Dragon's Breath Magazine, April '92

The Character Issue in American Politics, by Pure Cane Sugar

     During the 1972 presidential election, everyone expected Henry "Hank" Thompson to be the democratic nominee. The senator from Idaho was extremely popular; not only was he witty and charismatic, he was also inarticulate, so no one was too offended by his intelligence.
     Thompson went to school at Yale, so he had East Coast ties. He also owned an immensely popular restaurant in Houston (called Ten for Aristology), and once worked at a firm in San Francisco -- so really he had connections all over the country. In addition to his pan-regional appeal, his stately, attractive wife was the daughter of Mexican-American immigrants, and so Thompson benefited from a certain ethnic appeal. Everyone expected him to have the primaries wrapped up immediately. It seemed perfect.
     But it wasn't. Soon before the New Hampshire primary, there surfaced allegations that several years earlier Thompson had an extramarital affair. Naturally he protested that this was none of the public's business; what went on in his private life should not be made an issue in the campaign. People accepted this.
     Until it was revealed that before he slept with the other woman, Senator Thompson shot her boyfriend. Who, it turns out, was Thompson's illegitimate son.
     This made things a little more difficult to swallow. But as the Senator pointed out: Love is messy; love is difficult; painful things do happen. Besides, it was never actually proven that he shot his illegitimate son. He didn't deny the charges, but they were never substantiated, either. There was videotape footage, but Thompson aides questioned its authenticity.
     Thompson won the New Hampshire primary swimmingly, and seemed well on the way towards the nomination. Until just before the Super Tuesday primaries, when another obstacle appeared.
     The FBI raided Thompson's home and discovered $3 million worth of military hardware in the cellar. It had been stolen from US army bases. By joint employees of Thompson and a Colombian drug cartel. For sale to the People's Republic of China.
     Thompson pointed out that of course this was only a business deal; he was trying to make some extra cash. After all, what is America all about? Faulting him for the weapons smuggling would be like accusing neighborhood children of racketeering because they set up a lemonade stand, he said. Thompson added, "My personal character should not be an issue in this campaign."
     The vast majority of Americans agreed, and Thompson did superbly on Super Tuesday. There seemed no stopping the Idaho senator now.
     Until just before the New York primary, when it was determined that his restaurant -- Ten for Aristology -- was breaking child labor laws. As the Senator explained, "Oh, some nine-year-old kids have been working about eighteen hours a day without getting payed, and they were too spineless to complain."
     Actually several children did complain, and were subsequently processed and served to customers.
     This hardly seemed a problem to most people, since Ten for Aristology was still a five-star restaurant according to Texas restaurant guides. And besides, the Food and Drug Administration had no problem with the way the children were being served; the meat was carefully cleaned, and there had been no health complaints from customers. Besides, Thompson pointed out, why should he be held responsible for what goes on at a restaurant that he only owns? It was not like he was in Houston managing the business. And finally, it was, once again, a business-oriented mistake: "This matter does not reveal any shortcomings in my ability to lead this great nation. I ask all Americans to look into their hearts and ask themselves, does this really matter?"
     They did, and it didn't: Thompson won New York handily. Pundits speculated that nothing could stop Thompson now; he was invincible.
     They were wrong. Just before the California primary, a detail in Thompson's past emerged which, in matter of days, steam-rolled the campaign and forced Thompson to retire from the senate in utter disgrace.
     About a decade earlier, the public learned, Thompson had lunch with a man who once dated a woman who knew a friend of a one-time acquaintance of black revolutionary Malcolm X.
     This, of course, was too much for American morality to forgive.

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