I hadn't gotten a line from Barack Obama since last November. He'd written to me often last year asking for money, but even though I never sent him anything I supposed that he wasn't too annoyed with me, since he won anyway. Now, after nearly a year, he's sent me a note asking "Can I count on you?" The man deserves credit for perseverance at least.
The President called me by name on the envelope, but the letter inside, disappointingly, is addressed to "Dear Friend." Things look serious on the evidence of his opening: "There are times in the life of our nation when America's course can only be set by the concerted effort of citizens determined to pull our country through. This is one of those times -- and your personal involvement in moving America forward is absolutely essential."
He reminds me that "as you know, we have put in place a comprehensive strategy designed to attack America's economic crisis on all fronts. It's a strategy to create jobs, to help responsible homeowners, to restart lending and to grow our economy over the long term. And we are beginning to see signs of progress. But, let's be clear with one another. We are facing extraordinary challenges and only extraordinary and sustained effort will help meet them."
Obama has done his part. "I have acted on the economy, health insurance reform, energy and education with the knowledge that a 'business as usual' approach will not serve our nation," he writes, "Now, you and I must act with the understanding that it will take exceptional energy and effort to mobilize public support for our plans."
So what would the President have me do? He'd like me "to make a decision right now to support a fundamentally important Democratic Party initiative." Would that be giving money to congressional candidates? No, but it does mean giving money. This time he wants me to contribute to Organizing for America, which he describes as "a coming together of people from every corner of our nation. Folks who understand just how much is at stake are working side-by-side and asking, 'What can I do to lift America up?'"
I visited Organizing for America's website, which is www.barackobama.com. The organizing organization's main activity, at first glance, is to incite Americans into telephoning their representatives in Congress and firming up their resolution to support the President's agenda.
"Let me be clear," the President resumes, "This initiative is essential to our efforts to renew America." But if anything, it seemed superfluous. If Obama wants me to call up Paul Tonko and warn him not to be a Blue Dog, or to put the spurs to Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, he could have said so in this letter. I admit that sending the letter itself costs money and might justify a bit of panhandling, but maintaining the website as well as sending letters only makes the organization more costly, however hip and modern it makes it appear. And for that he wants a minimum of $25, an ideal of $35, and $50 or $100 if I can spare it -- and I should make the check out to the Democratic National Committee. So I got the letter, which means that the President got his message out without the techies whose site I never visited before today, yet he expects me to subsidize the techies. Worse, he wants me to help "carry our message to living rooms, coffee shops, front porches and community centers all across this great country of ours," but rather than trust me to carry it myself (admittedly a risk on his part) he wants me to pay other people to do it.
Call me an old fogy if you must, but the mere idea of the President of the United States asking for a handout of any sort is offensive to my small-r republican sensibilities. I don't know if George W. Bush made similar pleas because I wasn't on the "right" mailing lists at the time, but whether he's set a precedent or not, this President has lowered himself a bit in my judgmental eyes for this bit of begging. You'd like to think, also, that any President would at least at times pretend to stand above parties, or at least above fundraising, but who am I kidding with this idealism? Barack Obama is a creature of the Democratic Party, and for any Democrat, as for any Republican, fundraising is job one. In this particular case, he isn't doing his job.