“Let’s look at this realistically,” Buck Gallagher said as he spread some graphs and charts on the table. “Blankenship’s retirement gives you the best chance you’re ever going to have to move up to Congress.”

“That’s exactly my thinking,” Cameron Bates said.

“However,” Gallagher went on, “you’ve got to come up with something awful to apologize for in the next six weeks. Otherwise, years from now, your obituary is going to be headlined ‘Longest-Serving City Councilman Succumbs.’”

Bates, a young man who was only in his first term on the City Council, looked stunned. Gallagher was considered the hottest campaign consultant in the state—candidates competed to hire him for the one race he managed in each election cycle—but his advice sounded counterintuitive. “How can you be so sure?” Bates asked.

“Because this is the year for redemption,” Gallagher said. “Anthony Weiner said he’s sorry that he sent out pictures of his eponymous bulge, and some polls show him leading in the race to be mayor of New York. If he isn’t, Christine Quinn is. She had so much to reveal about alcoholism and bulimia and God knows what else that I was surprised she didn’t lend some of it to other candidates, the way those corporations lay off surplus from their carbon emissions quotas.”

“But that’s just one race.”

“One race!” Gallagher said. “How about Mark Sanford, who’s sorry he told his staff he was hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was really with his sweetie in Argentina? Why, the man put a phrase in the language: I’ve heard people say, ‘Are Ben and Margaret just pals or do you think they’ve been hiking the Appalachian Trail?’ Three years later, Sanford won his old congressional seat by nine points. And Eliot Spitzer is leading the race for New York City comptroller, after apologizing profusely for paying some kinky guides to walk the Appalachian Trail with him.”

“But people always told me to keep my nose clean if I wanted to run for public office someday,” Bates said. “I was an Eagle Scout. I was in my church youth choir.”

“You were wasting your time, my friend,” Gallagher said.

Cameron Bates looked puzzled. Gallagher thought for a moment and then said, “I don’t suppose by any chance you were ever involved in a ménage à trois.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t speak French,” Bates said. “My old mentor told me that speaking French was something that could be used against you in a campaign.”

“There’s got to be something,” Gallagher said.

Bates was silent for some time. Then he said, “I might have done a little weed in college.”

Buck Gallagher rolled his eyes. “Cameron,” he said, “this is not 1991. The president did a little weed in college. It wouldn’t shock anyone if the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Lubavitcher Rebbe copped to doing a little weed in college.”

Bates looked let down, like a student who had aggressively raised his hand in class until he was called on, only to be told by the teacher that he had the wrong answer.

“Maybe I could do something awful now and then apologize for it,” he said.

“You’ve got a time-frame problem, my friend,” Gallagher said. “You can’t just have a quickie with an exotic
dancer and then three weeks later hold a press conference where you say, ‘I’ve changed. I’m a new person.’” Gallagher began putting his graphs and charts back in his briefcase.

“What are you doing?” Bates said.

“A consultant who does only one campaign a cycle can’t afford to lose that campaign,” Gallagher said. “It would be damaging.” He snapped his briefcase shut, grabbed Bates’s hand for a quick shake, and started toward the door.

“I drove my father’s car before I had a license,” Bates called after him. “I sometimes don’t recycle my milk cartons. I’ve speeded plenty of times. Plenty of times!” But it was too late. Buck Gallagher was out the door.

John Nichols looks at the brilliance and arrogance of Eliot Spitzer.