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|Politics is a Contact Sport|
"Sir, was it my recent article that pressured you into making this decision?" The persistent and irritating Tanowa of the Ba Sing Se Times fought through swarming crowds to reach How. She was buzzing in his ear, firing one hard-hitting question after another.
"Sir, most people are worried about the economy. Do really expect to beat a renowned entrepreneur like Lao Beifong? Isn't his experience with business much vaster than yours? Do you have any business experience at all?"
How had ignored her previous questions, but to him this one came across as a blatant attack, which perturbed him greatly. "Look, I know the media is no fan of the Monarchy, but maybe you guys shouldn't be so quick to jump on the bandwagon of the first guy who comes around."
Tanowa didn't seem to take any issue with the man's harsh response. She simply snapped her fingers in the air repeatedly as the teenaged boy next to her frantically jotted down notes.
"General, you were the nation's chief military adviser during the latter part of the war. Is-"
"We won during the latter part of the war, didn't we?" How was visibly angry as he and his wife rushed to a private carriage they were renting.
"As you know, Long Feng has also announced his candidacy. Many people now know that it was him hiding the war from Earth King Kuei, but if you were so close the King, why is it that you never informed him yourself?"
How paused, completely dumbfounded and unable to answer the question. "I uh... Long Feng was a very clever Secretariat. My messages to the King would most frequently be through him. I had no idea that he wasn't aware of the war." This response was technically true, but How had always known that something was a little off with Kuei.
Tanowa continued to pursue the poor man as her aide tripped over a curb and fell into the mud. She couldn't care less. She was finally getting the interview of her life, her big break. "Regarding Lao Beifong's experience advantage-" both Huma and How let out an exaggerated sigh as the parked carriage got closer and closer.
"Look," How snapped firmly. "My resume is stronger than Lao Beifong's."
"No! It' stronger than Lao Beifong's! I don't know why you're trying to push this nonsensical idea that he is more experienced than I am. I dedicated my life to this country, he hasn't. I served in the military for my entire adult life, he hasn't. I fought in countless battles against the enemy, he didn't. I was put on a stretcher eight different times and nearly killed- he hasn't done anything like that. And I- go ahead, you name one courageous act that man has committed in defense of our nation. One thing."
How didn't think it was possible, but Tanowa was finally silenced. She glared angrily at him. "Thank you very much, General. That's all the questions I have."
"Fantastic!" the man retorted, opening the carriage door for his wife and then stepping inside himself.
He plopped down in the seat and threw his head into the comfortable headrest, his mouth wide open. "I can't believe that. Never before have I met such an annoying woman."
Huma was quiet, looking not at her husband but out the window with a blank stare. "It's not just Tanowa. It's going to be the entire media. Lao too. And Joo Dee. And Kuei. And Sung and Fong. And Long Feng!"
How put on a fake smile to cheer her up. "Hey, everything will be alright," he assured. "Let's go back to the house and have some fresh tea- with honey. Just the way you like it." His wife's reaction wasn't the one he wanted, or expected.
"You just had to do this, didn't you? You couldn't just take a break for once in your life. Like always, it had to be you in the center of the stage, jumping into a situation without even sizing it up. Do you even understand what you've gotten both of us into?" She turned to How, her expression a mix of sadness and anger. She was so beautiful, and it killed How to see her like this.
"Our new strategy is "Kill How." I am confident that after enough attacks, his entire campaign will crumble early. With the former head of the Council of Five defeated so quickly, no other candidate will even attempt to challenge us for the Liberal nomination." Lao Beifong briefed his team around a small table in the dingy Lower Ring apartment he was renting.
"What makes you so sure How cannot withstand such attacks?" The question came from Poppy, Lao's wife and director of the volunteer force they were assembling.
"I spent the last few minutes reading over the General's brief, very brief, remarks upon entering the race. He's a bright man, very well educated. I'm sure he's articulate in war meetings. However, he appears to be nowhere near eloquent in speeches. His lines were awkward, and he clearly did not know how to inspirit a crowd. This makes me confident that he will not be able to efficiently rebut any of our points made against him. I predict that if we bury him in criticism now, he'll be overwhelmed and when pressed for answers, fold under the pressure."
Another man, equally as affluent as Lao, offered his expertise in negative campaigning. "Sir, if you wish, I would be more than happy to lead the effort in these attacks. After all, it was I who convinced the Hu Xin government to outlaw several of your competitors."
As he said this, Lao nodded impatiently. "Yes Shao, your skill will be much needed in this department." He then turned to the woman standing next to him. "Joo Dee, I want you to work with him. With his ability to find faults in our opponents and your mastery of igniting a crowd and capturing followers, you would make an unstoppable team."
Joo Dee pondered this request for a moment, staring at pictures of How, Huma, and even Taru laid out on the table. "I though the whole point of this movement was to establish a Democracy. General How wants to do that too..."
Lao sighed, afraid of where she was going. "A lot of people say they want to create a Liberal government, but we can do it best. Remember, How did nothing to free you from Long Feng's control. And imagine that he did win our primary. It would be him against Long Feng. Who do you think would win in a debate."
The woman shook her head. "I never said you weren't better, but it seems like a bad idea to focus everything against someone with the same principles. Why not go after a candidate from another party? They're the ones who would hurt our country most."
The man was becoming frustrated as the rest of the group remained silent. "There will plenty of time for that after we win the nomination. Are you on our side or not?"
"I guess so," she replied without a trace of enthusiasm.
The typically disregarded Lower Ring of Ba Sing Se was lively and abuzz. The poverty-stricken, uneducated people lined the streets and applauded as Long Feng marched by, smiling. He would have waved, but his arms were bound by cuffs behind his back. Two city guards, their faces completely unexpressive, moved him hastily by. He went house to house, store to store, talking to the common folk about all of their suffering and explaining why the wealthy elite and the government was to blame. He was careful to always end on a positive note.
"Well kind Sir, with your help, we can take what is rightfully ours. Like you, I was born poor, and when I finally worked my way up, I realized what a disgusting breed the upper class really was. Fear not, we can defeat them, and then we'll bring justice to our nation."
The elderly proprietor of the small diner grinned and bowed, thanking the man who came to answer his call for equality. "Don't thank me," said Long Feng with a chuckle. "It's the people we will thank when we build a better society, together." He then turned to the fascinated customers and initiated his campaign's official motto. "Everyone, you know what to say!"
"We. Will. Rise!" The crowd cheered almost in perfect unison, giving the candidate a standing ovation afterwards. His face turned pink as he shook his head, modestly rejecting the applause. "No, no, no. You just stated yourselves, this is about you not me. Have a fantastic day, everyone!"
On the other side of the country, in the metropolis known as Omashu, two men met in a poorly-lit room with faint green crystals illuminating their conversation. One of them was General Fong, a newly declared candidate for President from the Patriots' Party. The other was a military officer recently promoted to the chief of Omashu's standing army.
"So you see General Yung," continued the Council of Five member, "we share a similar spirit of patriotism and perseverance. When the Fire Nation stormed into your home, you bravely fought for what you believed in. You understand that we have to fight at any cost to preserve our liberty. But now, I fear, the King and the other candidates are threatening to shrink our military! You know the devastating affect this would have on our security! How would we defend ourselves in a time of crisis?"
General Fong had finished his presentation, but General Yung was unimpressed to say the least. "I admire your attempt to appeal to my fighting spirit, but you have gotten your history wrong. The whole point of the Omashu Resistance was that the standing army surrendered, but a militia still arose to fend of the Fire Nation. My conviction is that it is the people whose strength we depend upon, not the national government's."
"I see," mumbled Fong, greatly disappointed. "But you must understand the drastic cuts to our security that Kuei, Lao, and Long Feng are all proposing. It is too much! But with a generous contribution, from soldier to soldier, from leader to leader, we can prevent that. All I'm asking is that you consider."
Yung bit his lower lip, and his voice became much more stern. "No means no, General. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to quit playing political games and focus on my job. Funny isn't it that I'm actually going to serve in the position I was appointed to instead of quitting before a year to run around the country begging for campaign donations."
How slammed the door behind him as he stormed into his home, Huma a few paces ahead of him and making a beeline to their room. It was clear that she didn't want her husband to join her, so he stomped over to his favorite chair and threw himself in it with all his might. He pouted for a few minutes, infuriated that the media was so obviously in the tank for Lao. What good had he ever done? What makes them think he could lead anything? The former general had never been so angry with something that doesn't involve the military. And that was another story! Two Council of Five members were busy trying to create some sort of army dictatorship. Sure, let's become exactly like what the Fire Nation was! He made faces to himself from his chair, mocking Lao and Joo Dee with immature, high-pitched voices. He had never acted this way, and he started to fear that he was undergoing a mental breakdown. As an foolproof remedy, he brewed up some of his favorite tea. He sat reclined and sipped, trying his best to relax.
He woke up with tea all over his lap. Luckily, it had cooled before he fell asleep and spilled it. At first, he assumed that the small accident was the reason he awoke, but he soon heard a forceful knock at the door. "Can't these people leave me alone?" he uttered to himself, rushing to the sink to clean his stain. "Huma, can you get the door? I'm a little busy at the moment." No response.
"Daddy?" How spun to see his little boy, Taru, standing in the hall.
"Damnit it, Taru! Can't you just run along into your room?" The man regretted his comment right after he said it, and it killed him to see the devastated child scamper off. He took a deep breath, very aware that someone was still knocking at his door. As he went to answer it, his wife called out. "You used to be a decent man, How!" The couple had never gone through a rough patch quite like this, but the former general had other things on his mind.
He opened his front door slowly, fearing that Tanowa would be on the other end. He was relieved when he discovered that his visitor was actually no journalist at all. All he carried with him was a shoulder bag and a warm smile.
"Greetings, General How. My name is Kumbo." The young gentleman extended his arm.
"Er, nice to meet you, Kumbo? What brings you to my home?"
"I'm here to help you, Sir." Those words were the most pleasant things How had heard all week. "I'd like to apply to be your campaign manager."
How was overjoyed. "Oh! Wow, I never even thought about assembling a team. Come on in!" He gleefully stepped aside and gestured for Kumbo to walk inside. "Would you like some tea?"
"Actually, I'm quite fine, thank you."
Impressed with the man's manners, How offered him the position he sought at once. "Well congratulations, Kumbo. You got the job!"
Kumbo blushed. "Sir! It's such an honor!" He then reached into his bag and pulled out a file. "I'd actually like to get started with some new information."
"Then what are we waiting for? Take a seat by that table over there. I'll be right back." How left briefly to exchange his shirt then sat in the chair across from his new campaign manager. Before he sat down, it hit him that he probably should have found out some information about this man before hiring him.
"So Kumbo," How started as he cleared his throat. "Tell me something about yourself. Where do you come from?"
"I was formally the head of the Board of Advisors to the Northern Water Tribe's Chieftain Council for five years then personal advisor to the Chief himself for ten years."
How was surprised at how much experience he had. "And how old are you?"
"So that means... you were 16 when you took that first position?"
Kumbo nodded to How's disbelief. The former general shook his head and smiled. "You're definitely an impressive young man."
"Thank you. Now, I have some... concerning information to share that was just released from the Palace."
The conversation had instantly shifted into a more serious tone, and How grunted with a nod. "Do share."
Kumbo opened his file, selected a few documents, and slid them across the table to his boss. "That first paper- the one you're looking at now- that's an official statement from the Earth King himself. The B.S. in the first two paragraphs can basically be paraphrased into Kuei saying how much he appreciates this election and wants the voice of the people to be heard."
How uttered the faintest trace of a laugh and rolled his eyes. Kumbo carried on. "After all that it basically explains- and spins a great deal- this new mandate that he's imposing on the election. He says that it would take too long for everyone in the Earth Kingdom to vote and for their votes to be counted fairly, and he doesn't want to make everyone wait a year for the people's desires to take place."
"Uh huh..." How appeared troubled as he perused the statement.
"So what he's proposing, more like ordering, is that while everyone in Ba Sing Se would vote, the people in other locations would be represented by the governor of their province. Each governor is granted a large sum of votes proportional to their province's population."
How was confuses. "This is bothersome, indeed. And in no way is it fair for the King to have such influence on our election process... But would this really affect the outcome? We'll simply campaign in population-dense areas and the people would pressure their governor to vote for us."
"I wish it was the simple, General. You see, King Kuei has no heir at the moment, no wife either. The law states that if the Earth King dies without a child or a wife-"
"-Then he selects one of the provincial governors to succeed him in his will! All of the governors are going to vote for him with hopes that they might one day be King!"
"Unfortunately, that seems to be the case. Get a load of this: if you look at that next paper, you'll see a letter from him to a woman that she released to the public. Apparently, the two had a secret marriage engagement but Kuei just called it off. She was so angry that she fed it to the press and made as many copies as possible. I'm not exactly sure where she was going with that, but nevertheless, the letter is telling."
"He's willing to cancel his own marriage for political gain..." How then quickly thought of Huma. Would their marriage be "canceled?" No, this was just a rough patch.
"I'm afraid you are correct, Sir. Our only hope is King Bumi of Omashu. He'll be dead before Kuei, so there's no motive for him to vote in such a way unless he truly does favor Monarchism. We could make our case to him directly. I also suggest focusing a lot of time persuading Governor-General Pongai of the Hu Xin Provinces. He never seemed all that interested in power, and a military man like him might prefer a war hero like yourself. That or General Fong or General Sung."
How shook his head vigorously. "I appreciate all the time you put into this. It really is a well thought out battle plan, but I will not tolerate an act of such blatant unfairness from Kuei. I will not stand idly by as he rigs this election!"
"What do you plan on doing?"
"We an appeal to the Avatar."
"He's already stated that he wants nothing to do with impacting our election more than he already has."
"Then we'll bring this to the public's attention! Once the people of this nation get hold of this, not one person in this city will vote for that mockery of a leader, and no wise governor would back him. We'll need more of a ground team- more boots on the field. Kumbo, I need you to write to my father."
The young man chuckled. "I've always dreamt of meeting that man."
"This is gold! Pure gold!" Lao Beifong was overwhelmed with joy as he read aloud the freshly published hit-piece on General How. The writer, Tanowa, depicted her recent encounter with the Liberal Party candidate and was sure to include her personal impressions and thoughts on the man's character. "Not only was he 'rude'," announced Lao with glee, "but apparently he acted so antagonizing toward Tanowa that she 'questions whether or not he could handle a heated debate with a foreign leader.' There goes his advantage on foreign policy!"
The others in the room listened intently, quite amused by the article. "The best part," Lao articulated, "the best part is what they had to say about his wife. The vibe that Tanowa got was that Huma didn't want anything to do with this, and didn't seem to be happy with her husband at all. Supposedly, she shot him death glares and scoffed at him repeatedly. Do you know what this means for our campaign? It means an opening with the female demographic. No candidate with wife-troubles could garner a significant amount of women votes. That's where Poppy comes in perfectly. Poppy, you'll be leading a special sect of our volunteer base called "Poppy's Warriors." Basically, it's going to be an all-female group advocating that I'm the perfect candidate for women. Sensitive, great relationship with my wife- it's perfect!"
The others clapped, including Poppy who loved the idea. The only one who remained unpleased was Joo Dee. "I hope you're not going to ask me to be a part of this..."
Lao's eyes narrowed. "As a matter of fact, I was."
The woman threw her hands up and stammered in anger. "I- I can't believe this! General How is our ally, and we don't even know how true this article even is!"
"Need I remind you that a long Liberal Party primary is exactly what Long Feng wants? If we spend months doing this before How finally drops out to much damage will have been done!"
"Only if we spend those months attacking each other! A peaceful, united primary is exactly what Long Feng doesn't want! Why can't you see that?"
Lao, his face hot red, slammed his fist on the table. "Joo Dee, if you can't be a team player then you have no business here! Leave at once! You are no longer part of this campaign!"
The shouting match had finally ended, and without a word more, Joo Dee left the apartment immediately.
"Your majesty, King Bumi is very unlikely to cast his vote for you. It's not that you aren't a stupendous leader, this just happens to be the reality."
"I'm very aware," assured Earth King Kuei with a nod, "but perhaps his successor would be more open to the idea."
The aide was perplexed. "I'm not sure I understand, your highness."
"King Bumi is very elderly, over 100 years old. People don't live forever."
"But Sir, the King hasn't shown any signs of declining health... He's in perfectly good condition."
Frustrated, Kuei gritted his teeth and spoke very clearly. "Sometimes people die suddenly for all sorts of weird reasons."
Finally, the aide understood. He was deeply troubled by what his King was implying, but he kept his objections to himself. "I know the perfect person for the job."
- The scene in which How challenges Tonawa to name an accomplishment of Lao Beifong is based on an actual confrontation between former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and an MSNBC reporter regarding the credentials of then-Vice Presidential candidate Governor Sarah Palin.
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