Among the categories of wasted cyber ink that I am getting too frequently – really, one would be one too many – are the posts I get from the political people looking for money. I made the mistake – I made the same mistake many times – of donating money to one candidate or another. I am a lawyer; I worked in Government; some friends have run for office; there really was no avoiding it, but in this world no mitzvah goes unpunished.
In fact this punishment is endless, a daily dose of emails that implore and entreat me to fight back and join in and stand firm and show what I stand for (presumably as I am standing firm). I am urged to help take back the House or hold on to the Senate. I am begged to have the back of the President. Barack needs me. And while I might find that hard to accept – I am a helpful person, yes, but he has done pretty well on his own steam - it is harder to discount completely when the message is reinforced by an email from Barack himself! And not one! Many! He sends them all the time. Barack loves to email me, it seems.
There is something frankly weird about getting emails from Barack. I like the man. I voted for him two times. Enthusiastically. I have defended his administration endless times at cocktail parties and dinner table talk-a-thons. But I don’t actually know him. And he couldn’t pick me out from a carload of circus clowns. He certainly has not sought my advice in some of the areas where he could have profited from it. I don’t even have one of those grip and grin photos with him that you can get for the maximum individual donation.
I am not angry about any of that; I don’t see any reason why Barack should be reading my blog (though really, it would be good for him). But then why is he emailing me all the time? It is unsettling. Disconcerting. To see that an email from Barack has arrived. I have no friends named Barack and so I don’t dismiss it on the thought that it is about carpool logistics or a squash match; no, when I get a message from Barack I feel as if I should drop everything: the President is reaching out to me! I am being called on.
But it’s a let down. Every time. He is only asking me to stand firm or take a stand or double down. He asks me to give whatever I can. He asks me to chip in $3, $2 whatever.
I mean, really? The President is asking me to give him three bucks?
I am from the generation, and I have the mindset, that if the President were to ask me to quit my job, move to DC and sleep on a bare mattress for a year to work on a matter of import and do it all for no pay, do it as a volunteer! do it pro bono! – I would be on a flight the next day. What choice would I have? My President has asked me to serve! But an email asking me to “chip in” three bucks? Hmmn, I don’t think so.
Thinking about Barack, I decide to look back and see how frequently he has actually reached out to me. Google of course makes these types of explorations easy and in no time at all I have discovered that Barack has emailed me 22 times since June of 2012. (That isn’t the day that he started to correspond with me; it is roughly when I last had the hard drive on my laptop wiped by some genius at the Apple Store.) If I were to go back further, I am sure that I would have a lot more email from the most powerful man in the world. I can remember specifically that I got an email from Barack the night before his speech in Chicago after he was elected. That was electric. Such a shame that electricity has come to begging for bucks at $3 a pop.
As I look at my Obama emails I discover that Barack appears to have shared my email address with a few of his friends and colleagues. I have emails from Abby Witt, Greg Berlin, Grant Campbell, Brandon English, Devin Driscoll, Michael Bennet, Erin Hannigan, Emmy Ruiz. Jeremy Bird, Ivan Frishberg (really? there is a guy actually called Ivan Frishberg?), Kathy Gasperine, Kaili Lambe, Julianna Smoot, Jordan Kaplan, Jon Carson, Jim Messing, Nico Probst, Neeti Kaur, Mu’Min Najah, Liz Lowery, Lindsay Siler, Sara El-Amine, Sami Rahanim, Rufus Gifford, and Robby Mook. All 25 of those folks sending me the same type of message that Barack has been sending me; all of them asking me to “stand firm” and “chip in” and “do my part”.
I suspect that these are fictitious names, but when I start Googling, they are all out there – all linked in to Linked In, all wikipedia’d up, all on Facebook and Twitter, all apparently actual people, and indeed all pretty damn impressively resumed. Ivan Frishberg is a climate change guy, Sara El-Amine is the National Organizing Director for Organizing for America. The list goes on and on.
I go back to my treasure trove of Obama emails and find it isn’t just Barack and his entourage, There are even more from Barack’s organizations. Organizing for America. Obama for America. Something called the Obama Store. I also find, somewhat to my surprise – that Joe Biden, Michelle Obama and Nancy Pelosi are also counting on me. I know them even less than I know Barack, but like Barack, they are also on a first name basis with me, though each of them refer to me by my formal first name rather than the name (Jay) that people who actually know me tend to use.
If you count all the emails – from Barack, the entourage, the OFA, the other organizations, and the political celebrities – I have gotten an awful lot of emails in the last two years asking me to chip in. Rather overwhelming that my small dollar contributions to the President have generated this much attention. Maybe I ought to feel guilty. Maybe I should be chipping in more. But the truth is I don’t feel guilty at all. I feel annoyed. I feel as if there is some fundamental lack of grace in these solicitations. A donation, modest as it may be, ought to buy one some zone of immunity. Maybe not forever. But at least for a while.
I wonder if it is possible to unsubscribe from these emails. At first I didn’t think it was but then I learned the trick. You have to scroll WAY DOWN to the bottom of the email – the key lines are spaced below the bottom of the screen on an iPhone. But if you persist and then look down to the smallest possible typeface, you indeed will find a button that says “click here to unsubscribe”. But this is not like Amazon one-click. Rather clicking unsubscribe takes you to a new page where a video of Michelle Obama starts playing right away, reminding you of the great work done last year, a narrative that doesn’t exactly try to talk you out of unsubscribing, but certainly makes you feel that unsubscribing would be churlish.
The text on the side of the unsubscribe page is more direct. The words read:
I go back to my email history and find that yesterday, March 31, 2014, I received four emails – two from OFA and one each from Obama entourage members Kathy Gasperine and Jon Carson. The day before I had three and the day before two. Wow. That’s a lot of love for three days. I read the eight love letters and found that seven of them asked me to “chip in”. God, they love that line. The only thing new in this batch was that the emails were now asking me for $5, a $2 dollar upsell from the $3 I remembered.
I hovered there on the unsubscribe button. Should I do it? I love Barack. He is my guy. I feel as if my whole identity as a good government, reform, citizen-activist will be somehow destroyed if I click the button. But I did. I unsubscribed. Sorry Barack. I am happy to help, but I just can’t stand this begging.
As soon as I click the button, a new page comes up that confirms that I have been unsubscribed and will be removed from all future mailings. I am about to move on to other business when I notice that there is a big bright red box on the Unsubscribe Confirmation page. And within that box there is a word in all caps:
I puzzle over it for a minute.
I should have been puzzling over the question of why the web designers thought that one who has been driven to such distraction by the emails that they would navigate themselves to the unsubscribe button would at the same time care to make a parting donation. I mean, seriously, what are they thinking?
But frankly, that thought hardly crossed my mind. What really baffled me was why it said DONATE. Didn’t the designers realize what they wanted to say: