A Short Story for Ray Bradbury

How has she turned adulteress, the faithful city, so upright!  Justice used to lodge within her but now, murderers … Your princes are rebels and comrades of thieves.  Each one of them loves a bribe and looks for gifts.

Is 1: 21, 23

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Ross McKay had always looked upon each day as providential.  Well, today might prove that to this national, mid-career television newsman.

His mentor Howard Keane had suffered a heart attack and was taken to Mass General less than two hours before the candidates were to debate.  As his principal second, and the guy who prepped Keane for his role as interlocutor, he was the proper substitute.

Lights up, seated facing the candidates, he got his cue.

His introductions went smoothly as expected.

He commenced his questioning. The usual topics: the economy, taxes, foreign affairs, race, health care, immigration, our adversaries – their aggressive utterances and actions, the strength and readiness of our military – and the answers were, as expected: trite, time-worn, highly-practiced.

McKay could hardly stand the fraud of it all.

Not one for phony handshakes and disingenuous smiles … providence took hold. Appearing first in his stomach, then in his head, it surfaced amid a windy and vacuous reply designed to seem substantive.

His annoyance with the rote charade of it all came on as a faint nausea … Neither he nor providence could submit to the false and empty.  To do so, struck him like being your own hangman.

Ross, attracted to the Prophet Isaiah, fashioned the prophetic giant to be a muckraker journalist had there been newspapers and mass communication back then, or as an American Gandhi standing vigil over the destructive tendency for those who claim to lead but possess only the talent for obfuscation and disassembling in furtherance of their own self-promotion.

In lieu of the next question, McKay uttered verbatim, as if an involuntary impulse had taken its command, the words of Isaiah 1: 21 and 23 – the gist of which: that Jerusalem had been unfaithful to God, to the existing marriage vow between the Jewish people and Father God, and this proposition – the theme of the Book of Isaiah is that Jerusalem’s unfaithfulness and sinful defiance of God calls forth God’s divine judgment by which she and her people will be cleansed and return to God.

Initially, absolute silence, complete and unequivocal stillness.  Then, a low murmur from the audience stunned by this unscripted moment.  The candidates stood inert, but could not mask physical hints of perplexity.

Ross continued.

“Madame Secretary, does this quote from Isaiah apply to the United States today? In any form?”

Only stammering, punctuated by several false starts, and illogical broken field reverses all of which made nothing resembling any sense.

“Mr. Vice President, your view please?”

A practiced smile, a reference to his religious education, a semblance of a story and some obtuse observation somehow intended to connect with the question.

“Mr. Vice President, can you be more responsive to the question?”

The candidate’s color seemed to change from suntanned to ashen.

Yes, he posted words but they seemed to be from a language unknown to those listening.  His words only serving to say: “No, I cannot be more responsive.”

Then Ross asked each about this passage in relation to abortion and the sale of aborted children’s body parts?  Then, to the Supreme Court opinion regarding same-sex marriage?

Nothing coherent from either.  Only signs of perspiration and discomfort – as if a pop quiz had been levied on them.

Then questions about unsecured private servers, the destruction of emails, pending law suits, investigations, the IRS, Benghazi, past plagiarism of a foreign leader’s speech, the Veterans Administration, donations to a foundation and the relation of each topic to Isaiah’s words.

More weaker swings and wider misses.  Not a foul tip to be had.  Nothing put in play.

The questions came and the answers did not.

Throughout it all, the audience remained in rapt attention.  Their interest evidenced by their laser-like concentration and the absence of any sign of complaint.

As if hovering about the event while very much part of it, McKay thought – truth brings silence.

“Yes,” he settled in his mind, “Truth brings silence.”  A wry smile appeared on his lips.

Odd questions?  Unfair questions?  I think not.

When a government makes religion a target, an exile of those who are faithful, questions designed to show a candidate’s knowledge of the faith their Party attacks is more than fair game, it is obligatory.  After all, why caste away a wisdom narrative?  Do we not prize our faith, its heritage in the West, know its value and defend its place in civic life and a free society?

Shalom.

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