Introducing Jeremy Chiaroscuro by MacMillan Ross
Jeremy Chiaroscuro is one of the most important men in American politics. Not that he is a politician. Jeremy wants to be a puppet master and not one of the puppets whose only qualification is an insipid face and a case of hairspray. Like his one-time rival Carl Rogue, he was a protégé of the legendary Grant Blackpool, who until his premature death pioneered the science of hardball politicking.
Blackpool had died of a brain cancer, which surprised no one, because he had a very big brain that was filled with enough venom to poison several Midwestern states. Now, if he'd died of a heart attack, that would have amazed anyone who knew him....He was as wily and as mean as a snake, and if Jeremy inherited his wiliness, Rogue got the meanness. “Why waste time being clever,” Carl used to ask, “when an anonymous slander or blackmail threat can get the job done?”
Jeremy viewed electioneering as an art in itself. Results were only secondary. He was like the professional gambler who would never win honestly—a sucker’s game—so long as he could cheat. It is a question of pride. He devised an approach to campaign commercials that he described as “Subtextualizing.” Friendly critics called the method “subliminal implants.” His legion of enemies preferred “voodoo.”
As these terms suggest, Jeremy designed commercials that won over viewers not by the explicit message but by indirectly planted suggestions. Now, as a campaign technique or legal trick, the method can be traced back at least to Cicero, who famously referred to Clodia’s brother as her husband, then corrected himself, saying “I always make that mistake.” This generated a big laugh from a jury convinced that the pair had an incestuous liaison. He may have learned it from the famous Willie Horton commercials that suggested, and none too subtly, that Mike Dukakis would give carte blanche to Negro murderers.
Willie Horton was a sledgehammer, so obvious it could eventually be used against Republicans. Jeremy was much harder to pin down. Sometimes he was absolutely Byzantine in the way he played the angles. It was he, as a young Turk in the PR game, who suggested the Viagra commercials to Bob Dole. Older Republican strategists were aghast. Carl Rogue told him that Dole would make himself and the party a laughing-stock. Chiaroscuro observed that Dole and the party had done about all that could be done in that direction. What could have been worse than the Doleman’s ’96 campaign? The point, he insisted, was to rescue both the candidate and the party by suggesting indirectly that they were not a bunch of desiccated Kansas rubes but obsessive sex machines that would go on fornicating all the way to the grave.
“Look at Clinton, he exclaimed. “Apart from a few old Republican garden-party hags, people love him, women as much as men. Even the rape charges did not put off the lesbian femininists who will adore him forever!” Years later, during the #metoo hysteria, and older and tamer Jeremy liked to point out the accuracy of his prediction.
Jeremy, it hardly needs saying, thought Newt Gingrich was crazy to attack Bill Clinton, and not just because Newt’s own private life was hardly more creditable than the President’s. Great men are often scoundrels. “Look at Julius Caesar and Napoleon, look at Jack Kennedy for Chrissake. They lied, cheated, and stole; they murdered and they whored, but the people loved them. Nixon, on the other hand, was a faithful husband, and look where that gets him.”
Over the years, I had heard a great deal about the Chiaroscuro touch and wanted to meet him. I was working on a book—a sort of new take on La Bruyère’s Characters—and I thought a portrait of a modern king-maker would be just the thing for a book with a working title: Frauds, Conmen. and Assorted Jerks. Circumstances had made it neceessary to earn a few dollars, and I had lots of time on my hands.
Fortunately, I had a few friends who had known Grant Blackpool back in C----, and they assured the genius that I was a harmless crank, the kind of highbrow philosopher-type who could be an eyewitness to murder and the murderer would get off, because I’d be so busy picking logical nits and looking for the big picture that I’d never make sense of the obvious facts. Besides, even if I were to attack Chiaroscuro, they added, no one would pay any attention to a failed scholar who let a confederacy of dunces bounce him out of the research foundation he’d devoted half his life to.
“So, I’m convinced. He’s harmless. That doesn’t mean I should let him in the door. What’s in it for me? Why should I waste my time talking to a loser?”
That was certainly the correct question, but fortunately my old friend Andy Vaught, knew the right thing to say. Andy’s a long-time journalist, which means he is an inveterate liar, who can only be taken seriously when he is joking or pretending to lie. Andy reassured the great man.
“These geeks sometimes give you a different perspective on things, you know, new material from other times. Someone once called this guy, 'a breath of musty air.' He’s an expert on 17th century France.”
“Those French guys are all dead. They can’t do me any good today, can they?”
“Maybe not, but back then, they had angles too. You’d be surprised. They put over some brilliant deals nobody knows about any more. Just to stay alive back then, you had to be damn clever. What have you got to lose, Jerry? You’re on lockdown with the third wife you can’t stand. This’ll give you a little variety. If the guy starts to bother you, you can always throw him out.”
Prompted by such recommendations, the great man agreed to see me on a Saturday evening he was going to spend, as he always does, watching television……