I Can Lead It All by Myself” was the legend on the Cat’s campaign buttons. His button portrait was the familiar one: tall floppy red-and-white striped hat, red bow tie, white-gloved hands clasped decorously over his chest, thumbs pressed together, grinning that idiot grin (though thin-lipped, I had to admit). The Cat in the Hat himself did not at first appear. His madcap explosion on the scene was engineered—apparently, at least—by Joe and Ned, a couple of maverick Midwesterners whose techniques were as fresh as they were amateurish. Only several hysterical hours laterwas I tomeet the real spirit behind the coup: a luminous, ingenious, pear-shapedmass named Clark. The first day went as I’d planned, with plenty of fanfare, good food and drink, back-slapping and vote-trading, stirring speeches, the usual Convention hoopla—though admittedly it was all a little hollow, beclouded with the factuality of being the party out of power and little or no hope of getting in. The only hint of something out of order was the slogan that appeared on toilet walls and crept oddly into conversations: “Let’s make the White House a Cat House.” But the next morning, into the hotel breakfast rooms throughout the city, Joe and Ned, dressed like the Cat in striped hat, bow tie, and gloves, came shuffling, doing a soft-shoe to their “Cat in the Hat Campaign Song”: It is no time for no, it is time for yes! It is time to elect our candidate! They passed out buttons, introduced the Cat-Call (Me-You!), and yak-yakked their way through a cornball vaudeville routine with such awful gags as: Joe: Hello! Hello! Ned: I said hello! Can you hear me, Joe? Joe: What is this, a party line? Ned: Well, that’s what I’m calling about, Mr. Joe!—to tell you about our new party line! Joe: What line is that, Mr. Ned? Ned: Why, a Fe -line, Mr. Joe! I’m talking about the next President of the United States! Joe: The next President! Who’s that, Mr. Ned? Ned: Why, it’s the Cat in the Hat! Joe: I’m sorry, Mr. Ned, I didn’t get your predicate...? Ned: A pretty cat? Well, no, he ain’t so pretty, Mr. Joe, but he’s got a lotta pussy-nality! Joe and Ned sing the “Cat in the Hat Campaign Song” while passing out buttons, then soft-shoe out. Here is the Cat who will clean up the mess: The Cat in the Hat for the Head of State! So go to bat for the Cat in the Hat! He’s the Cat who knows where it’s at! With Tricks and Voom and Things like that! Go! Go! The Cat in the Hat!
BY EVENING MY BEAUTIFULLY PLANNED CONVENTION HAD turned into something of a circus. Regardless of political commitments, nearly everyone had taken to singing the Cat in the Hat song, and, even alongside their other pins, to wearing the Cat button—I even caught my man Riley with one of the damned things on. On the toilet walls: “What This Nation Needs Is More Pussy!” And sure enough, at the banquet that night, in pranced a hundred gorgeous milk-fed Midwestern coeds, dressed in tight elastic catskins, wearing the goofy hat, bow tie, and gloves, leaping in and out of laps and licking faces, sending up a delicious caterwaul of Me- You’s. The new gimmick of the night was a miniature replica of the Cat’s Hat with an elastic band for fastening under the chin—when you squeezed the Hat, it emitted the Cat-Call. “Keep it under your hat!” the girls purred as they passed them out, then whisked away, twirling their tails. For some reason, everyone kept grinning at me, apparently conjecturing that I’d arranged the whole gag, and since I still wasn’t sure just what was up, I grinned along with them, returned their winks, even—though only one time— squeezed the silly Hat. The Cat in the Hat himself appeared a day later right in the middle of my man Boone’s big parade and rally, breaking it up. It’s against tradition for a candidate to appear on the Convention floor before his final nomination. It’s against all propriety to intrude on another candidate’s rally. And the Cat’s performance itself was against every standard of Convention-floor behavior, not to say all probability. But that damned Cat couldn’t care less—in fact, this balmy flaunting of the rules of the game was to become the pattern, if not in fact the message, of his whole Presidential campaign. Boone, a Californian, had been nominated by the Governor of Kentucky, with handsome seconds fromAlaska, Virginia, California, and Idaho. I was delighted. His symbols were coonskin caps (Boone-skins, his supporters were calling them) and b’ar guns (in fact, before politics, he’d been a chemist and later vice-president of one of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies, had never had any kind of gun in his hands before in his life); his slogans: “Explore the moon with Boone!” and “We want Boone soon!” A thousand frenetic, hollering, coonskin-capped, placard- and flag-waggling, bull-roaring, Madison-Avenue-b’ar-gun-toting demonstrators had piled in, pushed wildly to the front, seized the microphones to broadcast their chants, looking like they might decide to take the Convention by force, when the Cat in the Hat turned up. Clinking and clanking in on that goofy clean-up machine of his, the machine now bearing in red-white-and-blue letters his famous line: “Have No Fear of This Mess!” Maybe the Boone people thought the Cat was one of their own— certainly he was lugging a rusty old b’ar gun over what he had of a shoulder. At any rate, they went suddenly silent, quick as it takes to snap off the TV, and turned expectantly to the Cat, who said:
It is no time to fear, it is time to cheer! It is time to play on your instrument! The New Day is near, the New Way is here! The Cat in the Hat for President! So go to bat for the Cat in the Hat! He’s the Cat who knows where it’s at! With Tricks and Voom and Things like that! Go! Go! The Cat in the Hat!
“Hello! hello! How are you? Can you do What I can do?”
Arms reached out from the clean-up machine, snatching Boone posters. The Cat shuffled them, passed them out again. Now they read: “Eat a prune at noon with Boone!” Another mechanical arm stretched forth and from the crowd plucked, by the seat of his honorable pants, Boone’s nominator,
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