This scene happens really early in the book. It serves a few purposes:
- sets up Linda Haig as a believeable antagonist with her own goals
- sets her up as a deeply intelligent woman
- sets up the conflict between Linda and the president
- reveals a lot about the president’s background and her style of politics
- reveals a lot about Hugh – he’s basically a chess pawn, being pushed around the board even when he thinks he’s making his own choices
== 2064: Senator Linda Haig’s Office, Tester Senate Building
The office was “DC posh” – impressive enough to convey solidity, seriousness and power to visitors, but without anything that overtly said “wealth” or “privilege”. Tone was important.
Jim watched Senator Haig, who was leaned back in her chair behind her desk, and waited for her to break the silence. She did. “Tell me what you think, Jim.”
Great. Typical for Linda to make him show his cards first.
Jim Allabend steepled his fingers, trying to look thoughtful. Campaigns were his forte, not day-to-day politicking. “My read? The president is going to do it no matter what. So the question WE have to think about isn’t ‘is it a good idea?’, but ‘do we want to be on the bus or not?’.”
Senator Haig let a small smile creep onto her face. “Good. But take one step further back. If her plan works, what’s the result for us if we’re in? And if her plan doesn’t work, what’s the result for us if we’re in? And, of course, the same questions presuming we’re out.”
Jim nodded. It looked like Linda had already thought this through, and wanted an audience more than she wanted advice. Fine – he could provide that. “So are we in or out?”
“We can’t stay out – it comes across as rank disloyalty. At this point we need the president’s influence to get the assistant floor leadership next year. Not to mention that the rest of the district will read it as me not being a power player.”
Jim nodded. “OK, so we’re in.”
Lina gave him a disappointed look. “Think, Jim. It’s not that simple. If it goes well, then everyone involved smells like roses. But if it goes poorly, we need to set ourselves up for a graceful exit. Or if not graceful, at least survivable. How we position ourselves – THAT is the question.” She looked at him directly. “So how do we do that?”
Jim waited a moment, to make sure the question wasn’t rhetorical. Actually, he was pretty sure it was rhetorical, and the Senator would disagree with whatever he said…but if she wanted to use him to bat ideas around, so be it.
“The usual: we supported the president, emergency state of the economy, California earthquake, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…but if it all goes to shit, our line is that we expected better execution. She is, after all, the commander in chief. So you offered her advice and consent, but you were as apalled as anyone when it all went bad.”
The senator shook her head. “The most loved woman in America? You’re forgetting that people still watch reruns of her old shows. There are CLUBS that do it together, for God’s sake. We try to spin it that way, but she spins it right back: she was tricked. She was the only one with skin in the game, and we gave her bad advice.”
Jim squinted. “She wouldn’t say that – makes her look weak.”
Linda barked a laugh. “Jim, have you even studied the woman? Her confessional episodes were the most watched. The people love her as victim who picks herself up off the floor for one more go-around.”
Jim braced the thumb of his right hand against his cheek and massaged his temple with his first two fingers as he thought, then caught himself doing it and immediately stopped. “OK. Right. We – ah -.” He paused, out of ideas. Wait. “I’ve got it. A three part strategy. First, we lock her into her position with us, so that she can’t slip away and leave us hanging. Second, we set up the DoD to hold the bag if it goes bad. That works on two levels, actually – it gives us an out, AND it lets us do a favor for her: we’ve prepared her escape route.”
“And the third part of your plan?”
Jim grinned – this was his master stroke. “We make sure that you’ve got at least as much intel on the expat situation as she does. Maybe even more.”
“Even more? How?”
Jim thought for a long moment, then sighed. “That I don’t know.”
“What if I sent my son Hugh there? Or, rather, planted the seed and let him come up with the idea on his own?”
Jim looked at the ceiling and thought, then looked down, locking eyes. “Your son? So you’ve got behind-the-scenes intel- and then you’ve got a choice: you can keep it secret, but you can always reveal it as a sympathy play – ‘my own flesh and blood, behind enemy lines’.” He paused to consider it further before rendering judgement. “I like it. There’s just one problem.”
Senator Haig tilted her head. “And that is?”
“The president wants to move on this today, tomorrow at the latest. It will take a week, maybe more, to get Hugh there.”
Senator Haig smiled. “It’s a good thing I planted the idea in his head four months ago.”
Jim narrowed his eyes. Was she telling the truth about that?
If she was, she was playing the political game at least as well as he ran campaigns.
He thought for a moment.