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For connoisseurs, Barack Obama’s fundraising e-mails for the 2012 election campaign seem just a tad forlorn—slightly limp reminders of the last time ’round.
Four years ago at this time, the early adopters among us were just starting to get used to the regular flow of e-mail from the Obama campaign. The missives were actually exciting to get, because they seemed less like appeals for money than a chance to join a movement.
Sometimes they came with inspirational videos from Camp Obama, especially the volunteer training sessions staged by organizing guru Marshall Ganz. Here’s a favorite of mine, where a woman invokes Bobby Kennedy and Cesar Chavez and says that, as the weekend went on, she “felt her heart softening,” her cynicism “melting,” her determination building. I remember that feeling, and I remember clicking time and again to send another $50 off to fund that people-powered mission. (And I recall knocking on a lot of New Hampshire doors, too, with my 14-year-old daughter.)
It’s no wonder, then, that I’m still on the e-mail list. But I haven’t been clicking through this time. Not even when Barack Obama himself asked me to “donate $75 or more today to be automatically entered for a chance to join me for dinner.” Not even when campaign manager Jim Messina pointed out that, though “the president has very little time to spend on anything related to the campaign…this is how he chooses to spend it—having real, substantive conversations with people like you” over the dinner you might just win. (And if you do win, you’ll be put on a plane to “Washington, or Chicago, or wherever he might be that day.”)
Not even when deputy campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon offered to let me “take ownership of this campaign” by donating to it and, as an “added bonus,” possibly find myself “across the table from the president.” Not even when Michelle lowered the entry price from $75 to $25 and offered this bit of reassurance: “Just relax. Barack wants this dinner to be fun, and he really loves getting to know supporters like you.” Not even when, hours before an end-of-September fundraising “deadline,” Barack himself dropped the asking price to three dollars. God, have a little self-respect man! Three dollars?
Here’s the thing I’m starting to think Obama never understood: yes, for most of us the 2008 campaign was partly about him, but it was more about the campaign itself—about the sudden feeling of power that gripped a web-enabled populace, who felt themselves able to really, truly hope. Hope that maybe they’d found a candidate who would escape the tried-and-true money corruption of Washington.
None of us gave $50 hoping for a favor. Quite the opposite. You gave $50 hoping that, for the first time in a long while in American politics, no one would get a favor. And the candidate, it must be said, led us on. His rhetorical flights were dazzling—to environmentalists like me, he promised to “free this nation from the tyranny of oil once and for all,” and pledged that his administration would mark the moment when “the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”