by Matt Bracken
September 11, 2012
This is the first time in many years that I have put pen to paper for a lengthy letter, so please forgive my misspellings, poor handwriting or any other errors. I will probably do this in one go and be finished with it. I won’t need much of this new notebook. It’s a nice room, desk and chair, but really, no computer? I just wish they would stop the hammering outside. I need to focus in order to write well.
No one person could possibly expect to know the full truth about such a complex history, so near to its time. But I know what I know, saw what I saw, and heard what I heard. Now it’s time to set the record straight, at least about what transpired between some of the key players in the lead up to the recent events.
What I have heard called “the plan” began as idle office chat, nothing more. (Of course, not much chat is ever truly idle at the very highest levels of power, between senior presidential advisors.) The first time I heard it mentioned was over lunch with Dennis in the White House Mess, down in the basement next to the situation room. We were at a quiet corner table of the wood-paneled dining room, tossing ideas for the next talking points back and forth. Routine.
One of right-wing hate radio’s loudest and most poisonous voices was conducting an embarrassing public feud with our press secretary. The President had trapped himself in a seeming contradiction. The video and audio were both damning, and one must admit, very funny—if one’s goal was to make the President look and sound like a liar and a fool. The Youtube videos were getting millions of hits; the TV comics were not letting it go. We had been knocked completely off message, the optics were horrible, and our favorability ratings were collapsing at a crucial moment. (It seems like an ice-age ago when such trivialities actually mattered to me.)
I said something offhandedly to Dennis. “I just wish we could get rid of those bastards, once and for all.”
He stared at me for a long time, chewing on his second BLT sandwich until the Navy steward retreated from range, and then he said, “Actually, Jacinda, there is sort of a plan for that.”
“What do you mean, ‘a plan for that’?”
He explained that it was nothing formal, and there was nothing in writing. Nor would there ever be. It was just a concept he had come up with, along with a few other trusted colleagues and advisors. An idea. They had gamed out various scenarios. We could solve our problems with molding public opinion if we removed just a few dozen key right-wing opinion makers. That was the exact word he used, “removed.” That was last spring, and I put it off as a harmless thought experiment. I didn’t hear anything more about it for several months.
Then one day after another media talking points session in the mess, Dennis said, “Remember the plan we were talking about? You know, we really could do it.”
“Are you serious?”
“The timing would have to be just right. Mainly, it would depend on external events.”
Remembering the numbers from our earlier conversation, I told him that removing a few dozen of the worst reactionaries wouldn’t change anything. Other fast-talking right wingers would just take their places. Except they would be angrier than ever.
Clearly, he knew more about a plan than he was letting on. Nobody was closer to the President than the two of us and his wife, and I had heard nothing from the boss, not even a hint. “You’re making this up. You’re not serious. Is it a joke, or a test? I wasn’t born yesterday.” I had to be careful. This was dangerous territory, when any spoken word could be recorded almost anywhere. Trust in a man like Dennis was a very slender reed upon which to cling.
“No, I’m very serious,” he said. “Here’s how we came up with two thousand. I was given a copy of a new law enforcement software program, one that Justice had for testing and evaluation. A refinement of the social networking analysis stuff. Data-mining, all of that. We put it on a clean computer, adjusted it for our own parameters, and made the list. We tried it at different levels from ten up to ten thousand. The optimal number for the greatest effect with the least initial disruption came in at about two thousand.”
I shook my head and said, “Dennis, it’s crazy to even talk about it.”
He continued with what, I saw later, was a canned pitch. “Do you want everything we’ve worked for to be lost? What if it came to striking boldly, or losing all of the progress we’ve made over the last fifty or a hundred years?”
I sidestepped. “You know as well as I do that boldness isn’t the President’s forte.”
“Well, you could help stiffen his backbone.”
“We could both be facing prison time just for talking like this.”