"Hail to the Cheat," a political novel, by Ted Venetoulis (A Review)

If you’re going to write your first novel, and it’s a political spoof, then you might as well as set it in the White House. Well, Ted Venetoulis does exactly that in his “Hail to the Cheat,” which is not only a fun read, I predict it’s going to make one zany movie.

Venetoulis is an author who has lived politics and it shows in his book. The main characters are all credible and taken from that realm. As a young man, Venetoulis worked as a Congressional aide, he was involved in the national presidential campaigns of both Robert F. Kennedy and JFK, and he also served a term as the Baltimore County Executive. Baltimore County is a giant sized suburb of Baltimore City, MD. Spiro T. “Ted” Agnew was once its boss.

After eight years of the insanity of Dubya, a deepening economic recession, mounting foreclosures, with millions laid off, and one year of Barack Obama’s presidency, a man who’d rather be liked than lead, the country deserves some laughs out of the White House, don’t you think? Hey, we’re paying for all of this crap. Aren’t we?

Venetoulis deftly delivers the comic turns and the twists, and then some. Before you get to page six of this fast-paced book, the First Lady of the Land catches her husband, President Lance Billingsley, in the Oval Office, “sprawled on the oval carpet…right on the presidential seal,” and in the buff, too, “humping” her dear friend, Sondra Heatherstone. Fireworks quickly erupt.

This madcap yarn is told from the point of view of an infuriated First Lady, Jessica Berringer. She’s the narrator. I found her very endearing, even though I think she likes the booze a little too much. We all know what First Lady Hillary did when President “Bubba Bill” Clinton embarrassed himself, in “Zippergate,” with Monica Lewinsky. Hillary chose to “stand by her man” and play the role of “The Good Wife.” Warning: Jessica doesn’t do Hillary!

Jessica, who’s in her early 50s, and still an attractive gal, insists that the adulterous First Man must leave the White House, pronto. She doesn’t give a good hoot if he has to sleep in a tent out in Lafayette Park. Jessica puts it this way to her cheating, double-dealing spouse: “Put on your clothes. Pack your stuff. And get the f… out. Now!” Sounds like a “Declaration of War” to me.

Now, kicking a pants-less president out of the White House is without precedent, as the author underscores. Presidents before “Bubba Bill,” such as Warren G. Harding, have been caught by their wives screwing around in the White House. Harding did it with his mistress, Nan Britton, in a “five-foot-square clothes closet.” His wife, Florence, suffered through that humiliation in silence. However, this isn’t the 1920s, folks, and a royally pissed off, fiery- tempered Jessica isn’t taking any God damned prisoners.

As the President drags his initially defeated ass over to the “Blair House,” (located about about a block west from the White House), the battle lines are firmly drawn. The seminal issue is this: In order to be the President of the United States, with the full panoply of its pomp and powers, the wimpy Lance needs to get his crushed-ego self back into the Jessica-Occupied White House.

At first, it’s Jessica versus the whole World! Against her, is pitted the entire Federal Government; which includes the U.S. Secret Service; and, the White House’s lying PR Machine, run by a mouthy Leo “Fibby” Buffaloya and a creepy “Super Guru.” Jessica picks up some allies. Her trusted girlfriend, the wisecracking Jamie, also joins her team. Meanwhile, Jessica is bunkered deep inside the White House and hitting the sauce pretty good, too.

The novel is full of zingers that demonstrate the author’s insightful understanding of the political whores, who have haunted the White House, and particularly, the ones on Capitol Hill, who have been running our once grand Republic into the ground. Try this one from Jessica: “In the White House, the art of sucking up reaches celestial levels where everyone, I mean everyone, nods approvingly when Lance mutters some inanity as if he were Pericles addressing his fellow Athenians.” Didn’t that happen when that warmongering doofus Dubya was in the White House?

Up front, Venetoulis lets you know that if the characters in his tome resemble “any one living”, then it’s “purely coincidental.” There is a back story, however, before he sets the dramatic face off at the embattled White House. We learn that Lance and Jessica both hailed from Akron, Ohio, where they attended college together, before getting hitched up. I would swear that Lance is a composite persona of the intelligence-challenged Dubya; the air-headed, free market zealot, the late Ronald Reagan; and that over-sexed pride of Hope, Arkansas–“Bubba Bill” Clinton.

Now, Jessica is more difficult to tag. I would think she’s mostly Hillary, with just a touch of Laura Bush tossed in. Hillary is one tough b….! I think if it would have suited her, she would have, re: Zippergate, flung “Bubba Bill” out on the White House sidewalk. She wouldn’t, however, risk it. Why? Because, she knew that the role of the First Lady of Land was her stepping stone one day to the Senate, and maybe, if she’s lucky, to the White House itself.

“Hail to the Cheat” isn’t just about Jessica getting sweet revenge on Lance either, which is a lovely thought. If it were, I don’t think the plot would have worked as well as it does. It would have been too predictable and hoisted itself on its own petard.

Venetoulis wisely added another critical element to his story, which sharply deepened his plot line, keeps the ball rolling and the readers guessing. The author cleverly made the Iraq War, the Military-Industrial Complex, corruption on Capitol Hill and, literally, the kitchen sink–relevant. And, it is all plausible, too, as you cheer on our wannabe heroine, Jessica, and wonder, right to the very end: Is she going to make it to the finish line? Stay plugged in!

By the way, Jessica also gets some help in her mission from a gallery of First Ladies, most of whom have passed on from this mortal coil. The device utilized, in the context of this farce, works.

I said up front that “Hail to the Cheat” would make a terrific film. So, to that end, let me suggest for the role of that slimy Lance–Alex Baldwin. For the raging spitfire, but lovable Jessica, I would cast Alex’s ex-squeeze, Kim Basinger! In any event, these two talented thespians have experienced the no-holds-barred battles between ex-lovers. The director won’t have to answer any questions from either of them, such as: “What’s my motivation?”

I suggest you buy “Hail to the Cheat,” and laugh your butt off. (1) Be sure to also go see the movie when it does comes out, no matter who gets the lead.


[1]. The author’s web site is located at: http://www.hailtothecheat.com/ Venetoulis was raised in East Baltimore’s fabled “Greektown” neighborhood. Whatever you do, don’t tell those mad-as-hell “Tea Baggers”–that Venetoulis is a Liberal–and damn proud of it! [Wandering Sage Publications, 2009, 370 pp., soft cover, $17.95]