Gavin Kane was a Democratic member of a majority Democratic city council. His colleagues warned him against inflammatory tweets.
“We’re in charge,” they said. “It was one thing to throw T-bombs when we were in the minority and couldn’t do anything else. Now we have to govern.”
But Gavin was a Twitter addict and hadn’t ridden into office on promises of calm deliberation. Ensconced in his district office, the hum of phone conversations just outside his closed door, he placed his fingers on his PC’s keyboard and tweeted, “Max Morano wants the homeless to disappear. Intern them, maybe. Concentration camps, anyone?”
* * *
Max Morano, leader of the Council’s Republican minority, himself no shrinking violet, was a fellow Twitter addict. Turning to his iPhone, he replied: “Gavin Kane wants to destabilize our city with homeless shelters regardless of harm to communities. Shame on him for playing the Hitler card.”
What an idiot the bean pole, Kane, was. Hitler had lost his potency long ago, although long after his too-long-delayed demise.
Knowing the soft-headed bean pole would reply in moments, Max stood to look out the window. Not exactly “one percent” territory out there: a discount clothing outlet, a jewelry chain store, and, worst of all, a gas station at the corner. Such a humid, drizzly day. Not one to be out in.
Kane’s tweet arrived. “Who’s calling Max Morano Hitler? Not that it isn’t out of the realm…”
Max grinned, gratified he’d got Kane’s goat. He tweeted back, “Democrat Kane is. Concentration camps = Hitler.”
To which Kane promptly replied, “Max Morano should read a history book sometime. Concentration camps preceded Hitler.”
* * *
Four blocks away on the same street, it was Gavin Kane’s turn to grin. Too pleased with himself to settle to anything else, and knowing Morano would have a comeback any moment, he, too, was gazing out to the street. He wished there were more customers going into the department store diagonally opposite. He and his fellow Democrats had lured the chain to this location when they’d last been in power several years ago, and he worried it wouldn’t stay much longer without a change in fortune in his district. A good sign was that people were flowing in and out of the hamburger joint and the electronics store. The chain pharmacy, too.
Morano’s return lob landed: “Neighborhoods are about neighbors, not strangers.”
Self-righteous prick. Gavin pictured the fat, forty-something Morano bulging over his iPhone just waiting for Gavin’s next salvo.
On his PC’s keyboard, he typed, “Homeless people have rights, too,” and clicked “send.”
That set off a rapid exchange, beginning with Morano’s reply.
“Read the Constitution. Nothing about homeless people.”
“What about rights to privacy, to travel, not to be arrested for sleeping in public when there aren’t enough shelters.”
“Democrat Gavin Kane reveals how much liberals have distorted our cherished Constitution.”
“Out-of-touch Republican Max Morano thinks the Constitution is written in stone. News flash: it was paper.”
Gavin knew for a fact the U.S. Constitution was alive and kicking, and that it lived in many forms, not just paper. One of those forms was Libby. From his jacket’s inside pocket, he pulled out his wallet-sized electronic talking United States Constitution with the image of Lady Liberty at the top.
“Libby,” he said to her, “how do I stop that fat bastard Max Morano from misinterpreting you?”
She replied, “You’re forgetting the First Amendment. You used it like a club when you Democrats were in the wilderness.”
“I want him to stop misleading the public.”
“What is freedom of speech if not the freedom to mislead?”
The screen dimmed and Libby went silent.
“Okay, I apologize,” he said. “I spoke out of turn.”
The screen refreshed. “I respect your right to speak out of turn.”
“I’ll try to be more diplomatic. How do I stop Max Morano from spouting false claims about you?”
“Are you sure his claims are false? Sounds to me more like a point of view.”
“Not all points of view are created equal.”
“I agree, but the First Amendment says all speech is.”
“Morano claims we can’t put shelters in gentrifying neighborhoods because they’re disruptive, so the burden for helping the least fortunate among us falls once again on poor people and minorities. Meanwhile, we have tens of thousands of people living in inhumane conditions.”
“Great speech,” Libby said. “What’s your Constitution question?”
“Well, don’t homeless people have rights?”
“You have to reason from the premises in the document, as you did with that list you sent Council Member Morano.”
“You refuse to give me a straight answer?”
The screen stayed lit, but Libby said nothing.
“We can’t pretend homeless people don’t exist,” Gavin persisted. “We can’t just write them off.”
“Why not just say that?” Libby said.
“He’s already tweeted he finds nothing about this in the Constitution, and you won’t help.”
“I’m giving you all the help you need. Maybe he’ll listen better if you stop with the insults.”
“And maybe pigs will fly.”
The screen dimmed again. What a control freak. Gavin almost threw the device across the room. But he decided Libby had said all she could, though it wasn’t enough.
* * *
A knock on Max Morano’s door heralded Irma Jansen, his chief of staff.
“Just in time for your tweet war with Kane,” she said, “we have a homeless gentleman here who looks in a bad way.”
Max frowned. “What can we do for him?”
“He’s old for his age and exhausted. Probably psychiatric problems, too, but we’re not doctors. I had Clarence take him to the bathroom to clean up, but he needs a shower and a change of clothes.”
“And we need him out of here so he doesn’t scare away other constituents.” Max had almost said “constituents who vote,” but he had the presence of mind not to upset his chief of staff more than she already seemed.
Then he asked, “Why your interest in this guy? I mean, other than he’s here and now he’s our problem?”
“I don’t know. He’s well-spoken. Educated. Not that it makes a difference. Something went wrong in his life. That’s all we know.”
“There but for fortune…” Max mused. His back to the window, he spread his arms out to the sides and rested his palms on the window sill as he stared down at the floor, deep in thought. Then he looked up. “Can you afford to let Clarence go for an hour to escort him around to the nearest shelter?”
“The Sutton Street Mission is open twenty-four hours a day. I just checked.”
“Tell Clarence to ask if they can give him the help he needs or if they’ll refer him somewhere and, if so, where. And whatever happens, make sure Kane doesn’t find out what we’re up to.”
* * *
Responding to Max Morano’s potshot about neighbors and strangers, Gavin typed: “If homeless people are strangers, America has always welcomed strangers. Strangers become respected neighbors.”
Several minutes elapsed before Max Morano replied. “It’s one thing to embrace strangers, something else to have Gavin Kane foist them on us.”
Morano was back to his usual mindless self. But there had to be elements other than lead in the man’s heart. Even Morano must want a solution, one way or the other.
Gavin silently addressed Libby: Why are you always demanding a higher standard of me than my opponents? Rhetorical question. She’d shut down, and he’d put her away.
“Tina,” he yelled to his chief of staff, her desk just outside his door.
Tina Millette opened his door and said, “Yes, Massa,” in that passive-aggressive way she had when he acted imperiously. He refused to back down.
“Get me that moron Morano’s phone number.”
“Coming up, your highness.”
Moments later an email from Tina arrived in his inbox. “Here you go, Morano’s number. AGAIN! Keep it safe, where you can find it the next time.”
Gavin cursed. Why couldn’t his chief of staff retrieve a phone number without hectoring him?
When Morano came on the line, Gavin said, “We need to talk.”
Libby Speaks: Inspiration
In 1948, Giovanni Guareschi published his first volume in a series of charming stories about Don Camillo. The series has three recurring characters.
Don Camillo is the priest of the town’s church. He is easily provoked, sometimes belligerent, but fundamentally a well-intentioned, God-fearing man.
The second character is the town’s communist mayor, Peppone, easily provoked, sometimes belligerent, an arguably decent, if not exactly God-fearing man. Don Camillo and he clash in every story.
The third character is Christ on the cross in Don Camillo’s church. Don Camillo often consults him, and they have a warm, but sometimes fractious, relationship.
America’s internal divisions today may actually be less severe than those in Italy just after World War II, when Guareschi wrote his humane stories. The Don Camillo and Peppone characters represent the two major forces determined to win over Italy in the wake of the devastation of World War II.
In my twenty-first century American homage to the Don Camillo stories, two flawed but principled politicians from the two major parties engage each other. Max Morano is a Republican City Council Member, and Gavin Kane is a Democratic counterpart. Libby, an iPhone-like device, embodies the Constitution. After all, we speak of a “living Constitution.”