I can remember, with all the shiny embellishment of my well-oiled memory, that day of paralyzing dread and mortification. The day Karen P. Hughes stood on the steps of the Texas Capitol and began her steely assertion that her client, George W. Bush, had been elected president.
It was days after the undecided election of 2000. I was a relatively new mother, my baby just one year old. The air quaked with my fear for our future. I was a new mother, but I was a very old PR hand. And when I saw Hughes take the stance before the cameras, indispensable mouthpiece to a crime in progress, I was shocked with the horrifying intimations of what was to come.
This can’t be happening, I wasn’t alone in thinking. Except I’d been in the business, and I knew how it could happen.
I’d spent 20 years as a public relations person, until the weight of my freight and unfulfillment sent me packing. Don’t get me wrong. Speaking the truth can help groups and individuals get along. Communication can build good things. But I could no longer do the heavy lifting for my most prized clients, the revered and well-paying corporations hell-bent on getting you to overbuy, overpay, overindulge, overborrow, overinvest, overeat, overdrink and overmedicate – and slaughter the competition besides.
Although she had hitherto been unknown to me, I confess I despised Karen P. Hughes, and not for what she said and did on those steps or in the years after. In my egoistic view, she had already robbed me, but had just begun the process of blinding everyone else.
For starters, she had stolen my name, Karen, which means pure.
As your average local TV reporter, she’d shredded what standards remained in my early calling, journalism.
She and her gang had stolen my great state from the real deal, the inimitable Ann Richards.
She’d debased my profession, PR, with the indelible stains of deception and malfeasance.
Before long she’d be touted as distinguished, even genius, a bestselling author, a role model, a mentor, a diplomat and the most trusted advisor to the leader of the free world. This took all my faith away. As a publicist, I could attest that no PR person should ever be elevated to that echelon of counsel. I’d learned that clients who thought they had a “PR problem” never really had one. What they invariably had was a product problem. A very bad product problem. And that’s what we had.
Even before Bush’s first term was up, Hughes left to write a memoir, Ten Minutes from Normal, which turned out to be nothing but a PR ploy on the road to getting him reelected. She went on an audacious promotional tour that had her booked into schools and churches and libraries where eager audiences sanctioned her folksy tales by swallowing them whole. Everyday for two months I had to drive past a private Catholic high school in my neighborhood with a big banner strung end-to-end across its facade. Karen P. Hughes: Ten Minutes from Normal. There she spoke to another full house. I felt like the only wide-eyed bystander of an ongoing rampage.
Now they’ve stolen our schools.
They’ve stolen our churches.
They’ve stolen our towns and cities.
They’ve stolen our hearts, our minds, our goodness, and our faith.
Hughes earned her reputation as the best PR person in the world, but it turns out I needn’t have worried so much about it all.
I’ve been recalling that title, Ten Minutes from Normal, quite a bit lately. If you’ve read my book or heard me speak, you know that we are never ten minutes from anything or anywhere. We are never away or apart from reality. From life as it is. From truth. But if you are in the practice of systematically fabricating another reality, one you pathologically regard as your alternate reality, an empty construct of self-serving delusions and hyperinflated lies, if you practice naming up as down and wrong as right, then you most certainly are at least ten minutes from normal.
Those are the most destructive ten minutes in the world.
These days, which must be the very last days before we land on our rock bottom, these days seem to me to be really ten minutes from normal. Only this normal is going to be the real normal. Normal here we come! Normal here we are!
Fellow travelers, we are home at last. Free and brave. My message today, after all this ugly grumbling, is to take heart. This land is once again our land. I am once again proud to call it my own and to give it my name. This very minute is nothing but normal.
We are going to be okay. Thanks for sticking it out with me.