The memos were sitting on a seat cushion in plain view as I slid into
the booth at one of my favorite lunchtime cafes. The words "Super
Secret/Don¹t Lose These!" were stamped across the top of each page. Before
I had time to examine them carefully, a man sat down across from me, looking
"Sorry," he said, "snatching the papers away, "these documents are never
supposed to leave my hands. I'm just having a really bad day."
"If they're confidential, shouldn't you have a better way of carrying
them around?" I asked.
"No argument there," he said. "I do own a locking briefcase, but I keep
forgetting the stupid combination so I hardly ever use it. Had the same
problem with my locker in high school. So how much of this stuff did you
"It looked like a list of suggestions for changing the way we run the
presidential election," I replied. "Am I in trouble now?"
"Nah," he said, shaking his head. "Heck, I'll just tell you the
details. A few leaks here and there won't compromise our long term outlook
"Sounds like some kind rogue CIA operation," I suggested.
"Oh please," the man replied, rolling his eyes. "That crowd is so
dysfunctional these days they couldn't subvert a Friar's Club celebrity
roast. No, this is a private sector initiative. A consortium of think
tanks has been studying ideas for restoring confidence and credibility to
the selection of our chief executive. We need to establish new procedures
that emphasize positive goals and offer tangible benefits to all
participants. In other words, it's time to bring private enterprise into
the election process."
"You mean like corporate sponsorships?" I wondered. "The 2012 campaign,
brought to you by Pepsi?"
"The beverage industry can definitely play a major role," he agreed.
"Picture this: A tear-off coupon on each ballot that could be redeemed for
a free soft drink at every polling place."
"I just thought of a slogan" I said. "Voting--the pause that
"Excellent!" he exclaimed. "We think the same creative energy could
transform the voter's pamphlet from a boring compilation of campaign blather
and tedious legislative explanations into a classy, exciting publication.
Put the folks at Conde Nast in charge, bring in provocative personalities
like Tom Wolfe and Madonna to write candidate profiles, run a few full-page
Victoria's Secret ads and they'll sell out each print run before the ink is
"Aren't voter's pamphlets supposed to be made available to the public at
no charge?" I pointed out.
"Whatever," he said. "The point is, politics and commerce have a
natural synergy. Running our elections like a business makes perfect
"So, in your view, voting is actually a transaction," I said.
"Exactly, and you've brought up a crucial point. Like other business
transactions, we think voters in the 21st century should have a three day
grace period in case they decide to change their minds. I personally
believe popular support for that particular feature will be overwhelming."
"How will you deal with recounts and potential lawsuits from disgruntled
candidates?" I asked.
"With leadership that unites Americans instead of dividing them," he
replied. "Under the new system, election results will be certified by a
panel of observers who have earned the trust of citizens from all walks of
life. Off the top of my head I'd pick Jimmy Carter, Larry King, Judge Judy,
and that Simon guy from American Idol."
"I'm not sure the country will support the changes you're proposing," I
said. "Turning the democratic process into a commercial enterprise is not
what the founding fathers had in mind."
"Those were simpler times," the man said. "Now we live in a worldwide
economy that never sleeps. The president has become a person of global
significance. Selecting the right person for that job must done in a way
that is efficient, reliable, and provides a high degree of satisfaction to
"Which did not happen in, for example, the 2000 presidential race," I
"Precisely," the man said. "And it won't be long before more and more
intelligent, patriotic Americans realize what my group already knows: The
election of our Commander-in-Chief is just too important for the government
to be involved in the process."