Dateline: WASHINGTON—Due to a rare neurological disorder, Rupert Farfenoogle can walk only backwards. He can’t face backwards, so he uses a system of rearview mirrors strapped around his upper arms to see where he’s walking.
From a young age, Mr. Farfenoogle dreamed of being a politician. “I just thought of how great it would be,” he said, “to exploit people’s naivety, to tell them lies to make them feel good so they’d give me power which I could use to enrich myself.
“Like all politicians-in-training I attended The Machiavelli School for Rapscallions. There I learned how to subdue my conscience, to see the horrors of the real world ever so clearly, and to keep those revelations a secret so I could smile and nod and shake hands with the best of them. I learned how to be cynical, to hold average people in contempt so that I could ignore how they think society should be run and I could fob off my talking points on them.”
But when it came time to graduate and Mr. Farfenoogle was told the inner secrets of his craft, he became dismayed. “They showed me a list of principles, which they said were the bedrocks of politics. One of them shocked me and I still remember the exact words: ‘When you’ve run out of lies and you’re in danger of letting the public see how hollow you are, just tell them we’ve all got to move forward.’ That was it, you see. ‘Move forward.’ But how could I resort to that vacuous cliché, in my condition? If I literally couldn’t move forward, how could I rely on that stale metaphor to get me out of trouble? Wouldn’t that hackneyed standby line backfire on me? But wouldn’t I be a hopelessly ineffectual politician without it?”
Nevertheless, Mr. Farfenoogle did enter politics and was elected to office. “At first I coasted on my disability, since I could just tell the public sob stories so they’d vote for me out of pity. But then—disaster! I was being interviewed by a pack of reporters and suddenly I realized I’d run out of preapproved talking points. It was like losing your life preserver and being cast adrift at sea. ‘How do you respond to that specific criticism?’ they kept asking me, and I was running on empty. Should I risk an invocation of forward motion? I thought, even though I could move only backward. Shall I still fall back on that platitude? I had no choice since the alternative was to have an actual public conversation. But that would have exposed my sociopathy, which I’d cultivated while training to be a politician.
“So I intoned the magic words: ‘In any case, we must move forward,’ I said, pretending I was being wise and profound. ‘Now’s not the time for looking back.’ Then I warmed to the theme: “No, forward we must go as a people, ever onward…’ I carried on and on like that, wondering if I was making a fool of myself—especially since I’d decided then to make my exit and was forced to physically back away from that crowd. I used the mirrors at my side as I took those backward steps to the hall that led to my office. Glancing forward at the reporters, I tripped over a garbage bin and soiled my suit with the remnants of a Diet Coke can. I’m sure I was blushing, but the mesmerism seemed to work since the reporters just stood there like they couldn’t have been more bored.”
Months went by and Mr. Farfenoogle routinely filled the awkward public silences with calls for everyone to move forward. He would answer substantive criticisms of his policies on immigration or health care or the war on terrorism with the bromide, “Yes, well, surely we can’t move backward.” Despite the fact that Mr. Farfenoogle would sometimes take long backward strides even as he spoke those words, his critics were stymied.
Then the scales seemed to fall from his constituents’ eyes. He was on stage at a town hall meeting, telling the audience, “We must not fear the future. We must go forward.” A little boy cried out, “But why can’t you go forward, then?”
“I thought I was finished,’” said Mr. Farfenoogle. “They’ve finally seen through my charade. But I had one last trick to play. I reassured the audience with all the buzzwords at my disposal, calling on my years of training as a rapscallion: ‘Ah, yes,’ I told them. ‘But let’s not engage in the politics of fear. The blame game is beneath us and the American Dream still lives. We’re the greatest people in the world and so again I say we must move forward—even when it looks for all the world like we’re moving backward.’
“That bit of chicanery got the crowd back on my side and I’ve been moving backward ever since.”