After a professional lifetime of chronicling the feats and foibles of politicians, I got to wondering what it might be like to become one.
One doesn’t enter into a career-changing venture like this without realizing that votes aren’t cheap. Well aware of the late Jesse Unruh’s dictum about money being the “mother’s milk of politics,” I set out to get me some.
Working my network of sources, I discovered a shadowy political action committee rumored to be funded by both the Democratic and Republican parties. Expecting a Park Avenue address in Manhattan, I was surprised to find it in the back room of a Dunkin’ Donuts in Poughkeepsie.
On the door was a sign with big letters reading “PPAC.” Inside, seated behind a desk was an officious-looking, bespectacled gentleman who smiled, welcomed me to the headquarters of the Politicians Political Action Committee and asked what he could do for me. On the wall behind him were large, framed photographs of Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich.
“I want to be a politician,” I said. “I understand this is the place to get started.”
The gentleman opened a desk drawer and with a practiced hand moved a piece of paper from it onto the desk. It seemed to be a form of some kind that he hovered over with a yellow No. 2 Ticonderoga pencil. He asked me my name and why I want to be a politician.
“Well,” I said, “I’m very civic-minded, have schooled myself on the issues and have a desire to work tirelessly to represent my constituents with the utmost integrity.”
The guy tried unsuccessfully to stifle a laugh. He leaned back in his chair and guffawed. Presently, he wiped the moisture from his eyes and regained his composure.
“Good one,” he said. “Now really, what do you want from a political career?”
“Well, OK,” I said. “I want the five-figure speaking fees, the junkets to exotic places at the public’s expense, to be wined and dined by lobbyists and well … you know ...”
“Ah,” he said, “the women who fawn over politicians?”
“That would be swell,” I replied.
“That’s more like it,” he said, making a mark on the form with his pencil. “Let’s see what we can do for you. For what office would you like to run?
“I dunno,” I said thoughtfully. “I thought I might start small, maybe the U.S. House of Representatives.”
“Fine,” he said before running through a laundry list of questions concerning my work background, education and political affiliations before coming to the final item.
“And what,” he asked, “is your scandal?”
“My scandal? I don’t know what you mean. I haven’t been involved in any scandals.”
The gentleman looked at me like I had just said I didn’t have a nose.
“But surely you absolutely must have a scandal if you expect to get elected to anything these days,” he said with no room for disagreement. “Graft or stealing from funds that feed poor children won’t cut it anymore. A good sex scandal is required.”
“I … I don’t understand,” I said, hoping the room would stop spinning in front of my eyes.
The fellow spoke to me as if to a child.
“Look who’s running for office these days,” he said. “Eliot Spitzer spends 80 grand on hookers, gets caught and resigns as governor of New York. Five years later, he’s running for New York City comptroller, and I wouldn’t bet against him.
“Same thing with Sen. David Vitter in Louisiana. Had a thing for ladies of the evening, says he’s sorry, then gets re-elected with no problems.
“And former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner? He sends photos of his privates to every woman in the world except the queen of England, resigns in disgrace, and now he’s the favorite to be the next mayor of New York City.”
“Wait a minute,” I say, “What about Florida Rep. Mark Foley, who came on to young male congressional pages? He resigned and didn’t run for anything again. And neither did former Idaho Sen. Larry ‘Wide Stance’ Craig, who got busted for lewd conduct in an airport men’s room.”
“But,” my interviewer replied, “for every Foley and Craig there’s a Barney Frank, who stayed in Congress for 20 years after some unpleasantness regarding a male prostitute. And look at Ted Kennedy, Chuck Robb, Ken Calvert and Mark Sanford, all of whom got elected after getting caught messing around with women who were not their wives.”
He turned and pointed to the photographs of Clinton and Gingrich.
“Giants,” he said reverently. “These men are giants. All those scandals, and one man is our most popular living ex-president, and the other won the South Carolina Republican primary last year.”
“Excuse me,” I say, “about my running for office?”
“I got nothing for you, fella.” he says, “Come back after you’ve gotten caught doing something scandalous.”
Sam Pollak is the editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (607) 432-1000, ext. 208. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/sampollak.