It was at lunch years ago, before campaign finance limits were lowered and before the Supreme Court made a mockery of those limits with their 5-4 Citizens United decision.
The key lime pie had been vanquished and I was poised to get $100,000 that a friend had more or less promised when we scheduled the lunch. So when the waiter came with the check, and we both reached for our wallets, I said, “Let me get this; you get the $100,000.”
And then, to keep the mood light, I added, “Think of the frequent flier miles!”
His wife, whom I had not met before, looked at me coldly. “We don’t fly commercial,” she said.
And that was that.
We got not a dime, but we did get George W. Bush by 534 votes. I don’t blame my friend’s wife for this; I simply failed to make the case. (If I blame anyone, I blame Ralph Nader.) And in fairness to all of us: who could have imagined in 2000 just HOW awful the repercussions of getting Bush v. Gore would turn out to be?
Anyway, that botched fundraising attempt was a long time ago – and not the one I want to tell you about.
The one I want to tell you about just occurred. It was a lay-up. Specifically: A college friend, hugely successful, who, when I reached him by phone, was all but irrepressible in his expression of affection for me, admiration for our President, and appreciation of the importance of funding our effort – NOW.
He was basically doing all the work for me – even quoting one of my fundraising emails.
I live for such moments.
“But,” he concluded, “I can’t give you any money.”
“Why NOT?” I whimpered, completely off guard.
This guy is SUCH a mensch, and SO rich . . . his rejection SO unexpected . . . the question just popped out.
“Well, I know it’s not rational – I really can’t explain it,” he said, “but I lost so much money three years ago, I just can’t bring myself to do it. It’s a psychological thing.”
Normally, I would leave it at that. (No: really!) But I just couldn’t. “You lost TWENTY million dollars” – I took a wild guess – “but you still have TEN million” – another wild guess, purposely on the low side – “and the whole WORLD is at stake. Just DO it,” I said.
“I lost FIFTY million dollars,” he shot back, “and I still have EIGHTY million, so I know it’s completely nuts, it makes no rational sense – I really want to help, but I just can’t right now.”
And he didn’t.
I tell this story because, as I’ve argued previously, I think what we are called upon to do at this time of national difficulty is not to spend the coldest winter on record shoeless in Valley Forge. Or be shot at in 130-degree heat in Iraq. I think what we are called on to do is to be rational.
First, to decide if it really matters to us whether the country goes all Scalia, Rove, Koch Brothers, Limbaugh. And then, if it does, to make the rational choices that will in fact lead to our holding the White House and Senate, taking back the House, and moving the country forward in a more thoughtful way.
The rational thing to do is to help now, because money now is several times more powerful than the exact same money in the Fall.
That’s because of the “snowball” effect of each organizer we are able to hire now. Given 10 months of a full-time field organizer – which is basically what one max-out contribution buys us – that organizer can recruit, train, and motivate volunteers who then have 9 months to recruit, train, and motivate MORE volunteers who have 8 months to . . . and so on.
Each organizer we’re able to hire now snowballs into HUNDREDS of volunteers who will have months to help register millions of new voters (many of whom were 15 or 16 or 17 in 2008) and RE-register millions of existing voters whom the Republicans are working hard to disenfranchise.
It’s a huge job that simply can’t be done in the last few weeks of the campaign. NOW is the time to get the snowball rolling.
It’s just not rational to say, “no, I want to wait and give the snowball only 3 months to build, so that we have far fewer volunteers, with far less time to tackle this massive job of registering and re-registering millions of voters.”
A woman with whom I share a mutual friend runs a large enterprise and would be a perfect donor. I’ve reached out to her several times, but she won’t help, she says, until the President endorses marriage equality.
THIS IS NOT RATIONAL. It is like voting for Nader in 2000. It can make you feel good, perhaps even morally superior . . . yet have catastrophic consequences.
I am, needless to say, totally with this woman and her would-be wife on the issue of marriage. And I note – as they acknowledge – that far more progress has been made toward LGBT equality under this president than under all prior presidents combined – and that he has from the get-go called for the full repeal of DOMA (his principal opponent in 2008, whom we also adore, called for repealing only half of it) and that he has instructed his Justice Department to stop defending it. Huge things. But, no, he has not yet gone that last step. (Nor would it make any immediate difference if he did: Justice Scalia would not suddenly slap his forehead and say, “Oh, NOW I get it.”)
For those who favor marriage equality, NOTHING is less rational than failing to help reelect the President to keep the Republicans from appointing the next justices of the Supreme Court.
So if you know folks who – with best intentions – are not being coldly rational in their very legitimate angst over the state of affairs . . . whether their biggest concern be the environment or the economy or civil liberties or campaign rhetoric or some indignity they suffered at the hands of an inept fundraiser . . . please ask them what they would give to be able to turn back time and replace Bush with Gore.
Fifty bucks? Five hundred? Five thousand?
Because although they can’t change the past, they can, for sure, affect the future. They can help keep all three branches of government from slipping into the grip of people who think very differently from the way many of us do.
If they do help, we will see it immediately and jump thru the Internet to say thanks.
Monday: Life After Death