YOU WOULD EXPECT the hawks in Congress to see farther ahead. But no. They plunge onward, voting lush budgets for weapons systems as if it were 1984. But in 1986, won't votes for MX, plus Star Wars, plus ASAT, plus $600 toilet seats equal more deficit, deeper domestic cuts, a summer on the political defensive, and possible defeat?
I can hardly wait. My colleagues can hardly wait. We're the moderate-to-liberal media consultants of America. The political Oz-makers -- the perception-is-reality people. Remember how a vote for the Reagan/Stockman budget became a vote against Social Security in the '82 elections? That was us. My own "Little Old Lady Scolding the Congressman" commercial, in one 10-day media buy, boosted my candidate's standing in the polls by 31 percent. He went on to win a "safe" Connecticut congressional seat held by one surprised moderate Republican. One good spot can do that in a House race.
Can we media mavens create the same boomerang effect against a senator or representative who votes for MX and Star Wars? Could the missile he uses to look tough with the Russians be the same missile we use to help him shoot himself in the foot?
Can his vote for "The Force" in outer space be portrayed and perceived as the gonzo act of a man who was team-beamed up to the Enterprise with Daffy Duck and Lyndon LaRouche? Stay tuned.
The complex debate surrounding these weapons doesn't slow the flow of my video imagination one bit. True Machiavellians never let complex facts get in the way of The Truth, which, in case you haven't noticed, is what appears on TV. Television is where these weapons show their greatest power -- as pure theater.
Super-accurate MXs and orbiting laser guns are bizarre and totally fantastic to the average person. That perception can be greatly intensified on the tube. Death-star imagery set in the context of ordinary life will make these weapons seem as alien and indifferent to the human spirit as the legislative Strangeloves who voted for them.
That's the concept, the key for me and my media-manipulating compatriots in 1986.
Wanna see some rough scripts? I see not Ronald Reagan's 1984 "Bear in the Woods" pro-defense ad. I see the deficit that will have to be closed either by tapping the Pentagon -- or the Yuppies. Which is it going to be? Enter your clever opposition media consultants:
The lights glare. The bunting waves in the wind. The mega-speakers boom and bounce around the hall. My incumbent congressman client, a neo-liberal, Kennedyesque challenger, has a thousand political groupies panting, cheering, eating out of his hand. Three local affiliates are there with cameras rolling for the late news clip. I've got one 16-mm doing close-ups on him, another roving the crowd for reaction shots. I'll get at least four spots out of this. He's tracking my speech well, even bettering it in places.
" . . . And this is the year we REJECT the senator who LOOKED THE OTHER WAY while millions of Social Security and Medicare recipients got the short end -- again!"
(Pause for cheers.)
"This is the year we REJECT the Senator who STOOD BY while millions of middle class parents had to give up the dream of college for their kids! Who STOOD BY while hundreds of programs for economic development and JOBS were dismantled and cast aside! While thousands of family farmers lived the nightmare of putting their very lives on the auction block!"
(Farm states only.)
(Pause for reaction.)
"This is the year we REJECT the senator who chose instead to pour billions of our tax dollars down concrete R-R-RATHOLES FOR SCANDOUSLY EXPENSIVE -- OBSOLETE -- DANGEROUS first strike mixed-up MX missiles! Who chose instead to lauch a TRILLION dollars into outer spae for sitting-duck, Buck-Rogers space junk!"
(O.K., go for it.)
"AND IF I HAVE ANYTHING TO SAY ABOUT IT, THIS IS THE YEAR THAT THE MX SENATOR FROM OUR STATE BECOMES THE EX-SENATOR FROM OUR STATE AND YOU CAN TELL HIM I -- ."
The crowd drowns him out. Guess what part makes the late news?
Now some 30-second docudramas. Bizarre weaponry contrasted with normal human needs is the style:
Open with a wide shot of a pizza parlor window. We see an 18-year-old boy, in white apron and hat, behind the counter. Cut to interior, awash in garish flourescent light, as we focus on his glum face, the pizza he's making, the plastic decor and the detached, munching patrons of all types. The tone is tacky.
Announcer (soft and sad):
"This is Johnny. He's had a B average all through high school. Did pretty well on his college boards. He won't be going to college, though. Because the college loan program was cut way back for kids like him. Cut out for millions of others. Where did the money go? Into orbit. To help pay for a trillion dollars worth of satellite ray guns, Buck Rogers battle stations and other assorted space junk that'll be obsolete in no time. Just like our educational system. And America's workforce.
"Senator ------voted for Star Wars -- against kids like Johnny. Congressman ------didn't. How are you going to vote?"
For a few seconds we see some high-tech Star Wars animation scenes double-exposed over a close up of Johnny's face. Then we fade to black and bring up our candidate's photo, name, and slogan. Something like "People First."
How about this for farm states, whether the incumbent MX senator voted for farm aid or not?
The scene is the auctioning off of a family farm and its contents. The voice of the auctioneer drones on as we capture the heartbreak in the family faces. Maybe a tad of sad music trickles under.
A soft voice with a country flavor:
"The Millers were four generations on this farm. Fourteen of 'em are resting just over that rise. It's all gone now -- the land, the pride, the roots. Walt Miller and his boys were damn lucky to get jobs at the plant near town. The government help they used to count on was just too little, too late this time. Seems a few billion of those federal dollars were planted in concrete missile silos in Nebraska instead."
(Double-expose photos of silo covers and missule launchings.)
"Now, Senator -------will swear up and down that he supports us family farmers, but he went and voted for those dang MX nukes, now didn't he? Congressman --------voted against 'em. How are you gonna vote on Tuesday?"
Here's one for urban areas. Open with a shot of the abandoned Urban Development Action Grant construction project. Half-constructed foundations. Idle bulldozers. Dust blowing in the wind. We'd talk about all the jobs and prosperity it would have created if the grants hadn't been canceled. Any pol care to campaign against UDAG in his home state?
How about the lonely technician in his basement workshop who has a revolutionary idea for a whole new industry? But then, business loans are back to high double-digit interest. And the SBA? What SBA? Their money was voted into holes in Wyoming. By you know who.
How's this for the conservative voter?
Slow zoom-ins on the dirty, unshaven, battle-weary faces of American combat soldiers. One after another. A low, ominous tone drones under the announcer. The voice is understated, flat, and tough:
"When the chips go down in some steamy, stinking, godforsaken corner of the globe, these guys put it all on the line -- ."
You know where this one's going. Underfunding means poorly trained and equipped conventional forces. And weak conventional forces will be the number-one cause when somebody reaches for the MX alternative, which is where certain pols put too much money.
Will the offending senators and congresspersons please rise? Too shy? We'll put your picture in the commercial then.
Finally, there's Martha and her canes.
The killer spot. Featuring Reaganomics' most infamous foil, the Social Security issue. We'll shoot tender footage of Martha courageously making her way about her memory-cluttered apartment. Very sparse. But neat as a pin. There's a way about her that one word can describe. Proud. And she's no paid actress, but the real McCoy, like everybody in all these spots. She knits, vacuums, dusts, does dishes. And cooks hot dogs.
The announcer is as slow and deliberate as she -- and right out of a Hallmark Cards commercial:
"This is Martha. Eighty-one years young. There's a serious problem with her feet, like so many others have at her age. But she won't be getting that operation she needs -- can't afford it since her Medicare costs went up, and her Social Security didn't.
"Her choices in life are healing. Or heating. Or eating. Just two of the three. She often wonders what the government does with all that money -- ."
You get the picture. And so will the voters when they see ghosts of MX missiles rising up in Martha's empty refrigerator.
What's that, you say? Social Security and MXs are paid from different accounts? Hey, if Ronald Reagan can twist the truth until we almost hear it scream for mercy, why can't we? This is hardball.
If -- by some fat chance -- the Dow stays up and interest rates stay down, we media wizards will just chip away a few votes here and there among the Offended in the closer races. Sometimes that's all it takes. If the ecomomy slows, linking mixed up MXs and space rays to every budget and tax outrage committed against the average American in 1985 will touch off a wholesale electoral slaughter in 1986. Like I said, ray guns make such sensational symbols. All we need is one winter of some discontent.
Why, you may ask, am I playing my hand like this, revealing secret strategies? Maybe it's because I know there are many more of me out there with even better stategies, just waiting for the chance to fill America's law firms with M-Ex senators and congressmen. Maybe it's to remind a few hard-liners that looking tough with the commies may seem like a good idea this year, but it won't be those commies who are voting next year.
Maybe its's because I don't trust the Russians and their KAL-007, hair-trigger mentality either. And I really fear what they'd do if, for the first time in history, they had to deal with the prospect of first-strike silo- busters aimed right down the tubes of their major deterrent force. Let alone being targeted from space.
In the end, I know it was that kid down the block who confided that he "ain't growin' up" that got to me. He made me hope that maybe these flying nightmares will go out of his life, if only I try to sway one vote in Congress.
So what do you say, Mr. Senator? Star Wars is still on the table. You can still kill the rest of MX.
No? Then go ahead. Make my day.