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Promise them the Moon!

T. Coraghessan Boyle wrote one of my favorite modern short stories: “The New Moon Party.” (It’s in his 1986 collection, Greasy Lake.) This story is a marvelous burlesque of modern politics.

George Thorkelsson, governor of Iowa, is running dead last in his quest for the Democratic Party’s nomination for the Presidential election. Why does he want to be president? In his words:

I guess, even at sixty-one, I was still afflicted with those hungry pangs of ambition that every boy who can’t play center field for the Yankees will never wholly shake: I wanted to be top dog, kick off my shoes in the Oval Office, and stir up a fuss wherever I went; I wanted to climb high atop the mountain and look down on the creeping minuscule figures of queens, rock star, matinee idols, and popes. It was a cold life in a comfortless universe; I didn’t believe in God, afterlife, or leprechauns. I wanted to make my mark on history – what else is there?

Such honesty, of course, would never escape from the lips or pen of any real-world politician, but Boyle’s understanding of the typical motivation of the typical politician strikes me as right on. Notice the crushing selfishness of this motive.

Just as he’s about to toss in the towel on his quest for the ultimate political prize, candidate Thorkelsson has an inspiration on how to win the Presidency. With great fanfare and odes to the optimistic spirit of the American people, he proposes a massive project that will stir us all with its grandeur and its ability to pull everyone together in a great collective project. Another plus is the fact that it will create lots of identifiable, high-paying new jobs – and corporate profits – all funded with gobs of taxpayer money.

His project is a new moon. His new moon will be less shabby, less cheesy, than the real one. It will be made of steel girders and a stainless-steal exterior. NASA was an especially proud and enthusiastic supporter of this endeavor. (And the Russians, when their spies found out that Americans were building a new moon to orbit the earth, got into the act themselves. It was a different sort of moon race.)

The new moon’s debut, alas, brought unpleasant unintended consequences. I’ll not reveal what these are.

It’s a fun story to read.