Thursday, December 10, 2054

Chapter Eighteen

Three days later, at 10:45 a.m., Addie was overseeing the setup of the private back room of one of D.C.'s most exclusive restaurants. At 12:30 her guests would be arriving for a very discrete luncheon meeting. The preparation she was putting in, even the room itself, went far beyond what she would have normally invested for such a small lunch, but it was a miracle she'd managed to get these five men and two women to meet with her at all, much less on such short notice. Everything needed to be perfect...beyond perfect..

In a little less than two hours, this room would be the site of one of the most extraordinary discussions ever held. Her guest list read like an extremely abridged edition of Who's Who in American money and power.

-Evelyn Baumgarten, 86, matriarch to one of New York's wealthiest privately held banks; Direct descendant of Hezekiah Gottsman who founded the bank in 1769.

-Reese Bolling, 73, six-term senator from Michigan; the personification of a Maverick.

-Aldus Racklin, 52, CEO and President of Racklin Mining and Alloys, Inc., the company he'd inherited at the age of 23 on the event of his father's untimely death and brought from the brink of bankruptcy to become a hugely successful multinational corporation.

-Bernard "Chick" Gandolin, 34, Founder and CEO of Straightrazor, Inc., the company expected to overtake Microsoft within the next five years.

-Roberta Langham, 61, CEO of Galactic Artists Alliance, representing the most sought after stable of actors and directors in North America and Europe; survivor of four hostile takeover bids. Currently expanding into Asian Pacific Rim.

-Jordan Phillips, 58, owner of Phillips Investments, a brokerage house catering to a very small, select clientele.

-Bart Jefferson, 77, owner of Great West Timber, Inc., holder of much of the prime timberlands west of the Mississippi.

Each of these people was ambitious and fiercely competitive. They operated at a level of genius most people couldn't conceive. These were characteristics anyone would expect of people in their positions.

Addie, however, knew they had some less obvious attributes. Each of them was fanatically ethical while working in an atmosphere that invited the opposite. And each had the ironclad independence to maintain their positions. Senator Bolling, for instance, had changed party affiliation from Democrat to Republican and then back to Democrat. Immediately before running for his current term, he'd renounced affiliation with both parties, running on the independent "Bolling Ticket" and then took 71% of his state's vote.

During Addie's two and a half years at the White House, each of these seven people had periodically contacted President Harper to offer advice on one issue or another. He always took their calls. And Alan Gardner, being part of the inner circle, was usually privy to the content. Since Addie had a reputation for being able to accurately gauge public reaction to most policies, Gardner usually "bounced" things off her when the President was contemplating their advice.

The opinions of these seven people, while rarely being in agreement with each other, had two points of commonality. One, they always originated from an attitude of independence. Toeing the party line for the sake of toeing the party line was seen as the ultimate weakness. Two, they always displayed a devotion to doing what they thought best for the country, regardless of consequences. In short, they were patriots.

Aldus Racklin, unbelievably, had personally lobbied to have strict limits placed on strip mining. He argued, that without additional regulation, he'd be forced to continue the practice in spite of its calamitous effects, because his competition would still be doing it. He had no problem with the idea that his mining operations would cost more as long as the same rules applied to his competition. Strip mining would be a thing of the past and the mining operations could weather the storm.

Evelyn Baumgarten was a consistently reliable source of back-channel insight into the world of finance. Her usual reaction was that a financially secure institution could endure through most any climate or change in regulations and still turn a profit in the long run. The businesses that might suffer were the ones that were kiting their existence from one week to the next, anyway.

These were two people who could and did look at an issue from all points. Their conclusions, surprisingly, often reflected what they thought would benefit the country as a whole, even if it might cost them a portion of their profits. Unless legislation was going to unfairly hurt them relative to their competition, or might grievously damage the industry as a whole, they would quietly give their nods of assent.

At 12:10, Chick Gandolin was the first to arrive. While not a handsome man, he was anything but the stereotypical computer nerd. His early arrival was typical of the kinetic energy he usually displayed. He'd want to check out the field of battle first; to stake his claim before the others had a chance to get their bearings.

He immediately greeted Addie and thanked her for arranging the meeting; as if it had been at his behest. She'd only told each of them that she wanted to speak to them about an opportunity that might not arise again in this generation. She'd given no details, only promising that it wouldn't be a waste of their time. The fact that only three of the ten people she'd contacted had declined was a measure of her reputation. That alone was a tremendous boost to her confidence.

Finally, at 12:40, Jordan Phillips was the last to arrive. The group silently forgave him this one vanity. It was well known that Phillips would go to any length to avoid being seen as a supplicant. People waited for him, not the other way around.

A light lunch of soup, salad and filet of sole followed for the next forty-five minutes. Addie was not surprised that the lunch conversation never touched on business or politics; and no-one even obliquely tried to ascertain the purpose of the meeting. This was a group of people who took things in their proper order.

Finally, after coffee was served, (tea with milk for Mrs. Baumgarten), Addie rose and started her presentation. She thanked them warmly for attending, some at the inconvenience of cross-country travel. She took a deep breath and began, "As I told each of you when I asked you to be here, if you leave this room without unanimously supporting the action I'm proposing, then this venture will proceed no further. After being privy to some of the ideas you have each shared with President Harper, I'm of the opinion that if even one of you dissents, then my proposal does not merit further action."

She paused. "Before I make my proposal, please lend your attention to this videotape."

Over the next seven minutes, her audience was treated to a masterfully assembled "retrospective" of Paul Harkness' words and deeds. Intermixed were snippets of commentary about Harkness, including the President's ridiculous attack.

As the lights came up, she began again. "In less than eight months, America is going to elect either MacKinzie Harper or Jacob Carlson to be our next President. I know Carlson hasn't officially got the nomination yet, but it'll happen. The ubiquitous Reform Party will certainly put forward a candidate within the next few weeks, but we all know that if they manage to siphon off 6% of the popular vote, it'll be an accomplishment of epic proportions. In the end, we're looking at four more years of Harper."

"By this point, you probably have a clue where I'm going with this, and you'd be less than human if you didn't suspect me of trying to engineer a little revenge. You'll have to take my word for it, but I don't hold the President even remotely responsible for my dismissal; that was the work of Tom Douglas. I'm making this proposal in the firm belief that it is to the good of the nation, not with an eye toward retribution. I hope you'll be able to accept that as an article of faith."

Her audience eyed her with understandable skepticism. By now, they certainly knew where she was leading but they wanted to see what route she'd take to arrive at her conclusion. They had agreed to hear her out, and she'd be given every opportunity to convince them.

"The truth is", she continued, "President Harper has done as fine, if not a better job, than many of his predecessors. Jacob Carlson is undeniably an honorable man who would probably rise to the occasion if he were to miraculously defeat the President. So, if we let the election take its course, the nation will be fine. And that may just be my point. It doesn't really matter which of the two of them gets elected. Aren't both of these men essentially interchangeable when you try to imagine America 4 years from now?"

"I've asked you here to consider an alternative...a real alternative. I want each of you to take a leap of faith and try to imagine America after four years under a Harkness Presidency".

The room was silent. Knowing where the conversation was leading and actually hearing it said out loud were two distinct things. Each of them had nothing but objections swirling in their heads, but they were also each surprised to find themselves unable to utter a word. The idea was so ludicrous they were left speechless.

In spite of knowing exactly what her guests must be thinking, Addie plowed on with a calm confidence that came from knowing that, at least, she had their undivided attention. "Set aside the question of whether or not Harkness is electable. I firmly believe he is, but before we address that question, we need to agree on whether or not getting him elected would be a favorable outcome. I've asked you to imagine America after four years of Harkness in office. I don't know what comes to your minds, but here's what I envision. First, and possibly most important, we could return the country to the system of checks and balances the founding fathers designed. What we have now is either a President with the luxury of a majority in congress, or one who has to deal with the opposition. Either a rubber stamp or a firewall. I've listened to Harkness, and I'll tell you that as a flavor of the week hero, every facet of America loves him. As a politician who holds a variety of opinions that delight and abhor people in equal amounts on both sides of the aisle, he would be a force to be reckoned with".

"Don't get me wrong, I'm not promoting a man I view as middle of the road. That's just code for someone who always looks for the easiest compromise that creates the illusion of progress. Paul Harkness is most definitely not middle of the road; he's doing 65 on the off-ramp and he's challenging everyone else to follow him."

"If Harper or Carlson is elected, the country will be just fine. If Harkness is elected, I think we might experience a presidency the like of which this country hasn't seen in a half century or more."

Addie had rehearsed her presentation to conclude in precisely 20 minutes, the most she thought she'd be able to hold their attention. She knew it was the longest of long shots.

Three hours later, after responding skillfully to every doubt expressed, a candidacy and the birth of a political anti-party had been unanimously endorsed.

Now all she had to do was tell the candidate.

2 comments:

Kisintin said...

Very interesting. 20 Minutes presentation might be a little too long for the people of stature in that meeting. Most of the great speeches that people know today were done under six.

Matter of personal opinion, and something i picked up in my class recently.

Great hook!

Nathan said...

Once again...I'm glad someone's reading and enjoying. (I notice hits here on a regular basis, but without comments, it's hard to tell if anyone sticks around.)

Anyway, I'm kinda stuck on chapter 36 and have to break the logjam.