You can read this series from the beginning here.
"Settle down," Polly said. "I am serious. Settle down. All of you. I know you’re excited about the Cantor primary, but we have work to do."
I had made it to work on time for a change, despite staying up late to follow the election returns from Virginia. The defeat of the House Majority Leader in a Republican primary was a huge surprise, and I am a big fan of surprises. I think this dates back to my tenth birthday, when my mom promised to take me to a basketball game for my birthday, and I assumed we were going to a Knicks game in the city, but we ended up going to a women’s basketball game between Yale and Fordham. That had been a surprise. This was a much better surprise.
"What we’re going to do," Polly said, "is to split you into teams. Everybody on my right is on the Blue Team, and everyone on my right is the Red Team."
"Can we be the Green Team instead?" someone on Polly’s right asked. "Because, environmentalism."
"Sure, whatever," she said.
"Can we be Team Rocket?" someone on Polly’s left said.
"It doesn’t matter what the team names are, and the next person who asks is going to have to spend the weekend here, watching C-SPAN. Okay? The Green Team focuses on Cantor and all the reasons why he lost. What we want to highlight is the failures of the Republican leadership. That gets us into immigration, economic growth, all those votes on repealing the Affordable Health Act, everything. It’s also a defeat for the Koch Brothers and money in politics, so make sure you get that angle, all right? Got it?"
I was on Team Rocket, whatever that was, so I leaned forward to listen to the instructions.
"The rest of you guys are focused on what’s-his-name, Brat. Pull up whatever you can on him that’s negative. He’s an economics prof, so get on the ratings sites and see what people who took his class think about him. He’s probably published somewhere, so find out what that is and go through it. Check out his website and see if he’s got any YouTube videos. Everything’s fair game on this guy."
"Does he get any credit for pulling off the upset and getting rid of Cantor?" one of the interns asked.
"Of course not," Polly said. "This isn’t about him. This is about how this election is good for progressives. That’s what we highlight."
"Isn’t it good for the Tea Party?" another intern asked.
"So what?" Polly said. "Listen, you guys. We never admit this, but the Tea Party is good for progressivism. Anything that divides Republicans and makes them look bad is good for us. All we have to do is sit back and watch them tear each other up, and spend lots of money on TV ads and consultants while we do it. Is everyone clear on what we’re supposed to do? Good. Get to work."
We went back to our cubicles. I thought I heard someone say, "Team Rocket, blasting off!"–whatever that was supposed to mean. I started paging through the campaign website of Professor Brat, and I was feeling a little jealous. He’d made a difference by ridding the world of Eric Cantor, and now he was going to Congress. It didn’t seem fair.
I was halfway through one of Brat’s position papers when Samantha stuck her head into my cubicle. She was making the most of her female gender expression today, with a powder-blue silk blouse, a plaid miniskirt, and knee-high black leather boots. "Isn’t it exciting?" she said.
"I know," I said. "I had no idea it was that easy to get rid of someone so powerful like Cantor."
"It really shows that a true insurgent campaign can succeed in the face of the entrenched establishment, doesn’t it? Are you free for a movie on Friday? There’s a new X-Men sequel out."
"Is that the one about how some people are just better and smarter and more gifted than other people, but society just refuses to admit it?" I asked.
"That’s right," she said. "I’ll even buy the popcorn."
"You wonder how that sort of thing gets to be popular. I mean, with mass audiences."
"I think it has something to do with all the Spandex," she said. "See you at the movies."
We both found the movie to be fairly incomprehensible, so we went out afterwards for beer. I knew a place that served an organic fair-trade lager that I liked. Samantha ordered a Leinenkugel, which had a label featuring an Indian chief. "Just to show solidarity," she said.
"With who?" I asked.
"The tribe."
"Oh." I took a sip of my beer. "What do you think of all this divide-and-conquer stuff?"
"What do you mean?" Samantha asked.
"Well, it seems to me that what we’re mostly focused on is dividing the Republicans and destroying their party unity. I can see the utility of that, but I think we’d be better served in putting progressive ideals forward instead of spending all our time trying to split the Republicans apart."
"Party unity is overrated," she said. "Come November 2016, everybody is going to line up how they line up, you know? All the Republicans are going to be behind whoever they nominate, and all the Democrats are going to be behind whoever they nominate, and nobody will ever remember what the primaries were like. It doesn’t matter whether the Republican nominee is Christie or Cruz or someone in between. It only matters who wins."
"Does it matter who wins the Democratic primary?" I asked.
"Well, of course. There’s going to be a contest, no matter who decides to run or doesn’t. The important thing is whether the party is unified at the end, not now."
I took another sip of beer. "All this division, though, it can’t be good for the country, long-term."
"That ship sailed a long time ago, Justin. You don’t realize, because you grew up wealthy. This country is divided a hundred different ways, over the most insignificant things. Whether you cheer for the Yankees or the Mets. Whether you watch Duck Dynasty or The Bachelorette. Whether you put red salsa on your enchiladas or green salsa. Whether you drink real beer, or that crap you seem to like."
"Forgive me about being concerned about making sure that the people who grow hops get a living wage," I said.
"There’s only one division that matters," Samantha said. "And it’s not progressive versus conservative, or even Republican versus Democrat. And I think you know what that is."
"It’s between people who start sentences with contractions versus people who don’t?" I asked.
"The important division is between the smart, talented people who understand what needs to be done, and everybody else. You saw the movie. You know all society wants to do, deep down, is oppress people like you and me, to bring us down to their level. And all the time, we’re fighting to protect them from the banks and the corporate interests, and they have no idea."
"So we’re the X-Men?" I asked.
"We’re better than they are," she said. "We’re better than everyone. We’re the people who are going to put Elizabeth Warren in the White House, and show the world once and for all what progressives can really accomplish."
"I would love to see that happen," I said. "But you have to remember, people said the same thing about Obama, and look what happened."
"Obama paved the way for what we’re going to do," Samantha said. Her eyes were blazing with passion. The hair on her head seemed to vibrate with electrical tension. "We’re going to fulfill all those broken promises. There’s just one question you need to answer."
"And that is?"
"Are you in?" she asked.
"I want to see progressives succeed," I said. "I’m sick of wasting my time on political conflict when we could be doing something important."
"Making a difference," she said.
"Exactly," I said.
"Why don’t you come to my apartment," Samantha said, "and we’ll see what kind of difference you can make?"
I got back to my apartment a little before five in the morning. I smelled like stale popcorn and beer and perfume. I decided to take a quick shower before I tried to get some sleep.
I had one picture on my bedroom wall, something my mother had given me when I left home to come to Washington. It was a picture from her graduation party from Yale in 1973. In the picture, my mother was hugging her friend, Hillary Rodham.
I took the picture off the wall and found a place for it on one of my closet shelves. I told myself I wasn’t turning my back on my mother, or her beliefs, or her friends. I was going to make up my own mind, regardless of what anyone thought. And, besides, I could always put the picture back up if Secretary Clinton won the Iowa primary.