June 20, 2013
Have you heard the fairy tale about the political princess and the pea?
She was not some ordinary princess. She was the high princess, the Princess Lisa, heiress of the mythical land of Madiganistan.
Madiganistan was once a green and fertile domain where strangers came from far-off nations to work and prosper. But that was long ago.
Now, the land was in ruins. Decade upon decade of pillage by the noble houses had left it parched and dry and brown.
Many of the peasants had already fled, some to Indiana. Other refugees ran to Wisconsin. A few with coin settled in Florida and Arizona. But those who were unable to run were compelled to remain, and by their labors feed the great armies of Madiganistan.
So out there on the wind-swept plain of Madiganistan, you could see the peasants toiling. You could hear their piteous cries of woe as they struggled to earn the requisite treasure lest the taxman get angry.
Every day it was like this. The peasants toiling. The nobles eating, amusing themselves. And when the day was done, it was time for the princess to go to sleep on her amazing bed.
Indeed, her bed was a wonder, the likes of which had never been seen.
She slept on a great tower of 28 mattresses of the finest silk, and 28 feather beds, each of the finest down.
Each of the 28 represented a single year in the reign of her father, the absolute lord of that land.
He was the great and terrible Khan, also known as Mike of Madiganistan. It was said that one glance from his cold blue eyes could turn his enemies to stone.
And so the peasants worked and worked, lest he turn them to stone, and in this way the great armies of Mike of Madiganistan were fed and maintained.
And high above it all, above the piteous cries, his daughter slept peacefully, like a child.
Each morning, just as she awoke to look down from her lofty perch, the town criers circulated among the people below.
The criers had been sent to read aloud from the approved scrolls. They lifted their chins, filled their lungs with the dry air and shouted the one and only question:
What will Princess Lisa do?
But there was no answer.
And so, the people were left to wonder, on a daily basis, about her future plans.
Some wondered whether she would do anything at all. Others worried that she might do something and make things worse. Still others said that since she was the daughter of Mike of Madiganistan, anybody with questions had better shut their mouths or they'd get their tongues ripped out.
Oh, I can see that some of you are squirming, wondering if there had been any princes. Of course there had been princes. There had been great princes, foolish princes, terrified princes, even evil princes.
Most were quite ruthless. Some were mere puppet princes, their puppet strings reaching all the way to Cicero or River Forest or Palm Springs, Calif., or Chinatown. Other princes were so erratic that they truly frightened the peasants because only peasants get trampled under a curly-toed boot.
One such prince had been installed on the throne by his father, Richard the Not-So-Longshanks. The lad was henceforth known as Shortshanks.
Sadly, Shortshanks was often gripped by fits of rage and finally, after the great Parking Fee Hike Scandal — in which the meager remnants of the peasants' purses were dispatched to exotic Abu Dhabi — he retired and ran off to the Bahamas.
But this is not the story of Shortshanks, but of Princess Lisa.
So one night the princess went to sleep, as she had on all the other nights, atop those 28 mattresses and 28 feather beds.
Yet so sensitive was she that she felt something bothering her. She just couldn't sleep. She tossed and turned. She could feel a bothersome itch right in the middle of her back.
The servants ran to help and removed the 28 mattresses and the 28 feather beds, but found nothing.
"Wait!" said Princess Lisa. "What's this?"
There, at the bottom of the pile, on the ground, was a tiny, dry, little pea.
She had felt it through all the mattresses and all the feather beds representing the years of her father's reign. She placed it in her flawless palm, and like magic, it opened. Inside was a mysterious note with many numbers. The servants ran to inform Mike of Madiganistan.
"This is nothing," said the terrible Mike. "All it says is that the peasants owe $100 billion in unfunded state pension liabilities. Don't worry, they'll pay and they'll like it. Go to sleep, honey."
So the servants reassembled the bed, the 28 mattresses and the 28 feather beds, and soon Princess Lisa was fast asleep.
And the next morning, after a night of uneasy dreams, she felt as if she'd been transformed.
All was right with the world. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the peasants were shrieking their piteous cries of woe. The princess climbed down for breakfast with her father.
And just before a servant brought her a silver bowl of Lucky Charms, she asked Mike of Madiganistan a question:
"Daddy," she asked, "can I be governor now?"
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