Adapted by Robert Mann
Some months ago there was a Governor so exceedingly fond of new polls that he spent all his money on being well liked. He cared nothing about reviewing his National Guard, traveling his state, or going for a ride in his helicopter, except to show off his new polls in places like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. He had a poll for every hour of the day, and instead of saying, as one might, about any other politician, “The Governor is in council,” here they always said, “The Governor is in Nevada.”
In the great city of Baton Rouge where he lived, life was always gay. Every day many strangers came to town, and among them one day came two political consultants. They let it be known they were weavers of public opinion, and they said they could weave the most magnificent polls imaginable. Not only were their questions and pie charts uncommonly brilliant, but the popularity made of these polls had a wonderful way of becoming invisible to anyone who was unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid.
“Those would be just the polls for me,” thought the Governor. “If I wore them I would be able to discover which men in my empire are unfit for their posts. And I could tell the wise men from the fools. Yes, I certainly must get some of the stuff woven for me right away.” He paid the two consultants a large sum of money to start work at once.
They set up two calling center and pretended to make phone calls, though there was no one on the other end. All the finest questions and the purest old methods, which they demanded, went into their traveling bags, while they worked the empty calling center far into the night.
“I’d like to know how those consultants are getting on with the poll,” the Governor thought, but he felt slightly uncomfortable when he remembered that those who were unfit for their position would not be able to see the results. It couldn’t have been that he doubted himself, yet he thought he’d rather send someone else to see how things were going. The whole town knew about the poll’s peculiar power, and all were impatient to find out how stupid their neighbors were.
“I’ll send my honest chief of staff to the consultants,” the Governor decided. “He’ll be the best one to tell me how the results look, for he’s a sensible man and no one does his duty better.”
So the honest chief of staff went to the call center where the two consultants sat working away at their empty desks.
“Heaven help me,” he thought as his eyes flew wide open, “I can’t see anything at all.” But he did not say so.
Both the consultants begged him to be so kind as to come near to approve the excellent report, with the beautiful, colorful pie charts and graphs. They pointed to the empty phones, and the chief of staff stared as hard as he dared. He couldn’t see anything, because there was nothing to see. “Heaven have mercy,” he thought. “Can it be that I’m a fool? I’d have never guessed it, and not a soul must know. Am I unfit to be the chief of staff? It would never do to let on that I can’t see the poll.”
“Don’t hesitate to tell us what you think of it,” said one of the consultants.
“Oh, it’s beautiful – it’s enchanting.” The chief of staff peered through his spectacles. “Such a pattern, what colors! I’ll be sure to tell the Governor how delighted I am with it.”
“We’re pleased to hear that,” the consultants said. They proceeded to name all the colors and to explain the intricate patterns. The chief of staff paid the closest attention, so that he could tell it all to the Governor. And so he did.
The consultants at once asked for more money, more names, more phone numbers, to get on with the calling. But it all went into their pockets. Not a phone number got dialed, though they worked at their jobs as hard as ever.
The Governor presently sent another trustworthy official to see how the work progressed and how soon it would be ready. The same thing happened to him that had happened to the chief of staff. He looked and he looked, but as there was nothing to see in the call center. He couldn’t see anything.
“Isn’t it a beautiful report?” the consultants asked him, as they displayed and described their imaginary charts and graphs.
“I know I’m not stupid,” the man thought, “so it must be that I’m unworthy of my good office. That’s strange. I mustn’t let anyone find it out, though.” So he praised the report he did not see. He declared he was delighted with the beautiful colors and the exquisite pattern. To the Governor he said, “It held me spellbound.”
All of Baton Rouge was talking of this splendid poll, and the Governor wanted to see it for himself while it was still in the call center. Attended by a band of chosen men, among whom were his two old trusted officials – the ones who had been to the consultants – he set out to see the two swindlers. He found them calling with might and main, but without actually speaking to a single person.
“Magnificent,” said the two officials already duped. “Just look, Governor, what great numbers! What a stunning report about your popularity and the brilliance of your ideas!” They pointed to the phony report, each supposing that the others could see the stuff.
“What’s this?” thought the Governor. “I can’t see anything. This is terrible! Am I a fool? Am I unfit to be the Governor? What a thing to happen to me of all people!”
“Oh! It’s very pretty,” he finally said. “It has my highest approval.” And he nodded approbation at the empty room. Nothing could make him say that he couldn’t see anything.
His whole retinue stared and stared. One saw no more than another, but they all joined the Governor in exclaiming, “Oh! It’s very pretty,” and they advised him to weave legislation and tax reforms based on these wonderful poll results, especially for the great legislative session he was soon to lead. “Magnificent! Excellent! Unsurpassed!” were bandied from mouth to mouth, and everyone did his best to seem well pleased. The Governor gave each of the consultants a medal to wear in his buttonhole, and the title of “Colonel.”
Before the session the consultants sat up all night and burned more than six candles, to show how busy they were finishing the Governor’s new poll. They pretended to take numbers from the computer. They made charts and graphs on the finest paper. And at last they said, “Now the Governor’s new poll is ready for him.”
Then the Governor himself came with his noblest aides, and the consultant each raised an arm as if they were holding something. They said, “These are the results on your personal popularity, here’s your job approval rating, and here’s how much people love your tax reform plan!”
“All of them are as light as a spider web. One would almost think nothing was on these pages, but that’s what makes them so wonderful.”
“Exactly,” all the aides agreed, though they could see nothing, for there was nothing to see.
“If you will condescend to push aside everything and stake your whole governorship on your own popularity and the popularity of your tax plan,” said one consultant, “we will guarantee that you will only grow more popular. You may even become president!”
So the Governor agreed, and the consultants pretended to put his new polls on him, one polls after another. They built for him an agenda for an entire legislative session.
“How well your new polls look. Aren’t they becoming!” He heard on all sides, “That idea, so perfect! Those taxes, so suitable for transforming our economy! It is a magnificent plan.”
Then the minister of public processions announced: “Governor, your canopy is waiting outside.”
“Well, I’m supposed to be ready,” the Governor said, and turned again for one last look at the report. “It is a remarkable report, isn’t it?” He seemed to regard his popularity with the greatest interest.
The aides who were to carry his polling report stooped low and reached for the floor as if they were picking up the massive document. Then they pretended to lift and hold it high. They didn’t dare admit they had nothing to hold.
So off went the Governor in procession under his splendid canopy, the street from his Mansion, up the steps of the Capitol, and right into the House Chamber. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, “Oh, how fine are the Governor’s new polls! Don’t they fit him to perfection? And see his magnificent tax plan!” Nobody would confess that he couldn’t see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. No plan the Governor had proposed before was ever such a complete success.
“But he hasn’t got any poll. His aides are holding nothing,” a freshman legislator said.
“Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?” said the House Speaker. And one legislator whispered to another what the freshman had said, “He hasn’t got any poll. A freshman says he hasn’t any poll.”
“But he hasn’t got any poll!” the whole Legislature cried out at last.
The Governor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This session has got to go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his aides held high the polling report that wasn’t there at all.