A couple of days ago I decided to bite the bullet and get in touch with U.S. President Barack Obama. It wasn’t him being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that gave me the audacity of hope to speak with him. It was an article in the Oct. 8 edition of the International Herald Tribune.
There, columnist Richard Bernstein reported on a speech Obama gave calling on Americans to drink less soda in order to decrease their sugar intake.
“There’s no doubt our kids drink way too much soda,” the president had said.
No sooner had he fizzed against the American habit of quaffing carbonated calories than the Center for Consumer Freedom popped up to declare in an ad: “It’s your food. It’s your drink. It’s your freedom.” I knew that Americans associated things like semiautomatic pistols, the rendition of suspected terrorists and apple pie with freedom, but soda pop was a new one on me. So, naturally, I was anxious to get to the president to find out if he really was bent on nationalizing Coca-Cola and its like.
If I may be permitted to boast for a moment here, I must admit I am pretty good at figuring out people’s Skype addresses; and, well, shucks, I got to the president personally on the first try by keying in “BO” — which is also the name of the first dog.
Here’s a faithful transcript of my conversation with the president.
RP: Hello, Mr. President, is that you?
BO: Sure is.
RP: Oh, my God. OK, so, well, first of all, congratulations on the Nobel Peace Prize.
BO: Thank you.
RP: Uh, $1.4 million is a lot of change.
BO: Yes, it’s change we can believe in.
RP: So, Mr. President, can we talk about the future of America?
BO: Yes, we can.
RP: Frankly, sir, I am worried about your criticism of Americans who drink soda pop. Haven’t you gone too far this time? I mean, the most famous brand of root beer is called Dad’s.
BO: Hey, Dad’s Root Beer was created in Chicago. Think I’d ever attack my own? Look, even if we whack a big tax on all brands of soda pop, Americans aren’t going to drink a drop less of the stuff. I can then use the extra tax revenues to fund my policies.
RP: Wow, that’s brilliant — a kind of new gas tax. By your policies, you of course mean health care, new sources of energy and . . .
BO: Sorry to interrupt, but not those policies. Well, I may as well let you be the first person to know: I’m planning a new war.
RP: Oh God! Where’s this one going to be? Iran? Pakistan? It’s not France, is it? I know that George W. hated the French.
BO: None of those places. I am going to attack the United States of America.
RP: What?! But, sir, you are the president of the . . .
BO: Yes, I am. You see, I intend to declare war on America. I have come to realize, since taking office, that I’m not going to be able to change this country simply through domestic politics. But this country has the most idealistic foreign policy in the world. We bring freedom, democracy and human rights to all the countries we declare war on. The only way to restore the human rights so deeply violated by the previous administration, to institute universal health care and to build new schools and hospitals is to invade America, conquer it and then change the country once and for all — like we did for Germany and Japan.
RP: That’s amazing. But will Congress go along with it?
BO: No problem. They never give me the money I want for domestic reform, but when it comes to wars they fork over hundreds of billions at the drop of a drone projectile.
RP: But, sir, what about the Pentagon? They are sure to object to starting yet another war, especially on domestic soil.
BO: That’s the genius of this plan. I have briefed the boys and girls at the Pentagon and they’re all fired up. You surely recall the slogan, “Send in the Marines!” Well, now we don’t have to send them anywhere. They just turn around in San Diego harbor and bomb the bejesus out of Orange County.
BO: Quite believable, actually. In addition, the Pentagon is thrilled, because now they don’t have to set up fast-food chains all over some foreign desert.
Instead, after a hard night kicking in people’s doors all over America, their soldiers can just park their tanks and Humvees at local malls and pig out on tacos, hot dogs and chiliburgers.
RP: I can see that it’s a pretty easy war to prosecute.
BO: Piece of cake. The people at the Pentagon don’t really care where their next war takes them. They just want the logistics to run smoothly and funnel as much money as possible into the U.S. military-industrial complex.
RP: It all sounds great, sir, but what about the states? They’re not going to take this sitting down.
BO: We’re introducing a bill into Congress to rename governors “warlords.” Take one look at Gov. Schwarznegger of California. What is he, if not a warlord on steroids? If the governors become warlords, no one will object when we send drones over places like Phoenix and Atlanta, and bomb polygamists’ wedding parties in Salt Lake City.
RP: And Chicago?
BO: Nope. Chicago’s a no-fly zone. This is going to be a limited war. Once Americans give up their guns, agree to close the detention camp at Guantanamo, accept universal health care and agree to stop drinking so much soda pop, we’ll declare a truce. I’ve learned from my predecessor’s mistakes. I’ve got a clear-cut exit strategy for this war.
RP: But, sir, the American people are self-reliant and fiercely independent. What happens if they fight back and win?
The Skype line started to break up and go faint, and I was groping for the president’s voice in a sea of static.
Sir? Mr. President? Are you there?
Finally, the president’s last words broke through, loud and clear.
BO: Well (he said), if I lose this war, I’ll flip-flop and declare victory for the American people. I am commander-in- chief, after all. I’m in a win-win situation.
The Skype line broke off there.
On reflection, I thought what a real privilege it had been to speak with President Obama and to learn that he had concrete options to pursue on both sides of important issues facing the future of his country.
America, I thought, is truly a great country. Whatever Americans do at home or abroad, they just declare victory and move on. If you say you win, you win.
It throws a whole new light on the phrase “Yes, we can.”
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