Jerry ushered the aide and intern into his office gesturing for them to sit in the two leather chairs that had been placed in front of his mahogany desk. He hated afternoon meetings but his chief of staff had been adamant that he block fifteen minutes for these two. He appraised them as they moved to the seats, his eyes roving from the shorter young man with his Caesar cut bangs and lingering on the slim-waisted blonde in the teal mid-thigh skirt that accentuated her impossibly long legs. If it had been a morning meeting, he would have held court formally, ensconcing himself behind the desk in his throne-like, though surprisingly ergonomic, chair. Instead he moved aside a family photo and sat casually on the edge of the desk, the lip of the desk deep enough that had he wanted he could have kicked his feet like a small child on a swing set waiting to be pushed into motion.
The bifocals wearing aide looked up from a thick folder of charts, graphs and explanatory data. “Your overall favorability rating is down to fifty-two. You were at fifty-five a week ago. Fifty-eight last month.”
“It’s not a public perception freefall,” defended the intern who attended or had attended (it was hard to keep up with everyone’s biographical data) Wellesley or one of those other high profile all-girl schools. Was her name Karen or Karina? No. Katrina. Like that hurricane that decimated New Orleans.
“Au contrair.” The aide tapped the data with a pen. Morton was his name. Or was it Martin? Yes. Marty Morton. Helluva name and a great number cruncher. Had been invaluable really in the campaign with his ability to not only parse demographics but to strategize how to use them. A campaign couldn’t function anymore without staffers like Marty. If people were sheep, you needed a savvy dog to herd them. You needed spokesmen, or spokespersons as they were now called. You needed a tech team, media liaisons, fund bundlers, legal advisors and any number of go betweens, volunteers, and palm greasers. Elections were pure social science – a high tech endeavor no different than cloud seeding or crop modification. Policy as product, message as manipulation, machination as method. “Six points in a less than a month is a nose dive.”
“We’re still in the black, though,” argued the intern, shifting her body to confront Marty. Jerry took in her profile and noted she had somehow managed to snag her diamond patterned nylons again, this time at her shapely left calf. Poor gal must have gone through three pair a week, bless her heart. “That’s better than most these days.”
“The devil’s in the details,” muttered Marty, eyes finding sanctuary in the files of his open folder.
Cryptic bastard! thought Jerry. It got old listening to these indelicate monkey handlers joust about his fate and future as if he weren’t even a contributing party. “Meaning?” he demanded.
“Meaning these pie graphs and demographic breakdowns tell the real story. It’s all here, sir, and it isn’t pretty.”
“Fluctuations are normal, though,” defended Katrina. Jerry warmed to the heat of her true believer intensity. In the demographics of this overly ornate, Lemon Pledge smelling office, they had Marty outnumbered. Two votes to one. A sixty-seven percent approval rating. The preppy male thirty-something demographic not potent enough to defeat the middle-aged married with children male demographic when joined by the single less than age thirty female demographic. Put that in your pie chart and smoke it!
“The numbers are skewed by party affiliation devotees,” explained Marty. “It’s P.R. 101. C’mon, you know this. Forty percent of the people will hate you. Forty percent of the people would support you if even you were caught on video taking a dump on a neighbor’s lawn. It’s the twenty percent in between that matter and an overall six point drop is nothing less than a thirty percent freefall in real numbers.”
“So we alter strategic position,” advised Katrina. “We tweak a stance here, support a key policy there. Get Jerry some face time with the right interviewers on the right shows.”
“Bad idea,” said Marty, vociferously shaking his head like a petulant child upset at not getting the candy he wanted from the checkout counter. “Likeability ratings tank every time he does one of those shows. It’s not a strength.”
He? thought Jerry. Speak to me, not to her, buster! As if this nervous pencil tapping number cruncher knew squat about likeability. Jerry yanked a Kleenex from a dispenser on his desk and handed it to the aide. “Wipe your forehead sweat, Marty, it’s becoming a distraction.”
“My point exactly,” exclaimed Marty, accepting the tissue and dabbing at his wet temples.
“Maybe he’s too honest,” commented Katrina, locking eyes for a split second with Jerry. The relaxed corners of her mouth hinted at levity and the twinkle in her eyes confirmed it. “Maybe people don’t like to hear the truth.”
“If only. The trustworthiness numbers are the worst. Forty-three percent positive. Take away the automatic forty and that means only fifteen percent of his constituents believe he is telling the truth.”
His? He? “Marty, it wouldn’t hurt you to personalize this a little. Feel free to speak to me, consumer product though I may be.”
“I guess it’s tough to tell you, sir, that every bit of data we’re harvesting says that people don’t like you, trust you, or agree with your policies. You are out of step with your constituents and if something doesn’t change drastically you are going to be a one term wonder.”
“That’s more like it,” nodded Jerry. “I appreciate the candor. Now how about you hand that folder over and let me look at the charts.”
The folder weighed nearly a pound. Jerry glanced at his watch. It would take hours to glean anything meaningful from this hyper-analyzed accumulation of information. “Anything particularly noteworthy in this cornucopia of documentation.”
Marty clasped his hands in his lap, let out a deep sigh, and when he spoke the words came out softer and more tentative than previous. “There’s a pie chart at the very rear. A three person sampling that says a lot, sir.”
Jerry laughed aloud. A three person sampling. Good lord. Your tax dollars at work. What meaningful fact could possibly be learned by a three person sampling? He glanced at Katrina to see if she too appreciated the absurdity of this overkill approach to data analysis, but her countenance matched Marty’s in its somber demeanor.
He flipped to the rear of the folder and pulled a pie chart that looked like a photo of a two thirds eaten pizza. The sheet was labeled DOMESTIC INTERNALS and gave a thirty-three percent approval rating for the composite topics of leadership, trustworthiness, and reliability. “In baseball, batting .333 is a good average,” quipped Jerry. “So why do these three opinions matter?”
“Because they come from your own children, sir.”
Jerry set the page aside and grasped the edge of the desk for support, his knuckles growing pale. Marty and Katrina studied their shoes. The ensuing silence stretched and skewed time. Jerry thought about approval numbers, the ones that really mattered, and wondered if his wife and children would come back from their extended stay at her mother’s anytime soon. He hadn’t heard from any of them in four days.
Finally, he broke the silence with a question. “What about you?”
Marty glanced up, shrugged, and looked back down.
Katrina shifted to face him, crossing her left knee over her right. “I’m a committed forty percenter. I think we can right this ship.”
***Titus Burley is a writer of maudlin poetry, navel gazing bloggery, stinging satire, and riveting short and long form fiction. He also authors memorable private messages to friends on social networks. His blog is viewable at titusburley.wordpress.com.