Thursday, February 07, 2008

To Give Or Not To Give

Back in 2004, I received a letter from Nancy Pelosi. Much like Princess Leia’s “help me Obi Wan Kenobi” hologram in “Star Wars”—only without the crazy cinnamon bun hairdo—Ms. Pelosi implied that my assistance was urgently needed if the Democrats were to have a prayer of ousting Darth Vader in the coming election. I sent her $25.

My mistake.

For openers, if you recall the results, I got zero return on my investment. Even worse, the Democratic National Committee was convinced in me it had landed a tuna, when in fact it had hooked a minnow. Or a plankton. Or whatever it is that plankton eat. In other words, my pockets do not run deep.

Try telling that to the DNC. Ms. Pelosi’s missive has been followed by notes from John Kerry, Al Gore and Howard Dean, along with phone calls from some guy named Jeff who refuses to grasp the concept that additional funds will not be forthcoming.

I only have myself to blame. I got into a similar pickle when I donated $25 to the Sierra Club. Well, that opened the floodgates to the World Wildlife Fund, Amnesty International, the National Resource Defense Council, Habitat for Humanity, and Save the Plankton. The onslaught reminded me of those emails from Amazon, which make sweeping generalizations about one’s personality based on a single purchase: “Patricia [never mind that no one calls me Patricia except my credit card company], we see that you like trees. We think you might also be interested in whales. May we suggest Greenpeace. Buy today and you could qualify for Super Saver Shipping.”

It’s easy enough to toss these pleas into the trash with a mental “If I could, I would” to satisfy my conscience. It’s much harder to reject a live human being on the telephone; they all but require a faxed copy of my latest tax return before they’ll believe that I’m not hiding a fortune of Bill Gates-ian proportions. The genius of their technique is that they know no self-respecting American wants to look cheap, much less poor. “Can’t you just do twenty-five?” they challenge. And I appreciate that $25 has become the new $10—against the Euro, it’s more like the new $1—but no, I can’t. The last time Jeff rang me up, I finally worked up the nerve to say so and the phone calls, if not the letters, have ceased.

So I find myself at a crossroads. Hillary Clinton’s campaign coffers have run dry. The candidate has had to lend herself money; meanwhile Barack Obama is sitting on the sort of treasure chest seldom seen outside pirate movies. I think he has actual doubloons at his disposal. I feel compelled to help level the playing field, partly because I would like to see Hillary Clinton as our next president and partly because Barack Obama is really starting to annoy me.

First, there’s his support among “young voters,” which the Super Tuesday pundits mentioned so many times, I thought perhaps the audio had gotten stuck on repeat. I would have written, “like a needle skipping on a record,” but then it would be so obvious that I am just a bit outside the 18-35 demographic. I suppose now that you know the truth about my age, I might as well admit that I hate young voters and young people in general. Scratch that. Hate is a strong word, what I really am is tired. I’m tired of our culture’s obsession with youth and those Juvederm commercials, and I’m particularly weary of the way 16-year-old boys get to dictate the options at my local multiplex. Seriously, these are the people who made Paris Hilton a celebrity and have passing knowledge of Hannah Montana—and we’re trusting them to choose our next president?

Perhaps I’m being overly sensitive. I guess it’s just that I, and other like-minded Generation X-ers, have been locked out of the political process for the past eight years. And now that it looks like we’re back in the game, young voters have crashed our party.

That’s my first issue with Barack. My second is that as the first viable African-American candidate, he’s completely hijacked the uniqueness of the first viable female candidate. I’m sure that a number of black voters look at Hillary and they see “white” and they see “Clinton”—same old, same old. In the same way, I look at Barack and I see “man.” If we’re going to talk about change, how about electing the first president who’s never used a urinal? (I don’t know this 100% for sure, but I feel pretty safe in my assumption.)

When the 57 hopefuls vying for the Democratic nomination lined up at their endless parade of debates, Hillary was clearly the answer to “what’s wrong with this picture?” “But what about Barack?” you argue. And I would counter that a black man in a dark suit (which he may or may not have worn to the previous debate or, for all we know, on the previous day), accessorized with some version of a blue or red power tie, has more in common with his white, male counterparts than does the woman in the yellow blazer wearing the bra underneath. Than the woman who was the only person on stage to ever undergo a pelvic exam. Or use a tampon. Or fix a run in her pantyhose. Or become a parent the hard way…by giving birth.

I hate to raise points that are largely biological, as those are the very reasons used in the past to block women from higher office. But I bring them up to illustrate how much Barack Obama is, in many ways, like every other person we’ve ever elected president of the United States. And Hillary Clinton is not. Somehow this message, and the excitement it should be generating for Hillary, seems to be getting lost.

Which brings me back to my original quandary: I would like to contribute to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. But I don’t want to be mistaken, again, for a big fish. I looked for ways to lend a hand, other than financial. Were there envelopes that needed stuffing? Stamps that needed licking? Files that needed filing?

Alas, my vision of campaign headquarters went out of vogue with the Truman administration. I could, according to the Clinton web site, host a fundraising party or make fundraising phone calls. There were other, vague tasks, such as “get out the vote,” but that sounded like it might involve a clipboard and standing outside a supermarket to register new voters. Which is an order of magnitude of effort above envelope stuffing. I said I wanted to help, not work.

So, a $25 charge to my MasterCard it would be. But I’m warning you, Jeff, don’t come looking for more.


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