You can read this series from the beginning here.
We had two other male interns at that time, and I always felt bad for them, because for some reason they always got more scrutiny, and because of that they tended not to last very long. Horace was doing well, and had come up with a number of statistical memes that we were able to pair with a couple of Vox stories, but I’d already had to speak to him a couple of times about the office fragrance policy. Stanton was the other intern, and he was also doing well despite being geographically and educationally challenged due to having grown up in Wisconsin and attending school there.
The week of the State of the Union address, I noticed he was late for the intern orientation on Monday, and it looked as though he was feeling a little down and unenthusiastic about things in general, so I thought I’d stop by his cubicle and cheer him up a little bit. "Everything going all right, Stanton?" I asked.
"Packers," he said.
"Oh. Is this an unemployment issue?"
"It ought to be," he said. "Probably won’t be. That stupid McCarthy."
"Oh." I hadn’t realized that Senator McCarthy was still that popular in Wisconsin. I was also fairly sure that he had been dead for fifty years, but I didn’t want to point that out.
"It was one of those situations, you know?" He said. "Everything was going so well, and then one thing after another started to go their way, and there wasn’t anything I could do to stop it, and then it all fell apart."
"Lots of people felt that way after the election," I said. "It passes."
"I hadn’t thought about it that way," he said. "But this is worse, trust me. Of course, you don’t have anything to complain about, not after what you guys did to the Colts."
"I’m sorry, we did what to who now?"
"New England. Just a really amazing performance. I figured Luck would take a step forward, but I guess that didn’t happen."
"Oh, I don’t believe in luck," I said. "Any kind of superstition, really."
"Well, you have two weeks before you have to go to Arizona. Are you excited?"
"What’s going on in Arizona?" I asked. "Is there a special election out there that I haven’t heard about?"
"Oh, no," Stanton said. "Patriots-Seahawks. You know."
"Are we talking about sports?" I asked, and then felt like an idiot, because I suddenly realized that we had been talking about sports.
"Oh, I get it," Stanton said. "You must be a Cowboys fan or something. Pretending that the rest of the season didn’t happen after the Packers beat you."
"That’s exactly right," I said. "Ha. That Tony Romo isn’t very good, is he."
"Wasn’t Romo’s fault. He threw the ball. Bryant didn’t catch it. Too bad for you guys, but we got screwed over just as badly. Anyway, anything you want me to work on this week?"
I was grateful to have the conversation back on familiar ground. "Do we know who is doing the Republican response to the State of the Union?" I asked. "That would be somebody we’d want to target."
"Let me look," he said. and did a quick Google search. "Oh, awesome. It’s Joni Ernst. I followed that election pretty closely. I can come up with a few memes for you in advance, and then we can tweak them depending on what she actually says during the broadcast."
"Good deal," I said. "If we’re lucky, she might even drink a glass of water during the response."
"We’re not going to get that lucky again," he said. "But you never know. Something might come up."
"I know you two thought this was funny," Aunt Joan said. "But you have to consider how it looks."
Stanton and I had been called on the carpet, but neither of us knew why. Or at least I didn’t know, but I wasn’t about to say anything because I didn’t want anyone to think I was stupid.
"Look at these," Aunt Joan said. "Joni Ernst riding a pig like a rodeo cowboy. Joni Ernst giving a pig a kiss. Joni Ernst against a background of bacon."
"That’s a bacon mat," Stanton explained. "You take the bacon and weave it together and then bake it."
"And you think that was a sensitive way to portray the junior Senator from Iowa?" Aunt Joan asked.
"Of course not. That’s not my job. My job is to parody people like Senator Ernst. She’s a pig farmer. She bragged about castrating pigs during the campaign. Of course I’m going to use pig imagery when I portray her. What, did her people complain?"
"No, and we wouldn’t care if she did. Think again, both of you. Who would complain about those memes? People whose opinion that the former Secretary would value?"
"Oh. Well, Chelsea is a vegetarian, right?"
"Not anymore," I said.
"I thought she was again," Stanton said. "After she had the baby."
"I don’t think so," I said.
"Then who else is a vegetarian?" Stanton asked. "I mean, besides Justin here."
"Gentlemen, you are giving me a headache," Aunt Joan said. "Think."
"I got nothing," Stanton said.
"I can’t think who would be offended by all the pork references… oh, wait," I said. "Pork. This isn’t about the Saudis, is it?"
"Why would we care about the Saudis?" Stanton asked. "They don’t like bacon, I get that. I don’t understand it, but I get it. They don’t have all that much interest in partisan politics, do they?"
"Justin, explain, please."
I had the list of major Clinton Foundation donors bookmarked on my phone. "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has donated over ten million dollars to the William J. Clinton Foundation," I said. "Sheikh Mohammed H. Al-Amoudi has donated over a million. So has the Kuwaiti government, and the Qataris, and the Omanis. Plus I don’t know how many different businessmen who are Muslim."
"A lot of people have donated money to the Clintons," Stanton said. "There’s no possible way that we can accommodate every single person’s views who donated money. It wouldn’t be possible."
"And yet, I have spent half my morning fielding phone calls from people asking us why we have so much pork imagery on our website." Aunt Joan’s eyebrows were knitted together, a sure sign of trouble. "I do not have the time to deal with this. The former Secretary does not want to have to deal with this. Creating unimportant side issues for ourselves impedes our Readiness. If you don’t understand that, then you don’t need to be here."
"It’s not uncommon," I said. "Oxford University Publishing just told its authors that they couldn’t mention pork or sausage in their books, so they wouldn’t offend the Muslim audience."
"I am Ready. I want the former Secretary to be President of this country," Stanton said. "I just want it to be the same country, you know? I grew up on a farm. We had pigs. We had ham for Easter. If that offends the Saudis, I’m sorry. But I don’t know what difference that makes."
"It makes a difference," Aunt Joan said. "We’re going to change this country. Way beyond anything Obama imagined. We need the Saudis to help finance that. If you were really Ready, you would understand that and stop wasting my time and get out of my office."
"It could be worse," I told Stanton on the elevator ride down. "You could have been fired."
"Shut up, Justin," Stanton said.
"You want to get lunch? I know a vegan place."
"Shut up, Justin."
"We could talk sports or something."
"Shut up, Justin."
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