One of the most intriguing characters I’ve had the privilege to imagine in my career as a novelist is a woman named Mickey Spainhour: a crusty, profane, hard-nosed political operative (if you’re casting the movie, think Shirley Maclaine). Mickey has nurtured the careers of politicians for years and in The Governor’s Lady, is – near the end of her life – providing advice and wisdom to her daughter Cooper, who is the newly-minted governor of her southern state.
Cooper, despite having been the daughter and later wife of a governor, is somewhat naïve about the behind-the-scenes machinations of the political process. Now, having taken office, she’s struggling to establish herself in the treacherous world of good-old-boy male-dominated politics. She and Mickey have been estranged for years, but now, she needs help. She needs Mickey, and Mickey needs a last political hoorah. Across the chasm that divides them, mother and daughter have an opportunity to re-connect. Mickey’s experience and savvy can become Cooper’s best resource.
My friend D.G. Martin, the host of “North Carolina Bookwatch” on the state’s public television network, reviewed The Governor’s Lady and, with his keen eye for nuggets of political wisdom, zeroed in on one particular piece of advice from Mickey. D.G.’s review is entitled, “Always, Always, Follow The Money.”
Mickey’s advice comes as Cooper is considering whether to approve a land transaction – a piece of state-owned land, swapped for another privately-owned tract. Cooper says it doesn’t appear any money is involved. Here’s Mickey’s take on it: “
“Don’t be sure. Money, real money, is quiet. So quiet you have to listen hard to hear it. The noise in politics, it’s mostly about what people call ‘issues.’ Folks at opposite ends of the spectrum yelling at each other: the gun nuts and Bible-thumpers over here, the bleeding hearts and tree-huggers over there. Smoke and fire, thunder and lightning. But back in the shadows, being quiet, are the people with the big money, people who stand to make a lot more money, depending on who holds office. And they don’t really care which bunch it is, gun nuts or tree-huggers. They can do business with either, or anything in between, or both at the same time. Don’t get me wrong, money people have ideas and opinions, but they rarely let them get in the way of their money. So always, always, follow the money.”
The debate about big money in American public life goes on – the buying of influence, the stacking of decks, the inside trading. Some believe that using money to sway political decision-making is simply the exercising of free speech; others think that big money drowns out the free speech of the little guy. Make up your own mind. But while you’re doing so, consider the wisdom of Mickey Spainhour.