“What does pundit mean Big Guy?” asked my pal Pavo, while peering at the sheet of newspaper lining the floor of his cage.
“It means someone made a play on words, mes amigo. A kind of joke.”
“No, not punned it. I mean a pundit, – a person.”
“A pundit is a person of great learning. Why do you ask?”
“Are you sure? The papers and the TV screen seem to be full of folks referring to one another as pundits and they don’t sound so bright to me. Where did they come from?”
In the opposite corner of the room, talking heads bopped across the TV screen, carefully coiffed jumping jacks doling out the day’s disasters. A quick stab at the remote dispatched their deadening dialogue.
“You’re referring to neo-pundits, my friend,” I began. “Out-of-office politicians or slipping and sliding news broadcasters and their toadies . . .”
“Anurans?” he broke in, cocking his head in puzzlement.
“. . . and also-rans.” I said, resuming control.
“Then, contrary to your scholarly definition Big Guy, it takes no special talent to become a pundit,” said Pavo, pausing to preen his plumage.
“If you’re a certified loser, it’s guaranteed,” I added.
“If you lose, you win? I don’t understand. When did this reversal of reality come about?”
“Been building for years but emerged with gusto back in ’92 when big business protectionists got replaced by big spending liberals in the congress. Losers became pundits and got more attention than the winners. Then, a couple years ago, a new form of punditry burst onto the scene and reached full fever pitch with the appearance of Caribou Barbie from tundra country. But she was a quitter rather than a reject.
He fluffed his feathers. “Could I become a pundit?”
“You could, but it’s more helpful if you’ve been voted out of office. You become an instant expert on all those things you couldn’t handle while you were in.”
“But if you’ve lost an election, doesn’t that mean the folks back in the boonies don’t want you representing them any more.”
“Not how the game is played nowadays Pavo. If you have a war chest, you continue to represent your constituents.”
Pavo cocked his head in amazement. “The same ones who voted you out of office?”
“Naw. The ones who filled your war chest.”
“War chest? That sounds scary. Guns and bombs and all that stuff.”
“Not ammunition. A war chest is money. Lots of it.”
Pavo snagged some sesame seeds. “Sounds like a pretty good deal to me,” he mumbled. “How would I get started?”
“Best way is to run for office. But it also helps to have charisma.”
“Do I have charisma?” he asked, as he spit out the husks.
“Nope. Sorry. You’re too short. You’re too scrawny. Nose is too big and your eyes are too close together. Your dress is too conservative and the color never changes. Your voice has a West Coast warble. Most middle Americans can’t identify with you. You’d make a lousy populist.”
“What about money. Suppose I had hoards of it?
“That would attract the other kind of hordes. And it would immediately change the equation.”
“Would it matter how I got it?”
“Nope. But the more moolah the merrier.”
“Looks like I couldn’t become a candidate. I have neither.”
“But your friend Phydeaux, he may not have money but he has plenty of charisma.”
“Phydeaux? The puckish poodle?”
“He has all the attributes. Look at him over there dozing in front of my footrest. Handsome. Loveable. Name recognition in multiple languages. Kisses babies. Nuzzles women. Licks men’s hands. Hollow bark, no bite. Toss him a bone or a bit of pork and he’ll do your bidding for life. The ideal candidate.”
“Would he be interested?”
“A little vanity helps and he’s always eager to please. Watch his tail when I tell him to sit or stay.”
“But how would that affect me? What does Phydeaux’s’s charm and charisma have to do with me becoming a pundit?”
“Take advantage of your long standing relationship and become his official mouthpiece.”
“How does that work?”
“The media are desperate for flacks and you may not even need charisma. In fact, being obnoxious is an asset. But you have to be quotable. The more outrageous and off center, the better. Soon, you become more valuable than your boss. You begin to make policy and anything you say becomes news. And, the beauty of it is that once your reputation is established, especially after retirement, you’re kissingered for life?”
“You become a ‘go to for quotes’ guy. You get to comment on events taking place anywhere in the world. In fact, the media will find you even if you’re in Timbuktu. No matter what happened to your ex boss, you ride the eternal gravy train. You’re fixed forever.”
Pavo grimaced and his eyes crossed. “Ooof! Fixed? Like Phallix the cat?”
“Not that kind of fixed. Financially fixed. But, on second thought, maybe that’s not such a bad idea. Could prevent the sort of problems that too many pols seem to be addicted to these days.”
Pavo popped down from his perch and paced through the speckles on the floor of his cage. Head down, wings folded behind his back, he strode with determination from his water dish on one end to the seed cup on the other, back and forth, back and forth. Finally, he hitched himself up onto his roost. I could see he was deeply troubled.
“I’ve thought it over Big Guy. I’ve decided punditry isn’t for me. My mother was a moral bird and instilled a sense of fairness and ethics in me. I’d have to lower my standards to enter the arena. I think I’ll pass on the idea.”
I knew Pavo would be too honest and principled for the job. With our conversation over I reached for my TV remote. A second later the neo-pundits were back filling the TV screen.