He inhaled deeply, like someone might before diving into a pool or singing a long note. The breath, and the voice, were familiar. But over the years an edge had crept into the voice. I’d tried to laugh it off, saying it was just the military training, but that didn’t seem quite right. When he was younger the voice had been pure — often pure excitement. Now, there was a tension, a trace of… anger.
Of course, I knew what he was asking before he had the time to say anything. Unfair, but a remnant from a time back in high school when we did everything together.
He was going to run for office. And he was going to ask me to run his campaign.
“Did I ever tell you exactly why I left the military?”
“No.” I responded, “You told me it was about your family.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” something was hanging in the air even though he had two kids, six and four, and the oldest was in kindergarden, “but it wasn’t just that. It started when I moved to Philly.”
Saying he moved to Philly always made me laugh — he lived in the ‘burbs,’ but it had meant we were closer and I got to see him and his family now and again.
“Part of my duties here was to go to all those fundraisers and everything and talk to people on behalf of the military. They loved me — always surprised that I was such a political junkie. I told them it was from growing up reading the post. I got really close to a couple of real good guys and they promised a shot at the House seat if Murphy decided to hang’em up. Word came down early last year, and I decided to get out.”
His breathing was faster now, as if he was anticipating my response.
I hoped I sounded convincing. Truth of the matter was, our interest in politics, and indeed our political ideologies, had disconnected years ago. He’d done the army years ago. He’d done the army thing while I’d been at Penn and later, Oxford studying social policy. See policy was my word, politics his. I was a wonk. He’d always wanted to be a celebrity.
“What do you think?” That same rushed breathing.
“A campaign. That’s exciting, it’s what you want, right?” I dodged.
“No. What do you think about…”
I knew exactly what he meant, but wanted him to say it.
“…running my campaign?”
There it was. I let it hang in the air for a second, unsure how to respond.
“I’m sure your friends have their own ideas…”
It should have signaled I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about the prospect.
“I told them I didn’t want their people; I wanted you. No high-paid, Washington insider, party hacks for me.”
“That wasn’t such a good idea.” I responded deliberately, “I’m just a professor, I’ve never…”
“Bullshit. Cut it with the humble pie, I’m just a professor act. First of all, your book is on every desk in Washington. Second, I hear you’ve been ghost-writing. You think I didn’t see the speeches? Bailey Hart rode you straight into office. This stuff is hot as can be in political circles. Rumor is you wrote half the state party platform.”
I took a deep breath; of course he knew about the ghost-writing. It was no secret. Still didn’t justify me running a campaign.
“We can’t just do this because we talked about it as kids.”
“No, I want you because you’re the smartest and the best.”
“This isn’t a game. I’m not a good fit.”
“I have a life here, a job I like. I’ve never done this before. I don’t know the first thing about your politics views, even what party you’re in.”
“Lunch. We’ll talk about it over lunch.”
“We’ll do it at Penn.”
“Faculty club. 12:30”
“Sounds good. And one more thing.”
“It’s the DNC that asked me to run.”