By Tony Russell|
Crawford, Texas, August 17-
[Concerned] "Mr. President, don't you think you ought to stop? It's 105 degrees in the sun, and you've been cutting brush for nine hours straight."
[President, wiping brow with a bandana] "Has it been that long already? Listen, Ken, I can't knock off yet. I need the overtime."
"Why do you have to push yourself this way, sir?"
"To tell the truth, Ken, our family counts on the extra income. I actually get paid minimum wage out of the ranch's weed eradication fund for every hour I 'm whacking brush."
"With the Middle East sliding into chaos, and North Korea testing missiles, and hurricanes and heat waves battering us, and the budget falling off a cliff… Well, just let me say that I'd be glad to float you a loan if you need it, sir, so you could concentrate on your presidential duties."
"No thanks, Ken. That's not the way we do things in the Bush family. We don't take any handouts. I'll earn this on my own. It's just that Laura hasn't had a job for a few years, and things have gotten sorta tight. Another $5.15 an hour makes a difference to the Bushes, but even that's not enough for folks like us with a family to support. Pass me that canteen, will ya?" [Stuffs bandana back in pocket]
[Light of understanding dawns] "Oh! Well that explains a lot, Mr. President. So that's why you come down here every chance you get, calling it 'vacation,' and then get in some moonlighting. [Realizes he's rapidly broiling under the Texas sun] Make that 'sunlighting.'"
[Takes another swig, then screws top back on canteen] "You got it."
[Doing some quick mental calculations] "So if we figure you make…what, at $400,000 a year as president, that figures out to almost $8,000 a week—call it a little under $200 an hour for a forty-hour week…."
[President interrupting] "It's actually only $192.31 an hour."
"Okay. So if you're double dipping and add your $5.15 minimum wage to it, that makes it $197.46 per hour. Wow! Even with the full $2.15 an hour raise, you'd be pulling in less than $200 an hour!"
[Bitterly] "It's those damned Democrats, Ken. Me and the Republicans in Congress tried to get an increase in minimum wage approved, but the Democrats turned their backs on us working people."
[Sympathetically] "That must have really hurt."
[Begins whetting the blade of his scythe with a sharpening stone] "I can't tell you how disappointed I am. Our party offered a win-win proposition—two dollars and fifteen cents an hour for minimum wage workers, phased in over three years, and the elimination of inheritance taxes for multi-millionaires. That was a typical example of Republican fairness in my time in office: something for everybody. But Democrats just don't get it."
[Hesitantly] "Uh, yessir, but increasing the minimum wage might just mean that working people like yourself could eat every day instead of doing without. On the other hand, though, eliminating the inheritance tax would mean rich people could pass on their huge estates to their kids, who didn't lift a finger to earn anything."
"Well, sir, when you cut taxes for the rich, you're cutting federal income. Then you end up cutting education, health care, housing—things working class people really need—because Congress worries that government is in the red. Minimum wage workers like yourself would gain a little but end up losing a lot. Rich people wouldn't lose anything and they'd really cash in."
[President opens lunch pail and unwraps a baloney sandwich] "Guess I might as well eat if I'm takin' a break. You want part of this?"
"No thanks, sir. I ate just before I came out."
[Talking while eating] "Ken, before we had this little talk, why did you think I spend so much time cutting brush when I'm in Texas? Tell it like it is, now, partner. Give it to me straight."
[Hems and haws] "Um, well, to be honest, sir, I thought it was because your handlers remembered how well that stuff worked for Ronald Reagan. I thought they realized that those pictures of your dad at the helm of his yacht just didn't cut it, so they set up photo ops of you cutting brush to make people forget you're the millionaire son of millionaires. Trying to make you look like a down-home, hard-working, macho, sweat-of-your-brow kind of guy. A crass appeal to the Bubba vote." [Now Ken is sweating]
[Closing lunch box and wiping mouth with back of hand] "Well I'm glad that you understand the truth now, Ken. Help me out here. Tell your friends what an increase in minimum wage would have meant to workers like me. The minimum wage buys less than it has any time in over fifty years. I'm halfway through my second term, and it still hasn't gone up a penny since I came into office. The price of gas has skyrocketed, housing is out of sight… it's damned frustrating."
[Sympathetically] "Isn't there anything you can do, sir? You've been able to push so many of your other projects through Congress; it must make you sick not to be able to do something to benefit people who really need it."
"I tried, Ken. We offered the Democrats a good deal. They shot it down out of pure partisan politics. They just couldn't stand to see Republicans get credit for helping the working class."
"But you'll try again, won't you? You've been so persistent on all the things that matter to you, never taking a 'no' for a final answer. Opening up Alaska for drilling. Getting conservative judges. Tax cut after tax cut. This is where that famous stubbornness of yours can pay off, sir. Don't be discouraged. You've still got more than two years left in office. You're bound to get an increase in minimum wage if you keep at it."
[Shaking his head] "No, Ken, this was my first and last shot. If I keep hammering on minimum wage, people will complain I'm only doing it to benefit myself."
© Tony Russell, 2006