We had a team of agricultural scientists that said it’s possible with our land and climate. Big Oil and greedy politicians had blocked the United States from doing it for years.
Our job was to convince the American People.
People are deathly afraid of change. Ideas have a life cycle. Early adopters jump on the bandwagon right away, eager to try the latest thing. Next, you have the show me types; they’re a little afraid to try anything new. They’re worried when they go to the pump there’ll be no gas. Third, there are the late adopters. After most people are convinced, then they’ll buy in. Last, you have the - that’ll never happen types. They’re quick to say it will never work. They wait until an idea is in common practice, then they go around telling everybody they thought of it years ago.
Bud liked to educate prospective big dollar supporters, “The first cars ran on bio fuel; back in 1880, cars were made to run on peanut oil. Hell, Henry Ford made the 1908 Model T to run on Corn Ethanol; he even had his own plant to produce it. This is nothing new, fellas. It’s been around for years! It’s easier than makin’ moonshine!”
Well what’s old is new again. Bio Energy had been hard to get across to the voters. Folks didn’t seem to get how it would create jobs. For this election, our message was honed to American Energy Works; we would link it with a new slogan - We Can.
Bio Energy sounds like something you flush.
I know people want a president, not a chemist. Focus group testing showed anything we tried sounds better after the words 'We Can'. I’d say the sexy stuff and leave the science to the talking heads.
America had done so well with corn technology, farmers had tripled the bushel yield per acre a decade ago. If American ingenuity could send a man to the moon, we could do the same for our homegrown fuel.
We’d all heard stories of guys working in their garages, who chanced upon a breakthrough technology, only to have it bought out by some oil company. Or worse - tales the inventor were quieted by the government in some conspiracy. That’s all science fiction.
We were holding a workable plan, the key feature being the planting of Jatropha, a hardy grass-like plant that grew in almost any soil. We would convince farmers to grow it and chemists would turn it into Bio Fuel. I preferred Jatropha to other feedstocks like soybeans because it couldn’t double as food.
I figured, why give people a reason to debate? Our experts laid the country out in a grid showing, by planting, just the available farmland of Kentucky; we could accomplish nearly half our national goal. Imagine what we could grow if we spread it around to all fifty states. The message had resonated so well in my home state, I’d won a third term.
Bud was telling donors, ‘It just makes good old-fashioned common sense!’
H. Bud Singer was in charge of the campaign and, in addition to fundraising, he was chiefly responsible for reshaping the message. I needed Bud because he could do and say things other men couldn’t or wouldn’t. Besides Bud, three other rising stars rounded out our core team, each in charge of a segment of the campaign.
Once we announced, we expected a flood of volunteers in addition to more paid staff. Our offices would be buzzing with enthusiasm and the aspirations of youth seeking a place to make their mark in the world. I had an uncanny knack for turning talented people into true believers.
Bud and I spent hours going over speech notes. Ideas didn’t come cheap; especially the kind that could lift us out of recession and pay our debt to China without going to war. We always ended believing the surest way to National Security and prosperity for America was to produce lots of cheap energy. Top economists calculated, for every one percent of energy produced on our soil, we would lower the import cost of oil by 3% and create a quarter million jobs. Our goal is to produce twenty percent of the energy we use and cause the price of world crude to plummet.
What’s scaring the Saudis is they knew it was possible; even their own scientists were telling them so. At least all the data we are continually sharing with them brought them to this conclusion. We have them so worried, the whole Middle East would be planted if they could grow anything in the desert. America has millions of acres of available farmland, a willing workforce, and people who can’t pay their oil bills nearly freezing to death in the Northeast. If ever there was a time for a message to resonate, this was it.
I met Bud Singer at Brown where I majored in economics. Bud was a Political Science undergrad, eventually getting a degree in law. He loved the strategy of politics and started working on congressional campaigns right out of law school. Later he headed a prestigious lobbying group, leaving it only to help me win the election to the senate. Bud was stocky and bald and stubborn, continuing to chain smoke even after having a couple of heart attacks.
Bud would say to big money donors – ‘We’ll have cheap energy like we had back in the 50’s and 60’s, so cheap the multi nationals fall all over themselves to bring production back to America.’ Privately he had a more ingenious plan. ‘We’ve got to make it economical to manufacture here again. Once we lure the Corporations back and get them hooked, we force them through taxes to keep the money and jobs here. Bud was right: politicians had made a crucial error rewarding American Corporations for sending jobs overseas, searching for cheap labor and short-term profits.’
Bud and I agreed that the richest Americans didn’t care where they made the money; they had quadrupled their wealth over the longest recession in history. Once we change the Energy Dynamic, the big players will all rush in for a piece of the action.
A trillion dollars worth of wealth would pour back into this country. We would appeal to their massive egos and call them patriotic - after all, they live here, anyway.
This time was nothing like our first presidential campaign, when our offices were housed makeshift in an old mattress store. One thing the first loss brought me was better positioning in the senate. In the most striking example of ‘it’s not what you know but who you know,’ greater name recognition had secured me a coveted position with the Armed Services Committee.
Our new headquarters were courtesy of our friends at TenStar, a Major Defense Contractor who wanted to get to know me better. They “rented” us the space, renovated to suit, and agreed to accept delayed payment over ten years.
Bud liked the idea, ‘That’s making the paper walk backwards, Jack!’
In addition to providing office space, TenStar would make the campaign an unsecured loan of five million dollars and provide the use of a corporate jet. Privately, the agreement was more complicated, involving several components. Provided Bud would sit on their Board and appear at Corporate Events, the lease debt would be considered settled. The caveat attached to the five million was after I left office I would speak at their annual meetings. Open-ended access was an assumed, but unspoken, part of the deal.
All in all, we considered that fair for us at this juncture, as we get closer, the arrangements will get better.
Sandy called on the speakerphone, “Brenner’s on the line. Can you take it, Jack?”
Joe Brenner, CEO of TenStar, personally arranged for the space. TenStar made major weapons systems including a prototype fighter - code name, Phantom, that could enter Earth’s Orbit and fire weapons from space. Sort of an X-35 meets the space shuttle. The problem was, Brenner and his counterparts were the guys who lobbied Congress to shut down the U.S. Shuttle Program.
I picked up the phone, “How the hell are you, Joe,” mirroring his usual style and tone.
Joe fired back, “I’m well, Jack, just calling to see how you boys are settling in.”
“We’re doing fine.”
“How’s the donor money flowing in?”
“Don’t worry, Joe, you got us cheap.”
He chuckled, “We’ll see, Jack. You’ve still got to do well in New Hampshire and you’re not that well-known in the Northeast.”
“Thanks for the heads up, you son of a bitch! If Bud ever decides to leave politics, I’ll know who to call.”
Joe laughed, “I don’t think I’m ready for that. I’ve got all I can handle right here, but Jack, you let me know if you need anything.”
“Thanks, Joe, we’ll have a drink together in the White House, and seriously, I appreciate your support. We’ll talk soon.”
I could count on that, since the Phantom’s projected price tag was estimated at eleven billion per copy.
“Hey, Jack, I heard you were headed out of the country. Anyone I know?”
Joe was always snooping.
I laughed, “If I told you I’d have to kill you, so you’re better off.”
Joe’s laugh sounded forced. We said goodbye.
Sandy tilted her head in, blonde hair hanging down to the doorknob.
Still smiling, I thought she mistook my grin for a reaction to the plunging sweater blouse she was wearing.
Girlishly, “Senior Staff is ready when you are, Jack.”
I figured I’d just go with it to make up for semi-ignoring her before.
“Hey step in here a second.”
“Why, Jack, you need something,” flirting.
“I didn’t get the chance to tell you before; you look fantastic! Is that a new outfit?”
Sounding like a spoiled twenty, “Yes, do you suddenly like it? I didn’t think you noticed me, running through the building to look at your stupid car.”
“Well, I’m noticing now. You look gorgeous. Wow, Honey!”
“Well, better late than never, I guess…Thanks, Jack.”
Her look and the way she practically bounced out of the room told me she was happier.
I was sitting at my desk when Bud arrived, taking his usual seat on one of the sofas.
My office was shaped like an L. Our gathering area consisted of two black leather couches, a couple of wing back chairs, and my desk, all in a tight-knit square.
Bud asked, “How’s everything going today?”
Looking over my reading glasses, “Good, have you finalized the distribution points for the large donations?”
Bud answered, “Everything is set to go. The pump is primed, all we need is the cash.”
“You’re the wizard, Bud, great work.”
Bud had been working for months setting up Super Pac’s that would be controlled by us. The Committees could spend as they wished and collect vast contributions without burdensome regulations. Advertising on television is expensive, even on the local level. Regardless of cost, it’s critical to catch voters in that semiconscious state.
TV helps instill a positive and familiar ‘I know that guy’ kinda feeling. I don’t believe an election could be won without it. To be ingrained, our message has to be playing over and over. I still remember ads I haven’t seen since I was a kid.
The bottom line is - in order for us to make the financial commitments necessary to influence the election we have to set up these channels. I was confident Bud would handle our finances in a way that would still allow us to accept Federal Matching Funds. The people he placed in charge of the Super Pacs would be handsomely rewarded with opportunities, either in the White House, or with corporations that supported us. The system’s crazy; we had no choice but to work the gray areas if we want to win.
Next into the office was Robert “Tip” Thornton, after him, my best buddy, Bill Mitchell, and finally Lisa Pennington. The hit squad, we liked to call it.
This group, along with Sandy, was our inner circle.
We had an understanding of total candor - no subject was off-limits. We liked thinking out loud, knowing everything would stay with us. Secondary staff was on a need to know basis.
Bill was first to speak, holding up his thumb and fore finger an inch apart, “I’m this close to finalizing the trip to see the Saudis.”
We were priming the Crown Prince to be a keystone contributor. We would need a quarter billion to win this thing and we were banking on him to give us a big piece of that.
I said to the group, “If I can get twenty from them, we could get some of the others to pony up. Everybody likes to follow the big dog.”
Bill said, "They’re going to want some heavy assurances that you’ll stall the home still, Jack. Are you prepared to lie to these guys?”
“The truth would be really quaint right now, Bill. Listen, they’ve been selling us high-priced tar for years, sucking the life out of our economy. I don’t care what I have to say at this point! If we’re gonna do this thing and bring America back, we’ve got to hold our noses and do it. If any of you have a problem with this, try focusing on the ordinary Americans who are suffering. We need to tip the scales back in their favor!”
Bud added, “If any of you think there’s any other way to win, speak up now, because it’s now or never. Once we go over there, we’re in it up to our eyeballs!”
Lisa piped back, “I agree with Jack, I’m sick of seeing Americans losing their homes! This is our chance to finally have the power to do something about it.”
“Power isn’t given, it must be seized,” I asserted, “We’ve got to pull the rug out from under these guys, before they catch a whiff of what’s coming.”
Tip was a man of few words and had one quirk: he refused to ever repeat himself. When he spoke, we all piped down for fear of missing even a single word. It was always interesting. An ex-Navy Seal, he was in charge of security for the campaign. I trusted him with my life. Decorated for Valor in Iraq, he was recruited with a sub-agency of the NSA. Tip and company had been dropped into hotspots all over Afghanistan to hunt for snipers. The agency believes ‘it takes one to hunt one’ and chose candidates based on natural ability, recruiting secretly out of the military. His group eliminated targets considered security threats to the United States. Nicknamed King Cobra, Tip commanded an elite squad outfitted with sophisticated survival gear, capable of encampment behind enemy lines for days at a time. Tip saved lives by surgically removing the enemy’s instruments of death. The existence of the team was never made public.
Genre – Political Thriller
Rating – PG