max out

Even if my co-worker had not set the thermostat to 84, it would have been hot enough. Even if it wasn’t North Carolina in the summer, it would have been humid enough. Even if it wasn’t 5:09 on a Friday, when my boss was out of town, it would have been late enough. Even if I had not read about securitization of HSBC’s subprime mortgages all day, it would have been “tempting-to-ignore” enough.

Dayenu. The telephone was ringing. Who was calling me now?

“This is Kim from the John Edwards campaign,” says the voice on the line, “I have Operations Director Andrew Young on the phone for you.”

Funny. It sounds like a secretary, definitely not like a machine.

“Great,” I say, stumbling out of my languor, “put him on the line.”

My thought is that I am going to be asked to do something on behalf of my boss, since he is Ireland right now and can’t take this call.

“This is Adam at CRA-NC.” People like that, I think. At least in principle. Except that in practice it does sound a bit odd. I wonder if they think that they have reached a hotline for something illicit.

“Tom!” he says. “You’re on for the party, right?”

“Er, this is Adam Rust.” I feel compelled to remind this guy about my stature. “Adam Rust, from CRA-NC.”

“Right,” he says, “this is Andrew Young, from John Edwards’ campaign. I’m calling to invite you to John Edwards’ birthday party. He is going to be 54.”

Axel, the eight-year old under the care of one of my co-workers, scoots by on his heelies in the hallway. Axel is very cool.

“I mean, I’m a Democrat and all,” I respond, “but I don’t think you are calling the right guy.” Actually, I am sure he is calling the wrong guy. “Tom” is the right guy. The relevant question is if he knows that he is calling the wrong guy, too.

“No,” he says. I think I can hear Andrew clicking the wheel on his address book in his Blackberry. But the conversation has slowed, and he’s still got me on the line. “You are on our list. You supported in the past.”

“You did, didn’t you?”

“I think we did.”

Axel wheels by, again.

“Where is the party?”

“At John’s law offices. At 6:30, Sunday.”

I can think of a few awkward questions that would only be relevant to modern campaign finance. Like, instead of ‘what should I bring,’ more like ‘how large of a bucket of cash should I be prepared to bring?’ But I go with more silence.

“Er, just remind me, what exactly is the address over there?”

That would be because I don’t know the name of his law firm, its location, or anything.

“3201 Glenwood.”

“In Raleigh, right? Well,” I tell him, “we’ll be there.”

Should I wear the brown khakis with the blue and white stripe shirt, given that I can only put my hands on one black dress belt and no brown dress shoes? My mother would be crying. I think I have achieved a real David Letterman look. Susie looks great. She’s got it cold — maybe its a North Carolina thing.

That is ok, though, because although this party is in a law firm, a number of people are wearing sandals and shorts. Of course some are wearing Chanel, and plenty more look like they are ready for the Kappa Kappa Gamma spring social.

But he is not arriving. Susie and I chat with Woodie and Brenda Cleary from Cary. Who are very nice, having housed 10 exchange students while balancing his career in the oil business. They have one son who is an economist in Syria and another who is a doctor.

Edwards arrives with his his wife, about two hours late. He had another event in Chapel Hill, a barbecue, $15 a head, thousands of fans….He’s wearing Levi’s (34-32). We gather in the lobby of Edwards’ former firm, Kirby and Holt. There’s a shiny brick floor and a sheet cake in the corner. There are about 95 people here. That includes John and Elizabeth, a lot of campaign staff, as well as former four-term North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt, and his wife Carolyn. The former Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court. A Sanford or two. The president of the UNC system. And a lot of high schoolers.

This is a few of his friends, his law partners, his fertility doctor, his neighbors, Governor Hunt… No Tom, though.

I think Andrew Young is the guy in the foyer speaking in nothing but crosstabs: South Carolina, Obama 52, Hillary mid-30s…” He is interrupted whe a blazer-clad friend gallops by.

“Great event!” he says.  He rubs his hands together.  “MMMoney!”

“We need you all to max out,” booms partner David Kirby. Maxing out is when you give the maximum allowed by campaign finance law. Currently, that amounts to $1,000 per person to a candidate, plus $5,000 to the political action committee of any political party and $20,000 to a national party. And then you can give another round through your business.

That is the hard part of running a campaign that today’s New York Times says is built around a “Poverty Platform.”

Uh, like I said, I’m from CRA-NC. We won’t be doing any maxing. You know, I have checked the matching campaign funds box on my tax return for a number of years. And, since Susie and I got married and started filing a joint return, I suppose that support has doubled.

I have to say that he was very powerful.

“Are you telling me that Giuliani is going to beat me in the South? Are you kidding? That sounds like some kind of joke! Or Romett, what’s his name?”

His message was that most of our big issues are interrelated. Energy use relates to global warming, and dependence on oil fuels the very terrorism that got us into Iraq. Free places without oil, like Dubai in the UAE, show how investing in people only occurs with the lure of easy petrodollars.

He got technical. He wants to develop wind energy, biofuels, and solar. He doesn’t want to permit another new coal-fired power plant. He wants to cap and trade.

He is almost angry when he talks about Iraq (which he promised to exit from upon winning office) or about crumbling schools. His wife told everyone that the Supreme Court’s decision last week to limit employer liability tested decency. People need to stop staring at their televisions and start thinking about people. Yes, we’ll definitely write a check. He earned that, no doubt. Susie wants to canvass again.

Kirby opened up for questions. There were four.

I was third: I raised my hand. Would this be the time to ask him if he was reading those peak oil web sites, too? I think, I’ll hold on that. I wonder, are the words “Interloper” printed across my forehead? Is he enough of a candidate to ferret out the scurrilous ex-journalist in the crowd?

“I’ve got two kids, four and two,” I ask. “We have a small 529. But I can look out and see the cost of tuition going up, see friends whose kids struggle to get into colleges that don’t appear to be making any more space for students, and I wonder if you or Governor Hunt have something to say about what needs to be done.”

He was on fire: He pointed his finger at me, at the people around the room, squinted, and spoke loudly.

In some many words, he said something like this:

You see, no kid who is willing to work should be denied a chance to go to college. If you can work, my plan will fund a chance to give kids at least a year of college. If kids drown in college debt, they can’t change the world with their dreams. Cutting school funding is crazy. The only way that the US will ever remain a power is through training the next generation for high-skill jobs.

He mentioned that a demonstration project of his plan sent all of the graduates of a rural North Carolina high school on to college this year.

We have to go.  We pull away from the circle.  It closes right back, around the candidate.

Susie grabs some birthday cake on the way out. Our baby sitter has been waiting.  We are the first to go.

Actually, we are not.  Gov. Hunt is waiting for his wife in the doorway.  We intersect.  Susie has to tell him about her graduate thesis on coverage of his campaign against Jesse Helms. Governor Hunt listens politely, standing at the door of his SUV.

As we walked to the car, I figured it was time to tell Susie about Tom, the guy who was supposed to be going to this party.


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