I told him how AT&T's stock had jumped when Robert Allen announced those layoffs. I took out the proxy statement showing how much Allen paid himself--it just happened to have come that morning. And I mentioned that if AT&T would have just awarded options struck at the price the day before the firings, these people would have had enough money for a down payment for a new business or a mortgage or college bills, instead of being angry at their company and their country.
Someone interjected that this seemed pretty fanciful. But the president waved me on. I talked some more. He told me he liked the idea and would look into it. My mind's a blank after that. It seems like there was some chitchat about foreign affairs and the campaign. And then it was over. As the president went by me, he gave me a big hug and said the stock-option plan was a "darn good idea."
I was as high as a kite. I recall nothing else until the time that I got to the airport to fly back to New York. There I called, in order, my wife, my sister, and my dad and told them that I had sat next to the president and told him about my stock-option idea, and that he had liked it. I was very proud. Still am.
No one ever called and asked me for money after the session. In fact, the only call that was made was by me, to try to get the picture of my meeting with the president. I subsequently gave more money to the party, but I still haven't gotten the picture. Nor did my stock-option idea go anywhere. So much for my influence.
But what I have gotten is a raft of phone calls from some of the best investigative reporters in the world, asking me all sorts of questions about quid pro quos and what I did to get the meeting and how much money I was shaken down for. The questions all sound like I was some sort of criminal for meeting with the president.
The other day, when I bought my Philadelphia Inquirer, I read the huge headline--"For Democrats, a little coffee, a lot of cash"--out loud while I was at the register. "Bunch of crooks," I heard somebody say. Everyone seemed to nod in agreement. Suddenly I realized that the press had transformed me from Jimmy Stewart to Claude Raines, as if I were stuck in a weird Bizarro anti-Capra version of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
"No," I said. "It was all very innocent."
They looked at me like I was crazy.
Maybe I am. But next time, I want the picture.
So would you.