I was visiting the Convention Bloggers (an aggregate of bloggers at the Democratic National Convention, with
all the xml feeds), and spotted this one. A thank you to to Mike Byron for posting it. See his blog at
The Manchurian President
by M. N. Plano*
The coming remake of The Manchurian Candidate (starring Denzel Washington in a role made famous
by Frank Sinatra, four decades ago) cannot help but provoke disturbing thoughts. Given our penchant for conspiracy theories
and frantic rumors, what could be more chilling during an election year than to imagine some dark enemy design, aimed at planting
a hostile operative in the highest office of our land? Short of an impacting asteroid, what could be worse than for a secret
foe, concealing a hidden agenda, to take over the most powerful job on Earth?
Of course the scenario for The Manchurian Candidate was distilled from the refined essence of paranoia
suffusing American life during the 1950s and 1960s, an ambiance that was captured far more cogently, and hilariously, by a
spoof called The President's Analyst (starring James Coburn.) Whether serious or satiric, however, such tales generally rely
on two cliches, so overused by Hollywood that they have grown tedious.
First, assume villains that are competent to a superhuman degree.
Second, portray the American people as a herd of easily-manipulated sheep.
Take The Manchurian Candidate, for example. Having achieved spectacular success at brain-washing -
leaping far beyond anything remotely grasped by the scientifically advanced West - a tiny cabal of overseas tyrants master
the art of adeptly programming human minds, just like computers, so well they can overcome all personal inclinations, deeply-held
values, and even survival instincts. Then, in support of this premise, it is further assumed that voters will reflexively
fall prey to the scheme by embracing a Trojan Horse candidate whose homely American nostrums conceal a cynical agenda, one
whose deeper goals run counter to everything the people hold dear.
In the classic version of The Manchurian Candidate, individual heroism (naturally) overcomes many obstacles
-- enemy brainwashing, the inertia of officialdom, and the complacency of bleating masses -- in order to foil infiltration
by a mole into the office of the Presidency. In the nick of time.
A happy ending then? Well, of course.
But let's play a little mental game. Suppose such a scenario ever came into play... and succeeded.
By what signs might we tell that an enemy agent had taken over the highest office in our land? He certainly would not announce
Remember that our system of laws, procedures, checks and balances can severely hamper a President.
We've seen it stymie those with genuine and honorable vision. It would certainly do the same to anyone trying to wreak harm
from within. Anything too blatant would be noticed and blocked by tens of thousands of good and wise men and women, from politicians
and civil servants to the highly educated and imaginative members of our senior officer corps... all the way to active citizens
on the street.
When you stop and think about it, the task that our mole would face is a daunting one, so let's make
it a fascinating mental exercise. How would you severely damage the United States of America, assuming that you had in your
hands all of the reins of influence and power that radiate from the Oval Office?
Well, to start with, you would need to protect yourself by covering all of your acts of sabotage with
theater. This calls for the best camouflage of all. The flag.
Oh, certainly not all patriotism is the refuge of scoundrels. (I always resented that aphorism.) Indeed,
most of it is honest and sincere, expressing devoted love of both a united country and a vivid, diverse people. On the other
hand many scoundrels do use a kind of indignant jingoism to shield themselves. If you were the covert operative in question
- our Manchurian President - wouldn't you?
By the very logic of your mission, you must become the biggest flag-waver of all.
Under that shield, you would then proceed to undermine American strengths and exploit our weaknesses,
right? So lets work our way down the list.
Military preparedness would have to be your number one target. Without question you must reduce the
readiness of US armed forces.
But how? With so many skilled and perceptive officers, officials and legislators watching - constantly
striving in the opposite direction - there is only one way that a President could quickly and effectively sabotage America's
...by ordering the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines into a series of draining adventures, expending
stores, scattering divisions, withdrawing brigades from strategic positions, using up reserves, eroding morale, dissipating
unit cohesion and generally ensuring that the military is less ready for a sudden crisis than at any point since Pearl Harbor.
If a "Manchurian" president were in office, that is certainly high on the list of things he would do.
Next? Well it would also be crucial to undermine alliances.
After all, what good is it to weaken American readiness if dozens of doughty and loyal friends are
prepared to step up, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with us whenever we need them? Our nation earned that loyalty the hard
way, and not only with past courage or sacrifice. Allied friendships were nurtured by generations of hero-diplomats like George
Marshall, who labored patiently, listening to others with heedful respect instead of hectoring insistently. Because of their
efforts, a reserve of goodwill toward America runs very deep.
But never fear. It is well within your power, as leader of the Free World, to corrode it all away,
turning America into a bogey man in the eyes of much of the world. You can begin by mocking foreign leaders, inflaming overseas
public opinion, and making shrill demands based on flimsy evidence, insisting that your policy prevail without compromise,
then striving relentlessly to exasperate, irritate and sicken those who formerly trusted us.
The effect overseas will be more immediate on the young, planting poison seeds for the future. But
older folk... and even the British... might be driven off with the right technique -- for example by playing the super-patriotism
card at home, chanting triumphalism reminiscent of the Pax Brittanica rallies of 1912, while ridiculing and blaming our incensed
allies for every setback.
Okay, your initial acts of "manchurian candidate" sabotage are obvious. You have weakened American
readiness, power and moral authority in the world. What next?
Well, how about the U.S. economy ? Its engine stimulated the world for three generations, pioneering
new technologies and new industries while lifting Europe and most of Asia into a new age. That must stop. But how?
Well, first you must encourage spendthrift ways. Ending all hope of budgetary restraint, you'll foster
gigantic deficits, and give most of the money to a narrow social elite who are the very least likely to spend it on anything
other than competing to rise higher on the Forbes 400 List. And if this ploy eventually leads to class warfare, as it almost
did 70 years ago? All the better.
By all means, do whatever you can to undermine small business. That driver of creativity has to go,
of course. And so does energy independence. You would do everything in your power to discourage research and development of
alternative or renewable sources, or (especially) conservation. The more dependent we become on foreign oil, the better. Especially,
you would favor dependence on certain oil-rich countries that teach their young to hate and destroy us. Turn our self-indulgence
into their bankroll, by all means.
Of course, none of this damage will be anywhere near enough. Americans are agile, diverse and inquisitive.
We tend to seek pragmatic solutions among ourselves, even... especially... when government obstructs. This was demonstrated
on September 11, 2001, a day when every important measure that proved effective against evil was achieved by private individuals,
acting independently and in ad hoc groups, with the kind of self-reliant resiliency that has been a hallmark of our culture.
Above all, a way must be found to stymie the American genius at finding practical and consensus solutions,
the way we wrestled and dealt with vexing issues like racism, and have begun handling threats to the environment. The way
we keep inventing new businesses and new creative ventures.
Fortunately -- for our Manchurian Candidate president -- there is a solution.
Polarization. You can split us apart. Divide us. Set us at each others' throats.
Use outdated, silly metaphors - like the archaic and stupid left-vs-right political axis, a piece of
ill-defined rubbish inherited from the 1789 French Assembly. In concert with your worst adversaries, promote ideology as a
substitute for discourse. Within Congress, extol partisan obstinacy and bilious hatred to replace deliberation. Use surrogates
to spread oversimplifications, so that both sides wind up screaming at strawman caricatures, instead of honestly negotiating
while looking the other guy in the eye.
By claiming a mandate when you had none, you may get your followers to head down the all-or-nothing
road that divides and weakens great nations, instead of uniting them toward common goals.
Oh, I could go on. So could you, I bet. There are dozens of ways that a planted agent could deliberately
use the powers of the Oval Office to help undermine this incredible civilization, sapping its strengths and exposing its weaknesses.
You might even help to spread a millennialist belief that we are approaching a prophesied End Of Days,
so why bother thinking about the next decade or century, since none of our children will reach old-age, anyway? Whether or
not they are “left behind.”
Talk about a confidence-destroying, downer message! One that undermines the deepest American notion
of a brighter future, built by the effort of all hands.
But then, even the Manchurian Candidate scenario has its limits. What U.S. President would dare to
openly declare such a belief?
No, that's tipping over from science fiction into pure fantasy. It couldn't happen.
Of course, this whole mental exercise has only been a bit of fun. A day dream, taking off from the
theme of a summer film -- the remake of a paranoid classic. Anyway, if a president did all of these things, he'd get caught,
People would surely notice.
So call it a mere what-if fable, suitable for Hollywood. Certainly no more plausible than any of the
other weird premises that spin out of that Capital of Myths, where actors routinely become governors and... well... presidents.
But loyal ones.
Whatever else you might say... those actors were loyal.
As for the Manchurian Candidate scenario, well, it can't really happen, after all.
M. N. Plano is one of the pseudonyms of a well-known author of science fiction novels and books
about the near future.
**** end article ****