The Risks of Empathy, a Novella
The President sat in a small sitting room in the White House. A light tap at the door signaled that his guest had arrived. A Marine dressed in a crisply starched uniform let Secretary of State Rebecca McGuire into the room. He closed the door quietly behind her.
"Rebecca. Good evening. Thanks for coming. I hope I haven't caused you too much inconvenience at this late hour of the night."
"You said it was urgent, Mr. President. I came right away. Is there a problem?"
President John Adams was wearing a maroon terrycloth robe and light blue flannel pajamas. His slippers were broken down in the back and had obviously been a part of his nightly wardrobe for a number of years. He had a cup of tea next to him. His ready-for-bed rumpled appearance confused McGuire. She had expected to be escorted to the White House situation room in the basement.
"Sit down Rebecca," said the President motioning to the only other chair in the room and positioned intimately next to his own. "Would you like something to drink? Black oolong isn't it?"
"That would be nice Mr. President. Thanks for remembering." She had the correct impression that whatever Adams intended to discuss he was going to take his time with it. She wondered whether he was considering a shake up of the cabinet; there had been rumors.
Adams picked up the phone next to him and mentioned something about the tea. Almost immediately, a soft knock preceded the door opening. A woman dressed neatly in a dark blue dress came in carrying a small teapot and a cup and saucer on a silver tray. The tea was already steeping and the aroma wafted in behind her on the air current. She sat the tray on the small table between them. She left without saying a word.
"Rebecca," Adams began even as she was pouring the tea from the Wedgwood teapot into the matching small pink cup, "I asked you here because you said during our meeting with Richard Selling, that you had tried out the cow TE and thought that the animal TEs were a threat to national security. Do you remember saying that?"
"Of course Mr. President. That's one of the reasons we banned them."
"Yes, well, just between us. What did you really think of it?"
Patricia McGuire had her sights set on the Presidency itself. Her longing for power was the motivation behind everything she did. She rarely said anything without subjecting it to a calculus intended to measure the costs and benefits, the advantages and the risks associated with it. Her statements were closely measured reactions that she felt were the most politic. But sitting with Adams, him in his robe and pajamas, the tea and simple intimacy of the moment, McGuire was uncommonly frank and authentic.
"I don't know what the big deal was. I mean, of course a cow is thinking about something sometime. Why did that surprise anyone? I just don't see what it matters."
"Were you surprised by the similarity between the cow's concern for her calf and a mother's concern for her child?"
"Well, I've never had children, as you know, but my sister, Pam, has two daughters. I'm not that close to them, but I think she loves them a lot. At least she says she does. But, I wasn't that surprised, no. I mean, when you think about it, doesn't it just make sense that a mother is a mother and that she will be concerned for her offspring? So you used the cow TE? I thought we had decided that it was too much of a risk?"
"Betty just made me," chuckled Adams. "Didn't hurt me a bit. And yes, it did surprise me. What did you see as the risk?"
"Actually, sir, Wilkins and I were worried about the effect the animal TEs might have on you. We were worried that you would make a big deal over them and that, if you did, that the economy would be threatened by the major upheaval that would necessarily result if you overreacted. The effect on the world's economy could be disastrous."
"Don't take it the wrong way Mr. President. Some people, like yourself, are just very softhearted."
President John Adams sat quietly. McGuire wondered whether he had fallen asleep. She began questioning her rare candor. She checked the teapot and drained it into her cup making a few more clinks of spoon against china than were necessary.
"I'm just thinking Rebecca. I don't see how we can't do something."
Secretary of State, Rebecca McGuire said guardedly, "You're probably right Mr. President," and began plotting her own quick ascendancy to the Presidency.