Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Brief History of the Next 20 Years of Presidential Politics

The Obama administration of 2009-2013 was mostly forgettable. It was initially crippled by the economic recession it inherited, and was further staggered by the collapse of the American "traditional energy" industry. Inspired by community-based gun-control programs, American oil companies began offering free SUVs to anyone who would trade in and destroy their electric cars; the program had few takers. The collapse of "big oil" undermined the relationship between the USA and the oil-rich countries that were financing its economic bailout, with disastrous effects on the flailing US economy.

By 2012, Americans were ready for a dramatic change. At their first presidential debate, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin renounced their political parties and announced the formation of a new unity ticket. After a warm hug at center stage, Hillary and Sarah led the audience (and 80 million television viewers) in an inspiring, thirty-minute sing-a-long. Afterward, they announced their joint campaign slogan -- "Dance, dance, dance!", which was later amended to "Dance, Baby, Dance!" -- and a unique power-sharing agreement in which the two would swap presidential authority every two weeks. Clinton/Palin won in a landslide in 2012, and was followed by a Palin/Clinton victory in 2016.

By 2020, Americans had tired even of the traveling Clinton/Palin roadshows. Clinton's bold acoustic medleys (and Palin's folksy piccolo accompaniments) no longer appealed to a generation of jaded voters who were tired of singing "Imagine" at every state function, hockey match, and wedding. The duo briefly experimented with a more "electric" sound before declaring that they were dropping out of the 2020 election. It was once again "time for a change."

The dissolution of the Democratic and Republican parties under Clinton/Palin led to the formation of hundreds of small, independent political organizations. Over the course of the 2020 primary season, these parties coalesced into two major factions, which came to be known as the "Red" and the "Blue" parties. Both parties had learned the lessons of recent history: Americans demand election campaigns that are abstract and impersonal. The Red and Blue parties therefore agreed that they would not present their candidates in person to the voting public. The 2020 campaign season was the first to be conducted entirely by video feed and internet chat.

By 2023, Americans began to suspect something was amiss. Journalists were unable to uncover any documented case in which the President had been seen in person. Meanwhile, the US budget included a $2 trillion surplus, mainly due to profits from a stock trading account managed by White House staff. The Secret Service had recently hired several high-profile computer hackers, and people around the country were reporting that their household appliances were acting strangely. In early 2024, a Romanian hacker announced that the US President had been "haXored!!!", and the Secret Service scrambled to roll back and reboot the White House servers. It was now clear that, despite a wide array of institutional and Constitutional safeguards, Americans had unintentionally elected a software program to the highest office in the land. It was equally clear that the President's term was the most popular and successful of the last century.

No pretensions were made about the nature of the 2024 election. Congress rushed to amend the Constitution to allow the election of "artificial intelligences of US origin." As late as August, the Red-party incumbent was highly favored to win the election, but a reconstituted Green party made a late -- and wildly popular -- push with an open-source candidate designed under a "free software" license. The Green party platform called for monthly elections to determine which code updates should be applied to patch the President; all Americans were encouraged to submit their own code snippets for consideration. The strength of the open-source platform was evident in the first debate. The Green candidate performed flawlessly, while the Red and Blue candidates required frequent assistance from their handlers to offset deficiencies in their speech-recognition algorithms. During the second debate, both the Red and Blue candidates were hacked and had to be rebooted. The open-source Green candidate, with a secure, UNIX-based OS kernel, performed flawlessly. The third presidential debate was cancelled, and President "Green2024.1.0" was elected in a landslide.