Cover Story

The Maddest Tea Party

by Jeremy Alford

or Down The Rabbit-Hole and What Bobby Jindal Found There Bobby was very tired of sitting by the other politicians on the Capitol steps and having nothing to do before his inauguration. A wave of fighter jets flew overhead chased by a thunderous salute from nine cannons, but neither was nearly as fantastical as the big speech he had planned.

The cool Louisiana day made him feel very comfy and sleepy, and he contemplated the pleasure of picking azaleas from around Huey’s grave, when suddenly a White Rabbit ran close by. Bobby had seen the Rabbit McCain many times in Louisiana, since it was a presidential election year.

“Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” said the White Rabbit. Burning with curiosity, Bobby followed the Rabbit McCain behind the State Capitol just in time to see it jump through a small door behind some bushes.

Bobby watched a white blur dash between the House and Senate. “I wish I could govern,” he said. “I wish I were small.” By his feet he spied a little bottle with the words “FULL DISCLOSURE” on its label.

Eager to lead, he gulped it down, only to spit it back up as quickly. “I certainly don’t like the taste if that,” Bobby said. But it was too late. He shrunk to the ground, the same size as the door.

Fear and Loathing in the Fiscal Session
Melissa: We can’t stop here! This is bat country!

One long hallway led to another and another and soon Bobby was lost. He saw a magnificent digital screen identifying committee rooms and followed a nearby map until he found an interesting room. An unconventional party of lawmakers were there, bickering over the best Cajun Christmas story and debating superior ways to mix a Sazerac.

The first question for Bobby was how to bring about the ethics reform he had promised voters. Bobby consulted a Mouse named Tuck, the obvious leader of the brood. After a few minutes Bobby and Tuck were getting along famously, agreeing that ethics reform would be as easy as a a nip here and a tuck there.

“What we need is a Session-race,” said Tuck, preening his whiskers.

“What is a Session-race?” asked Bobby.

“Why,” said Tuck, “the best way to explain it is to do it.”

Flip-flop, flip-flop, came the rather confused and angry bunny.

Using his ink-dipped tail, the Mouse marked up a piece of legislation and ordered other lawmakers to do the same. Soon, all of Bobby’s bills were filed and a lot of them passed through the committee thanks to Tuck, who suddenly called out, “The race is over!”

But as soon as it finished, lawmakers began asking questions about definitions and evidence and shouting at Bobby about oversights and errors. He rubbed his eyes and saw a large door, much larger than he. It was a way out, but the handle was too far away. Bobby turned around to come face-to-face with a tall figure that had a hookah hanging from its mouth.

“I’ve decided to act as counsel on these matters,” said Jimmy the Caterpillar, blowing smoke rings in the air. “And I have a fine solution, indeed.”

Bobby nodded his head and urged Jimmy the Caterpillar on.

“Just endorse whatever the Legislature passes out. We’ll call it ethics reform and make sure it doesn’t apply to your office,” he said to Bobby. “Now, are you content?”

“Well, I need to get out of here,” said Bobby.

“Simply bite from this Ponchatoula strawberry,” said Jimmy the Caterpillar. “It’s the official state fruit, you know.” He winked and took another draw from his hookah. Bobby did as he was told and was suddenly tall enough to reach the doorknob.

“Put it on my bill,” said Sen. McPherson, being cutesy, although nobody laughed.

The door led right into another mirror-lined committee room, which was full of cigar smoke and wealthy white men mostly over the age of 40. One lawmaker was sitting on a three-legged stool preaching about creationism while another carried on about stem cell restrictions; a third blathered about tax cuts while beating a wooden spoon against the copper pot he had fitted over his head. “How curiouser and curiouser this place grows,” Bobby said to himself.

The only things in the committee room that did not jump or jive were the antique maps on the ceiling and a large cat that was sitting at the witness table and grinning from ear to ear. “Please would you tell me,” said Bobby, a little timidly, for he was not quite sure whether it was good manners for him to speak first. “Why do you grin like that?”

“I’m a Cheshire cat,” said he, “and that’s why. They call me Gee, lobbyist extraordinaire for the Wonderland Family Forum. You’re gonna need to start passing things through me.” Gee’s body vanished into thin air; only the wide grin remained. “Got it?”

“I have some splendid opinions regarding education,” said the Cheesy Cat. “Would you like to know what it costs not to hear them?”

The last suggestion was made with such sudden violence that Bobby jumped, but he was still amused. “I didn’t know that Cheshire cats always grinned; in fact, I didn’t know that cats could lobby.”

“I am only one of a formidable litter,” the Cheshire purred. “There are others — others you must cuddle and nuzzle when necessary.”

“But I’m a real governor,” Bobby pleaded. “I’m a fresh start.”

“They all think that in the beginning,” Gee said, now appearing only as a tail.

Bobby panicked — being governor was harder than he had thought. His hopes were fleeting when, unexpectedly, Rabbit McCain came tromping through the room, “The Party! The Party! Oh my dear paws! Oh my fur and whiskers! I’ll be skinned if I don’t find a suitable veep.”

And off he hopped into a marbled rotunda, waving his trusty pocket watch, with little Bobby in pursuit.

“Oh, dear! I’m still late. Late, late, late. Maybe I can go through the Senate.”
Bobby followed the voice of Rabbit McCain into the Upper Chamber. There he bumped into Five, Seven and Two — all hearts, you see. Five, who had been anxiously pursuing Bobby, called out, “The Queen! Queen Carter-Peterson!”

“I have a few minor corrections to your ethics bill,” sneered the Queen, as she swung her chain-saw through some unlucky cards.

All three of the playing cards instantly threw themselves flat upon their faces.
Ten soldiers carrying swords appeared, followed by an endless string of courtiers. A glowing carpet of red velvet was rolled out, and the grand procession ended with her, the Queen of Hearts. “Tell this man he simply cannot take credit for ethics reform without us. He knows full well the Legislature is playing with a full deck,” she said to the Jack of Hearts, who only bowed, smiled and turned to Bobby for a reply.

“And tell him we gave him workforce development,” the Queen added. “He owes us. We do not rubber stamp in the Legislature!”

“I surely don’t want the Legislature mad at me,” Bobby cowered before turning to the sound of hooves. Riding a majestic stallion through the marbled rotunda was the Ace of Clubs, pumping a fist in the air and wearing a welding mask over his face.

“Do not listen to her, Bobby,” the Ace said, sliding the mask above his head. “You can govern with a fist of stone, without any thought to these lawmakers. Remember the little people, Son. Hold firm to your guns. And don’t forget that motorcycle bill,” the Ace added. “I want to feel the air through my hair again.” Bobby gave him a thumbs-up and slipped into the Senate.

“Raises for everyone,” said Twiddle Dum. “And by everyone, we mean us,” said Twiddle Dee, and they gave themselves a happy hug.

Bobby just stared in disbelief. The Senate was as beautiful as he had imagined. But there were only two people on the floor, each with an arm round the other’s neck. Twiddle Dee Shaw was passing a bill to give taxpayers a massive break and Twiddle Dum Duplessis was moving legislation to use taxpayer dollars to increase lawmakers’ salaries.

“If you think these are conflicting votes,” Dum said, facing Bobby, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

“Contrariwise,” added Dee, “if you think this is the way to go, rather than losing political capital with us, you ought not to speak. Just head over to the House and discover what chances you hold there.”

“Carry on,” said Bobby. “I can certainly govern from the House. It’s the peoples’ House, after all.”

With that, Bobby entered the marbled rotunda once again, keeping an eye out for that nasty Queen, and crossed to the Lower Chamber.

There were 105 seats in the House, but all eyes were focused on two characters sitting at a long table on the rear of the floor. Mad Hatter Wooton and the Hazel Hare were having tea and in a manic discussion, each resting an elbow on a sleeping nutria rat as if it were a swamp-dwelling cushion.

The table was a large one, but the pair was crowded together at one, small corner. “No room! No room!” they cried out when they saw Bobby coming. “There’s plenty of room!” said Bobby indignantly, and he sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table.

“What is a school,” said the Mad Hatter, “without guns and gunplay?”

“How do you like my handgun?” asked Mad Hatter Wooton.

Bobby looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. “I don’t see any handgun,” he remarked.

“That’s because it’s concealed, partner,” said the Hatter. “Don’t you think it would be a rootin’, tootin’ good idea to let the college kids do this on campus? You’re NRA, no?”

“Well…” Bobby groaned uncomfortably.

“That wasn’t very civil of you,” interjected the Hazel Hare, directly at the Hatter. “He’s still new to the job, as am I. But I know there must always be a balance. That’s why I have my own proposal that would ban students from wearing bulletproof vests to school. Now that’s balance!”

Bobby fell off his chair. “I don’t think I want that,” he mumbled.

“Then what do you want, partner?” asked Mad Hatter Wooton.

“I wish I could go back in time,” Bobby cried. “Then maybe I could have found a better way to manage these meetings and sessions.”

“Sounds like the boy needs to see Rabbit McCain,” the Hare chimed in. Mad Hatter Wooten clapped his hands, “Bingo! The Rabbit has a pocket watch they say can turn back time.”

For the first occasion in a quite a while, Bobby was filled with promise. It was a fresh start, just what he needed. He hurriedly gathered directions to Rabbit McCain’s ranch and headed off to a far-away land called Arizona.

Bobby made his way to Rabbit McCain’s ranch and soon realized it was a barbecue party. Suddenly, he found an invitation in his hand announcing, “Do you have what it takes to be a veep? If you do, so be it, but the meeting must only be classified as social — nothing to do with vetting veeps. Talking points forthcoming.”

“How curious,” Bobby thought to himself, “but national office does sound rather appealing right now, and it would be foolish to dismiss an offer that has not yet been unofficially made.”

Very soon he spotted Rabbit, standing over a flaming grill and flipping burgers. “You’re late! You’re late!” scorned Rabbit. “You must have been delayed by those big problems on your plate back home in Louisiana.”

“Right,” Bobby confirmed. “That’s why I need you to turn back time for me.”

“My young whipper-snapper, that won’t be necessary,” Rabbit said, placing an arm round Bobby. “You see, there’s no reason to sign or veto a bill that you find unfavorable. Just let it sit there and it automatically becomes a law! Public records bills are a mere formality. Let the staff sweat it out. On big, emotional issues, just kick back until it’s all settled and take the favorable side. As for the media, just ignore them, but remember to feed them something from time to time or they’ll begin to focus more on editorial cartoons than substantive content.”

With that, Bobby learned that running away is always the answer. He knew it all along, deep down inside him. It was time to go back to the Capitol. And time to govern for real.

As Bobby followed the road to the Capitol, Jimmy the Caterpillar floated to his side on a cloud of smoke. “What are you doing here?” Bobby asked.

“I have clients in these parts,” the Caterpillar said. “Don’t look so shocked. I can in no way be a servant to one master or a counselor to one man.” He brought his hookah to his lips and inhaled deeply, talking in spurts as the smoke escaped. “Plus… I wanted… to give you…” (The caterpillar exhaled loudly.) “… some advice, man. You need to speak with Turtle Babineaux. She has some wisdom to impart.”

“Well, where can I find her?” Bobby asked, eager to gain more experience on his journey home.

“Why, on your head, silly boy,” replied Jimmy the Caterpillar before vanishing into the acrid cloud.

Bobby rolled his eyes upward and, sure enough, there was a turtle spinning on his head. Bobby jumped with fright. “Who are you?”

“I was once governor,” Turtle Babineaux said. “Just like you. Always remember, despite what you think, that your time in power is fleeting. Whether it’s term limits or voter outcry, you really only have a small amount of time to make an impact.”

“Unless you’re elected an unprecedented four times,” a strange bird said between flaps before landing on Bobby’s shoulder.

“Hello, Jail Bird Eddie,” said Turtle.

The gryphon smiled. “Comment ça va, Kitty Kat?”

“Been better,” she replied, now blushing. “Just trying to tell the new kid that we’ve all had hard stretches during our terms.”

“And you’ll get through them, too,” Jail Bird said, “unless they get to you first.”
Bobby felt as if there was nothing the Legislature or media or the voters could do to him now. He had a strategy; his predecessors had welcomed him with open arms. Bobby’s confidence was building and building, until a thunderous voice from above broke his concentration.

“Boooobbbbbbyyyy,” the voice whispered. “Boooooobbbbbyyyyy.”

“Bobby!” shouted Timmy, Bobby’s best friend and chief of staff. “Bobby! You have to wake up!”

“Huh?” Bobby grumbled. “What? Where am I?”

“Come on, Bobby. It’s the first day of your special session on ethics,” Timmy said, pulling Bobby out of bed. “Let’s get off to a good start. A fresh start.”

Finally, Bobby realized he was only dreaming. It was all a figment of his imagination. Only this time, he was frightened for real. He would, after all, have to decide on bills, talk to the media and be accountable to voters. “Oh, bother,” he said to himself.