect – and how we should respectfully listen to each other. Let us agree to respectfully disagree about differences in opinion. And let’s take one step beyond respect – to love your neighbor – to love one another. Love solves all problems. I’m not talking about romance between two people who have fallen in love – but truly caring for each other, treating strangers, treating people different from yourself, as you would treat family members, because we are all one human family. If we respect each other as members of the same family, the same community, and love each other, the power of love dissolves all differences, solves all problems. May peace be with each and every one of you, and may we all have the strength, wisdom, and courage to go forth to do the work God has given us to do. Amen.”
The host family escorted the First Family uphill along the stone path to Gazebo Hill repurposed into a helicopter pad where Marine One waited. As its rotors started, the president said to Paul, “Watch this,” and the commander-in-chief ordered his dog to chase birds off the property lest they collide with the chopper’s blades. Bluey, not to be undone, joined the First Dog in clearing out birds when Paul shouted, “Bird check!”
“Come back after your presidency and we’ll drink wine from the vines you planted today,” said Paul. “Six-year-old vines make great wine.”
Paul, Bluey, and Sheila took a selfie with the First Family and Bo and as Marine One lifted, avocados, grapefruit, blood oranges, and olives were forced from their branches (which Miguel scooped up and took to his truck) as the helicopter flew towards the coast, escorted by three similar choppers as decoys.
The avocado, blood orange, and grapefruit trees would die from drought and neglect years later, but the olives and Phoenix Canarias palm trees Sheila purchased at the depth of the Recession would grow taller than a three-story house. Although the Obamas would never return, the vines planted by Barrack and Michelle would grow to cover the gazebo, then smoother it. Today, the gazebo is tattered in ruins – the vines are strong with hope.
Copyright (c) 2020 All Rights Reserved Craig Justice.