Indecent Proposal: The Lost Art of Sucking Up

This just in: President Barack Obama does not suck up to the one per cent. Yes, the meme is out that big Democratic donors feel slighted by this president, so much so that they are choosing not to contribute much to the reelection campaign or anything to the pro-Obama super-PAC. The New York Times‘ Maureen Dowd called him “The Ungrateful President,” while The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer advised him to “Schmooze or Lose.” Paul Waldman of The American Prospect calls it “Barack Obama’s Billionaire Problem.” Comedian and political satirist Bill Maher frets that Obama could lose the election due to a lack of corruption. Will we wake up on November 7th saying to ourselves, “If only he had sucked up more….”?

I will admit from the start that I am a fierce advocate of thanking people who support causes and organizations by giving large amounts of money. I am no stranger to the sensitive strategies of fundraising, and can effectively deploy terms such as prospects, cultivation, the ask, and donor maintenance with the best of them. I’ve seen charities and other non-profits behave in egregious and ignorant ways toward the very contributors who make their work possible.

Yet I find a certain irony here, in the expectations of large contributors to election campaigns. In the case of Democrats and the current state of affairs, contributing to a political campaign is about investing in a particular vision for the country, and in staving off theocracy and fascism. Do we give because we want to be made to feel important? Is this an appropriate expectation?

Dowd compares the president to movie star Paul Newman who said, “If people start treating you like a piece of meat or a long-lost friend or feel they can become cuddly for the price of a $5 movie ticket, then you shut them out.” Dowd then says, “Just so, the president does not think people should expect too much in return for paying $35,800 for an hour of his time, as they did at the [movie mogul Harvey] Weinstein affair, or in return for other favors.”

I wondered if Dowd is suggesting the level of expectation is a question of amount, as in the difference between the price of a hand-job in the alley or staying all night with Richard Gere in the presidential suite? The “indecent proposal” dilemma: Not for a thousand, certainly—I’m not that kind of girl—but a million? Maybe.

In 2008, we elected a president who said he was in politics to champion those citizens whose voices were drowned out by the rich and powerful. Against unprecedented odds, he’s managed to achieve historic legislative gains for them. And, to great howls from the 99 per cent, he bailed out Wall Street when it crashed the economy, asking nothing in return, and populated his Cabinet with defenders of the one per cent. In exchange for extending unemployment benefits, he agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy for another year. Now it turns out that “many financial titans felt that the President’s attitude toward the ‘one per cent’ was insufficiently admiring, even hostile.”

What on earth is it they aren’t getting, you ask? “They just want a picture of themselves with the President that they can hang on the bathroom wall, so that their friends can see it when they take a piss,” says a fund-raiser in Mayer’s article. Miffed that members of the administration act like they don’t “have a clue who I am or how much I gave,” a multi-million dollar donor in 2008 has refused to give this year, she reports.

“You have to suck up!” he told her.

Here’s the irony: Democrats are upset by the growing corruption in campaign finance, and loath the notion that influence with our elected officials can be “bought.” Offended by the Citizens’ United ruling that has unleashed anonymous, corporate, and infinite cash into the electoral process, many Democrats reserve special disdain for the new super-PACs, refusing to contribute to them. Mayer reports that billionaire Warren Buffet explained that he didn’t “want to see democracy go in that direction.” We’ve devolved into plutocracy, period. Don’t want to be a part of it. So distasteful, you understand.

I don’t know why the President is not sucking up to the big donors, as is the custom, and I can see from their poutrage at such shocking treatment that come November, the Democrats could very well lose both the White House, the Senate, and fail to reclaim the House. (Obviously the Republicans share none of their reluctance to play by the current rules of campaign finance, however concerned they might be about the future of democracy. “[Romney’s contributors] don’t need thanks, they want power over the country and government,” observed Kenneth Morgan on a blog comment-thread.)

Like millions of people of modest means, I’m once again contributing what I can and volunteering as much time as possible to bolster Obama’s brilliant get-out-the-vote ground game. It may just be able to overcome the Republicans’ growing cash advantage, created by the narcissistic demands of our wealthiest Democrats, who simply can’t bear to be deprived of their fake grip-and-grin bathroom shot or to sully their principles to save the country.

Frankly, I like knowing the President is focusing on the job we elected him to do, rather than spending time perpetuating the one per centers’ presumptions that they are more important than I am.

[Note: All of the articles linked in the first paragraph are well-worth reading, in particular the extraordinary investigative analysis of Jane Mayer in The New Yorker (August 27, 2012)]




About meme_ster

Tracking power through language
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2 Responses to Indecent Proposal: The Lost Art of Sucking Up

  1. Marilyn says:

    Pouting Dems had better keep their eye on Supreme Court appointments before they get too upset with Obama.

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