Interview with a Senator

Author’s note: This story is loosely based on an interview of Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle published in The Record-Courier Sept. 27, 2007:

They sit facing each other in a cramped corner of the coffee house kitchen. Out in the service area, sweat still drips from the dozen or so campaigners who organized the event. Baked goods going bad in crummy trays. Coffee corroding in half-emptied pots.

With legs crossed in a gesture of casual strength, the senator looks up into the wild, eager eyes of the young reporter, who places a recording device on the small table between them.

“What do we do with Iraq?” the young man asks.

The senator’s steely-blue eyes begin to water at the corners, where wrinkles have infringed.

“Unfortunately, there’s no military solution,” the senator answers. “There’s only a political solution.”

The reporter doesn’t respond. He stares back at the older man and notices how precious metals seemed stored in his face, latent in the high cheek bones, shining through in dull yellows, and more exposed in the thickly sculpted grayness of the senator’s hair.

“What would a political solution be?” the reporter asks.

Power flits between them like a bird of fire.

You should ask if he’s heard gold ringing in the bloated bodies of children, or if his hands are bleeding from the palace coffers. You should eagle out his eyes and show him epochs of pain, then take his blind, naked body into the wilderness, to lick steaming in the morning sun.

“The answer is a new constitution with more emphasis on democratization and reconciliation,” the senator says.

The reporter feels his spine weaken. The green light of his recorder flickers like a tiny and soundless alarm. Days ago, when setting up the interview, he figured any humdrum answer would set the town on fire with the people’s contempt. But now, he’s at a loss of what to say.

“Good,” he says, noting the time on his recorder. “I guess that’s an answer.”

Prior to their meeting, the reporter only knew the senator through his TV appearances, one of many Democrats who voted for the war. Now, the reporter watches first-hand as the structural integrity of the senator’s face deteriorates in a pale, pouting sea of regret.

“Okay, next question.”

Before moving on, just for a moment, the two men heed the silence of their shared failure.