Authors: Stuart Woods
Tags: #Thriller, #Politics, #Mystery
“Why thank you, Joe,” Will managed to say.
“But he didn’t ask. Instead he told me he had decided not to appoint a new vice president. He’s under no constitutional obligation to do so, of course, and he said that, with barely more than a year left to serve, he thought that the speculation surrounding the appointment and the jockeying for advantage by various groups would create too much distraction from the important issues he wants to resolve before he leaves office. As it happens, I think he’s right, but if I resigned, his failure to appoint a successor would leave us with an unacceptable situation: It would put the Speaker of the House in line to succeed the president, if he should die before his term ends.”
Will nodded his understanding.
“Now, I’ve always made a great effort to have good relations with the Speaker, and I’ve tried to consider his position on various issues, but I have to tell you that his positions are so bizarre, sometimes, and always so self-serving and partisan, at the expense of the country, that I swear, if he became president, I’d have to shoot him myself.”
Will and Kate both laughed.
“But rather than entertain that possibility,” the vice president continued, “it seemed simpler just not to re
sign my office and continue to campaign for the presidency as vice president.”
Will blinked. “
Continue to campaign?”
he asked incredulously.
Adams held up a hand. “Easy, Will; I’m not crazy yet. In my condition, I’d never try to be elected president. There’ll come a right moment to leave the race, and when it happens, I’ll recognize it, but it’s not now. The best medical advice I can get is that the progress of my disease will be slow, and that there’s no reason why I shouldn’t serve out my term. I’d like to do that, especially because I know now that I can never be president. I think that I can have a positive influence on events and, particularly, on the next session of Congress, if I remain in office.”
Will conceded to himself that that was so.
“However, I don’t want my medical condition to become public knowledge as long as I can lead a fairly normal life. That would keep me from having any influence on events, and I don’t want that while I can be a positive force in national affairs. I announced for the presidency early on, in order to discourage some other potential candidates, and if I withdraw now, I’ll have to explain why, and I can’t think of an explanation that would ring true. I’d have the press all over me, probing into my life for the real reason, and eventually they’d find it.”
“That’s true enough,” Will said.
“So I plan to continue as if nothing were wrong,” Adams said. “I’ll do my job as vice president, I’ll do the minimum necessary in the way of campaign appearances, and I’ll continue to raise money.”
“Joe,” Will said, “that troubles me, because when you finally do withdraw from the race it will be apparent that you will have been accepting campaign dona
tions under what amounts to false pretenses. I don’t think you can do that.”
“I’ve already addressed that problem,” Adams said. “What I plan to do is to make an offer to every campaign contributor at the time of my withdrawal. I’ll give them a choice: I’ll refund their donation; I’ll direct it to the campaign of any candidate they designate; or I’ll turn it over to the Democratic Party. I’ll mail a form to every contributor that they can fill out, sign, and return, and I’ll act on those wishes.”
“Have you given any thought as to when you might withdraw?”
“Early on, but after the Iowa caucuses and the earliest primaries, like New Hampshire.”
Will nodded. “Are you sure you’re doing the right thing, Joe?”
“No, I’m not. I’m just making the best decision I can in the circumstances. If I announce my condition and resign now, then all I can do is go home to Florida, sit on the beach, and wait to go crazy and die. If I stay on, I can have some real influence on the president’s legislative program and on next year’s congressional elections. The Republican majority in both houses is razor-thin, and I want to win back both the Senate and the House, as well as a great many governorships. If I’m out of office, I’ll leave a vacuum, and I don’t want that.”
“I can understand your position, Joe,” Will said.
“Sue supports me in this,” Adams said. “She’s always been my closest advisor, and she’s going to stick close to me to be sure that I don’t do the wrong thing because of a memory lapse—which, by the way, is my principal symptom so far—short-term memory loss. I’d like to stress that I am
delusional. I plan to deal with my memory lapses by having notes taken at every
opportunity, so that nothing will get by me. I’ll depend a lot on Sue for that.”
“That’s a good idea,” Will said.
“There’s something else, Will,” Adams said. “When I withdraw, I’m going to do so in your favor. I’m going to ask my contributors to assign their contributions to your campaign.”
Will had not yet given any thought to his own position, and he was stunned. “That’s incredibly generous of you, Joe,” he managed to say. “But Kate and I are going to have to talk about this.”
“Of course you will,” Adams replied. “Fortunately, you have the holidays ahead of you, and there’ll be time before you announce.”
“Announce?” Will said.
“I want you to announce for the presidency right after New Year’s; I want you to have established yourself as a candidate independent of me in the minds of the electorate before I withdraw.”
“I’ll have to give that a lot of thought, Joe.”
Sue Adams spoke up. “Will, speaking for myself, I think you’re now the Democrat who is best qualified for the presidency. You’re well established at the center, as well as at the heart of the party, and Joe and I want to see you elected next November.”
“We certainly do,” Adams said. “You are superbly qualified by temperament, training, and intellect. As far as I’m concerned, nobody in
party comes close.”
Will warmed to the praise, but he was being sucked into this little conspiracy, and he wasn’t entirely comfortable with it.
Adams seemed to sense his disquiet. “Will, all I’m asking you to do is to help me make a graceful exit from public life, while accomplishing as much as I can
in the time remaining to me. Is that too much to ask of a close friend?”
“No, certainly not,” Will replied.
“Good,” Adams said. “Call me when you’ve made a decision about announcing.”
Will took off from College Park Airport and called Washington Center for his clearance, as the Marine lieutenant had instructed him to do. To his surprise, he was cleared direct to his home airport in Warm Springs, Georgia, instead of being routed on airways. He climbed to his assigned altitude of 18,000 feet, leaned the engine, punched the identifier for Warm Springs into his GPS computer, switched on the autopilot, and sat back, doing an instrument scan every minute or so.
Hardly a word had passed between him and Kate on the helicopter ride back to College Park, and until now, he had been too busy flying to talk. He wanted to talk.
“This whole thing scares me to death,” Will said.
“You? Scared of running for president?”
“Not that, so much; it’s Joe’s situation. It’s like a bomb that may or may not go off.”
“Do you really think he’s doing the right thing?”
Will shrugged. “I’m not sure there’s only one right thing,” he said. “It would be right if he announced his condition publicly and resigned, but who’s to say that what he’s doing is wrong? He has some very good points about his usefulness to the party and the country over the next months. I certainly wouldn’t deny him that.”
“You understand that, if the bomb goes off, it’s going to hurt you, as well as Joe.”
“Maybe; that’s entirely unpredictable. I’ve been thinking back over the history of the presidency, and the only thing I can think of that resembles this situation is Woodrow Wilson’s illness in office, and his wife’s acting for him. Of course, it’s not quite the same thing; Joe’s not president. If he were, I think he’d have to resign, regardless of the consequences.”
“Do you think Reagan was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s during his last term?”
“I don’t know; it’s possible, I guess, and it’s also possible that nobody really noticed. After all, he was the oldest president, and you’d expect some slowing down at that age.”
“Remember when he had to testify in court? He said ‘I don’t recall’ dozens of times. At the time I thought he was dissembling, but maybe he really didn’t remember.”
Kate was quiet for a while, then she spoke. “If you do this, it’s going to play hell with our lives.”
“That’s true of everybody who ever ran for the office,” Will replied. “Do you not want me to do it?”
“Oh, Will, I think you’d make a superb president, you know that.”
“I’m glad you think so. What we have to get clear between us is what your role is going to be.”
“What do you want my role to be?”
“We have two choices, I think: One is that you resign from the Agency and play the campaign wife. I know you don’t want to do that, and I don’t expect you to. The other is for you to remain at the Agency and do your job. I can say, in campaigning, that my wife and I are both public servants and that we decided, together, that the country would be best served by your remaining at the Agency.”
“Sounds good to me,” Kate said.
“Understand, though, that there are times when I’ll want you at my side: at the convention, for instance, and, if I get the nomination, on election night.”
“At the whole convention, or just for the smiling and waving at the end?”
“At the whole convention, I think. There has to be
time when the party and the press get to feel that you’re a real person and not just a cardboard cutout that’s set up for photo ops.”
“All right, I can take vacation time for the convention.”
“Also, when I make evening appearances in or around Washington, I’d like you on the platform, work permitting.”
“Work permitting, okay. What about Peter?”
“The last night of the convention and election night only; that’s all I’ll ask of him. I don’t want to interfere with his schooling or with his relationship with his father.”
“Yes, that would
set Simon off.”
“I don’t want you to press Peter to do this; I’d rather not have him there than have him think I’m imposing on our relationship.”
“Peter loves you, Will; you know that. He’ll be glad to help.”
“You’re going to have to warn him about the press, too, and…” Will stopped.
“Tell him to stay out of trouble?”
“Well, yes. He’s a normal kid, and I want him to stay that way, but I don’t want him getting busted for smoking pot, or anything like that.”
“I think that’s a reasonable request”—she laughed—“and I think he’ll think so, too.”
“I’ll need to talk about this with my folks, of course,” Will said.
Kate laughed. “You think they’re going to discourage you? It’s their dream come true!”
“Who else should you talk to?”
“I wish Ben Carr were still alive; I’d sure like to talk to him.”
“Tom Black, of course; I’d want him to run the advertising and to advise, in general. I’ll want Kitty Conroy and Tim Coleman on board right away.” Conroy was the chief of his Senate staff, and Coleman, his press secretary.
“You need a top politician to be campaign manager,” Kate said. “Maybe another senator, to do for you what you were going to do for Joe Adams.”
“I’ll have to think about that,” Will replied. “Nobody jumps to mind, and a third of them will be running for reelection.”
“Thank God you don’t have to make that decision—whether to run for president or for reelection to the Senate. At least, if you lose, you’ll still be in the Senate.”
“There is that.”
“All in all, Senator, I’d say you were in pretty good shape.”
“Sure, all I have to do is beat a big field in the pri
maries and a Republican in November and, along the way, raise sixty or seventy million dollars.”
“Oops, forgot about that.”
“I’m not president yet. Of course, in the event that I actually get elected, the problem of your role is going to be a thorny one.”
“Will, I cannot be Nancy Reagan or Rosalyn Carter or Eleanor Roosevelt.”
“I understand that, but even if you stay at the Agency, there’ll be a lot of times when you’ll have to be at the White House—interviews, events, state dinners, and receptions—and probably some foreign travel.”
“I know the situation is different now than when we talked this morning,” she said, “but do you really think that, if you were president, you could appoint me head of Central Intelligence?”
“I think a better thing would be for me to appoint a group to evaluate candidates and make a recommendation. If you were among the recommended, it would be a lot easier to appoint you. Certainly, there’s no precedent for a first lady holding down a top government job. Not even Bobby Kennedy’s appointment as attorney general was as sensitive as that. Can we leave it that I’ll do the very best I can?”
“I suppose we’ll have to leave it that way.”
“At worst, you could stay in your present job. And anyway, if I’m
elected, you have no guarantee of ever having the top job. The fact that you’re my wife would probably weigh against you with almost any president, certainly with a Republican.”
“You mean, my best shot is having my husband in the White House?”
Will laughed. “You said that; I didn’t.”
“All right, I’ll accept that: Nepotism is my best hope. But how am I going to hold down a full-time job
at the Agency and still attend all these state dinners and receptions?”
“Listen, I’d have to hold down a job as president, while attending them.”
“Touché,” she said.
They were met at the Warm Springs airport by Henry, the African-American retainer and factotum who had served the Lee family for decades. Will shook Henry’s hand, inquired after his health and that of his wife, Marie, and got a satisfactory reply. Henry looked little older than he had ten years before.