Barry walked into the House of Representatives, lined with people quietly chatting to each other in anticipation of the president’s arrival. He walked in from the back, everyone facing away from him. A few staffers lining the walk turned and froze. One glanced and appeared to dismiss him — it couldn’t be the president of the United States walking into his own State of the Union address without being announced.
But Barry walked on until the angled seating descended to his head height. He paused just where the floor met the seating and looked around.
“I don’t believe it.”
Barry turned to look upon Chief Justice Thurmond Fuller, looking at him from the nearest seat on the floor.
“Chief justice, good to see you again,” Barry smiled, offering his hand. The justice took it, shaking slowly.
“You really do create a ruckus, you know?” the justice eyed him.
A smile crawled across Barry’s face. “Yes, I kno-”
“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!” the crier erupted from across the room, having been alerted to the president’s arrival by three nearby senators. The room leapt to their feet, most people still staring toward the open door previous presidents so often had used to enter the chamber, everyone clapping. “THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!”
The justice, too, had stood, but Barry hadn’t let go of his hand.
“I don’t like to do things the way people expect, because when you’re predictable, people can create strategy to get around you,” Barry continued as if the crier hadn’t just called the room to attention. “And I have no intention of being flanked.” Barry winked and let go of the justice’s hand, but stood there until the applause died down in a long, awkward hesitation as people watched the open doorway. “Please! Sit!”
People throughout the room jumped, startled the voice had come from the center floor, staring to see the president already standing next to the chief justice.
“I ain’t gonna say it again!” Barry called out, and in ones and twos people began sitting. Barry then stuck his hands in his pockets and ambled around the tiered desk and up the stairs, smiling and nodding at people. Reaching the apex, he shook the hand of the speaker of the house and then turned to the podium.
“Thank you Madame Speaker. Thank you House and Senate for joining me here. Thank you, America, for taking the time to watch me on your television sets and YouTube,” he nodded, looking around. “I’d like to cut to the chase and begin tonight’s State of the Union simply, and with a profound announcement:
“Citizens of America … I am not your leader.
“I do not run this country. I do not love you. I do not care about you. I will not save you. I will not rescue you. I will not control your money, or punish people around you whom you dislike. I will not guide you morally. I will not set domestic policy. I will not improve your education, your schools, your healthcare, your streets or your religion. I will not lead you.”
The room was silent.
“I didn’t become president so I could save you. Or to lead America against her enemies around the world. I am a human individual, not a king and certainly not a god. I have no right to take your money without giving you something equitable in return. I do not have the right to go to war to save non-citizens. I will not waste my time trying to force social change before the people are ready for it.
“I am a man, nothing more and nothing less. I am no more capable than any of you. Having a fancy title with a big fancy house doesn’t make me special. The most unique thing about my position — other than being commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military — is that I have the single most powerful access to your wallet. More so than even you do, because at any moment, I could have my IRS take from you under any guise our 70,000-odd pages of tax code might contain. And let me tell you, you could do your taxes correctly, and I could still audit you. But I’m not here to threaten. I’m here to illustrate something very important: My position has power, but the presence of power is not the presence of benevolence, whether democratically filled or not.
“For many years, Americans have voted in their candidates, hoping that the man or woman they vote for will represent their interests more than the opposing party. I have a few problems with that concept that I will gladly disabuse right now. First, there’s no such thing as taking turns in politics. We who are your public servants are not to trade off who gets to have which control when. This is about serving Americans, not agendas. Secondly, this two-party war over government is bullshit. It has been bullshit. And once I’m gone — be it tomorrow, in four or in eight years — it will continue to be bullshit. Namely, I fear that my work and efforts will not only go misunderstood, but outright hated for what it will force individual Americans to do: be responsible for themselves and their own decisions.
“For decades- centuries, politicians have served only two constituents — the people who voted them in, and themselves. Sometimes they lip serve their opposition in order to gain more votes. But public servants aren’t supposed to focus on the people who voted them in. They aren’t to focus on the opposition. They aren’t to focus on the rich or the poor, the black or the white, the men or the women … they’re supposed to serve the principles of their office first.
“My office was designed for a few, simple tasks. I am the representative of a free people to the world. I represent all of you, with all of your varied interests, pursuits, faiths, politics, passions, philosophies, hopes and fears. I represent both the voter,” he raised his finger, “and the non-voter.” He looked around, letting that sink in. “There are millions of people in this country who want nothing more than to be left alone. They have the single most powerful claim for it, too. Would you like to know what that is?”
Barry, frowning at the stand, turned and snapped at the intern at the bottom of the steps to his right. He walked down the stairs and whispered something to him. The young man then nodded and scurried out the nearest door. Barry waited patiently as the room stared in silence. A long, awkward minute later, the intern emerged with a wireless mic in his hand. Barry tapped it. “Is this on? Alright. Can you still hear me? Are we still good on the feed?”
The intern turned and ran back into the door. A few seconds later he re-emerged and nodded.
“Alright, thank you,” Barry turned and walked along the floor at the foot of the tiered desks and looked up at everyone. “Where was I? Ah, yes. The most important principle. Do you know what the most important principle a public servant must remember?” He looked around, then frowned, placing his hand on his breast. “My name is Barry Potter, and I am an American citizen. I own no one but myself.”
He remained silent as people waited for something else.
Barry shrugged. “That’s it. I own no one but myself. I do not own you. I don’t own the poor or the rich. I don’t own the voter or the non voter. I own and can control only myself and my own behavior. And by that token, I can in no good conscience act as if I owned others. Not because of my office, not because of voters, not because of any good reason. I do not own you, and I am not responsible for you. Not as a politician. Not as a citizen.
“However,” he raised his finger again, “as a human, as a man, I will take responsibility for my neighbors. I will help the widows and old ladies. I will care for the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless. I will not, however, take money from you to do what I should do with my own money. I will not spend your hard-earned labor on people who have not done what you have done to get success. Your wealth does not belong to America. Your wealth belongs to you.” His voice began to build in strength. “We will not die together. If I were to be killed, you would not remember my name. I am not special. I am not a cog. I am not your leader. We are not in this together!”
Someone’s cough in the background seemed as thunder.
“We are a people of thousands of cultures and thousands of colors and genders and orientations and states and dreams and cities and communities, with different hopes and different cultures and you keep asking one tiny human being to lead all of you!? To what? To whom? To where? I am not your leader! YOU LEAD YOURSELF!
“I cannot, and will not, lead all of you. I will not fabricate wars to engender national pride. I will not declare wars on drugs as vices are not crimes! I will not commit a war on poverty as if poverty were some thinking, living force devouring our children. Poverty is the result of a series of bad decisions on yours or your parents part not to leave, not to run away, not to fight harder. I will help you, but it won’t be out of my neighbor’s wallet, but the effort of my own two hands and the engagement of my own mind.
“It’s the only thing I am truly responsible for!” Barry exclaimed, raising his hand. “My self! My actions, my behavior, my success, my failure, my words, my beliefs, my hopes, my dreams! My personal responsibility to help my neighbor. My personal responsibility to my God to do what is right. And I don’t expect a single one of you to do what I do, myself. Why? Because you’re not me! You never will be! No one will be Barry Potter from Idaho, former Army Ranger, Vandals fan, husband to my wife or father to my kids.
“Those of you watching here and at home who hoped to hear something inspirational about how I’m gonna save you from yourselves, consider yourselves dissipointing. Dissipointing, because you look to me, a man you will never meet, who will never hear your name or walk your streets or know your family, to save you from the circumstances in your life. Only you can do that, and it will require you saying ‘No more!’ to that which abuses you. It will take you demanding change in yourself, to no longer put up with drama and violence and theft and mismanagement in your own homes and your own communities. It will take you rising up, yourselves, and BEING the change you so desperately have asked a president to be for you.
“And who am I? I’m not holy. I’m not special. I’m a bureaucrat who told you what you wanted to hear to get into this office. And that makes me trustworthy? Sorry, but that makes me almost the most untrustworthy person in the world. I am the man who has the power to kill absolutely millions of people the in fabricated name of national security. I’m the man who can send IRS agents to your home to harrass and force you into the street. I’m the man who can prevent the cheapest of cancer cures from reaching shelves so that my greatest campaign contributors can continue selling pharmaceutical drugs at sky-high prices, because home remedies can’t afford to pass FDA muster. I’m the man who can sit on weekly fireside chats and tell you I’m doing everything to help you through a depression while actively making it worse. I’m the man who promises to buy programs we can’t afford with money that comes out of your wallet and then offer to you as if it were free, when it costs far more than it was worth and in the end wasn’t actually needed.
“I AM YOUR ENEMY!” Barry erupted, and then pointed slowly across the entire room. “And so is every single man and woman sitting in these seats today. They came to create change here, a place of power, control, greed and waste, when you could have solved it yourself at home for practically little to no cost. They do not love or care about you. They came for themselves. And to be honest, so do I.”
Barry waggled the microphone. “Do you know why I became president? It wasn’t to save you. I don’t know you. It was to save myself. I wanted the government to stop lying to me and my neighbors that it had me in its best interest. So I became president to stop the lies. I wanted the government to stop teaching my children that it was the best option to create real change. So I became president to free education from the true believers. I wanted the government to stop taking money I had earned through hard work and sacrifice and giving it to people who’s culture promoted victimization and dependency. So I became president to stop this disgusting subsidization of failure. I wanted the government to stop controlling foreign nations as if we had any right to stop people from dealing with their own problems. So I became president to bring our boys home. I was tired of a single, Federal government being used by special interest groups to impose other people’s cultures onto my own, as if their morality was somehow better than mine. Or that one single culture could be imposed on fifty individual states! So I became president to stop the most powerful and cruel and evil slavery of all — the slavery of thought.”
Barry’s eyes were angry as he looked around the room.
“All of you, every last one of you bastards, has promoted a single culture to rule them all. A culture that controlled people, a culture that told them what to think and what to wear and how to spend their money and how to help the poor and how to do business and how to live healthy and how to marry and whom to marry and how to raise children and how to have healthcare and how not to make your own goddamned decisions! I’m tired of it! And so are the American people! We’re tired of you telling us how to live our lives!” Barry paused to cough and clear his throat. “Don’t marry this, don’t have sex with that, don’t eat this, don’t believe that! Women can’t do this! Women can’t do that! Who the hell are you to tell us anything!??”
Barry clapped the microphone with his hand to get a powerful thump out of the speakers.
“There is only one culture I’m interested in promoting as president. One culture that permits and encourages people to be everything they can and want to be. One culture that does not oppress or control. That’s a culture of freedom. Nothing more and nothing less.
“As president of these United States — independent states operating as experiments in democracy — my goal is to protect the freedom America as a whole represents. I am to prevent the invasion of foreign hostiles, the insurrection of those who would take your freedoms, and the destruction of the greatest documents yet made under the skilled fingers of mankind — our U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. I am to check the balance of a congress and senate who are almost all on the dole of major conglomerates and the politicization of a high judiciary. And, most importantly, I keep my own good intentions to myself. There is a reason the road to hell is paved with such brick, because for thousands of years people have had the best of intentions while they removed your undeniable rights.
“And you know who else I’m to prevent letting their good intentions destroy the freedom and abrogate the rights of others? All of you!”
He pointed at them.
“You haven’t kept yourselves in check. Instead you’ve ridden the money trains and party lines and contributor demands to keep yourselves in office, rewriting voting districts to secure your reigns as so-called representatives. This is me putting all of you on notice, that the day of ‘fixing’ reality is over. From here on out, we return to our roots.
“First, each man and woman is free to live their own lives however they want until they interfere with the rights of others. That means we stop telling them right and wrong. We have no foundation to dictate morality. And morality of the mob — or the democratic majority — is not morality. It’s call rule of the mob, and we in America do not ascribe to such barbarism.
“Second, we are a nation of freedom. That’s freedom to rise and freedom to fall. Free to try and succeed, free to crash and fail. We do not spent capital of the successful to support debts of the failures. Let those who have earned show pity on those who would or could not. If you trust so whole heartedly that a man with complete powever over others will do the right thing with other people’s money, you should doubly trust that a man with no control over others’ lives will do the right thing with his own.
“Third, we exercise the only real power anyone in this world has ever been naturally blessed with — the power of self control. We control ourselves, and choose to help others. We choose to live honorably. We choose to work hard to benefit ourselves and our family. We choose to contribute to our communities. We choose to be self less. We choose to discipline our children and teach them stewardship. We choose to engage in their education. We choose to demand more from companies by researching, by learning. We choose to demand honesty and integrity from our news media. We choose.”
Barry raised his hand.
He looked around, taking slow breaths, stepping along the outer rim.
“So what’s it gonna be, congress? Senate? Supreme court? Are we gonna continue this god-forsaken cycle of party warface, race baiting, political porking, lobbying, cronyism and obsessive control?”
He looked around and spotted one of the cameras and pointed at it.
“On me,” Barry said. “On me.” When the red light appeared, he curled his finger. “Zoom in, get close.”
He straightened and looked directly into the camera.
“America, it’s time. No more Republicans. No more Democrats. No more control. No more agendas. No more bullshit. Start living your lives without me. Start living your lives without them. It’s time we left this antiquated system of control behind us. There is a purpose for us, and that is a relegation to the most minimal of needs — that of national defense and international concerns. Go to your state, go to your counties, go to your cities. Start making decisions there. Stop asking us to impose what’s best for you on everyone else. Start living your lives the way your parents and grandparents and ancestors wanted — the reason they crossed the Atlantic. To be free! For those of you born of slaves or of natives, you, too, can be free. It will take a choice. No more control of others. No more white guilt. No more clinging to past sins. Today, we can all choose to clean the slates of our past. To embrace a future of equality — the equality of a free people.
“I’m going back to my job now,” Barry said. “My job to protect your freedom, not entitle you to the wealth of your neighbor. I’m not gonna console you when floods hit Indiana, when race riots ravage Detroit, when California goes bankrupt. These are your problems. Florida is not responsible for your race riots. Virginia is not responsible for California’s economic failures. Denver will not pay for Indiana’s floods. You solve them. No one can do it for you by force. We are all Americans. We will help each other in our hour of need before we are Americans, and we don’t need government to do it. We just need each other. That’s all we have ever needed.”
He sighed, looked around, and lifted the mic.
“Good night, America, and God bless each and every one of you.”
Barry turned off the mic, handed it to Justice Fuller, and walked out the same way he walked in.