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Donation Politics: Worse than Hypocrisy

1 Aug

[PREFATORY NOTE: This post is a modified and revised version of an opinion piece publish under a different title by CounterPunch on July 29, 2022.]

Donation Politics: Biden’s Global Hypocrisy Starts at Home

Photograph Source: Palácio do Planalto – CC BY 2.0

Donation Politics: Worse than Hypocrisy

A few days ago, among the many solicitations for funds to support Democratic candidates around the country in the 2022 elections came one that caught my eye because of its obviously phony seductive line “I’d like to give you a call, Richard.” Reading the next line, none other than the U.S. President apparently with much time to waste, was supposedly eager to learn my views on what government might do better to meet my needs and uphold my values, purporting even to be on a first-name basis with me despite the utter absence of any prior contact. To dumb down the President for the sake of a hypocritical pitch struck me as distasteful, but also eroding of trust, already compromised, between the state and the citizenry upon which the viability of democracy crucially depends.

This manipulative hucksterism became even more personal a day or two later when the same lure line was attributed to Jill Biden, herself cast in the demeaning role of a political party team player. The First Lady went on to expatiate upon the cynical view that Democrats are so desperate for a chance to interact with the President that they would fall for any come on, however absurdly misleading. In her supposedly revealing words that struck me as utterly contrived: “Throughout the years, I’ve learned that there are at least three things that can make Joe smile from ear to ear: Our kids and grandkids, chocolate chip ice cream, and getting to talk one-on-one with Americans like you, Richard.” And she goes on, “Having the chance to hear your hopes and dreams grounds Joe and motivates him to keep fighting the hard battles. That’s why Joe would love nothing more than to give you a call soon.” 

Then come the unsurprising hooker, really what motivated the message and explains its atonality —nothing more or less than a crass appeal for money coupled with a delayed ‘admission’ that, after all, actually receiving a call from Biden was as unlikely as Donald Trump committing civil disobedience as a consequence of becoming an ardent anti-nuclear activist. I didn’t have to read much further for these suspicions to be crudely confirmed. The price of admission to Biden’s specious ‘inner circle’ of solicited political feedback dupes was disclosed. It turned out if I wanted to be among those who were now to be MERELY informed they MIGHT receive such a call, all I had to do was ‘to chip in’ as little as $7 to get on a list from which a fraction were selected to receive a call from the President. The only puzzle left to solve is whether the chosen one were picked at random or because they had donated the most or hailed from swing states. This more plausible interpretation of this offensively personalized  message no longer resembled in feeling and substance what was claimed on Biden’s behalf when he initially reached out to me, which had I been less jaded, I would have interpreted as expressing an unconditional wish by a conscientious leader who was, however foolishly, sincerely interested in learning my views on national policy issues, and was not just another snake oil salesman sending me an email in the form of a hook baited for donations.

Surely, if calls directly from Biden were up for sale, surely they would be priced much higher if indeed swallowing the donation bait was all that was required. Such a  bargain price sent an unmistakable signal that I would wait until at least the age of 90 before I could expect the phone to ring and be thrilled to discover Biden waiting on the other end impatient to begin ourconversation. If the price of admission had been pegged at $10,000 or more, I would have interpreted the appeal as a somewhat imaginative ploy to reach authentic  ‘good Democrats,’ that is, not the thinking kind but the contributing kind. In any event, for those remotely in the know, party politics had long been preoccupied with chasing ‘rich Democrats’ while relying on robocalls and mass digital mailings to gather donations from presumed sympathetic political loners like myself, not knowing or caring that I was almost as alienated by what the Democratic Party establishment had foisted upon the country than by the evil doings of the radical right. In my case some overworked party hack must have misread my political profile if he added me to the DNC rolodex for donor prospects.

When it became clear that this was just a somewhat different, and deceptive, way to plead for small donations, the mysterious prospect of actually receiving the phone call actually took a prominent place in a  zone of extreme improbability. This was a discrediting revelation being conveyed to prospective donkey donors like myself by not so subtly letting us know that only after receiving a donation would we became eligible to receive the phone call, and even then only fools would hold their breath in anticipation. I now understood that my donation would have resulted, at most, to adding me to what I assumed to be a lengthy list. Perhaps during a lull in Biden’s presidential activities, a few contributors would be chosen to fulfill the literal commitment of the solicitation. In effect, you were being asked to buy a million-to-one lottery ticket with a tiny fraction of a chance of being chosen, and even this might be fanciful as I doubt that even Biden would find himself so at loose ends as to risk receiving a harangue from someone like myself. This disarming personalized solicitation was always about money never about soliciting views. Given the dependence of many valuable civil society initiatives on public funding and private trust, the Democratic Party should be ashamed to be giving responsible appeals for support a bad name associated with deception, contempt for the intelligence of grassroots supporters, and an unscrupulous manipulative ethos.

To be honest about my own feelings, I would not have welcomed such a call if by some dark twist of fate I had received it, nor would Mr. Biden have liked what I had to say given this rare opportunity in the spirit of talking truth to power. It would lead me to express my deep forebodings for the future of America as a peace-oriented constitutional democracy reinforced by an extensive social protection available to all of its residents as part of a national commitment to human security. My skepticism about such an affirmative future for the country arises from the lethal passivity of the nominally pro-democracy political forces in the U.S. The anemic response to the growing strength of a pre-fascist violent movement on the extreme right is convincing evidence, activating memories of the fate of Weimar Republic, and the drift toward world war.

Of course, the cynical depths of appealing for political funds on the basis of an entirely contrived intimacy and a false claim of wishing to gain valuable feedback from representative ‘good Democrats’ is more than a cheap shot to empty the pockets of gullible folks many of whom have little cash to spare. This type of ‘donation politics’ offers us an apt metaphor for the overall debasement of electoral politics by shining its Madison Avenue spotlight on the essential source of societal corruption—namely money and profits. What is conveyed to a concerned citizen or permanent resident is that the quest for money even in miniscule amounts is the core reality of what politics has become. As a result it destroys the trust of those who truly wish for a more participatory process joining state and society. This would truly induce a presidential leader to make serious efforts to find effective ways to take account of the views of ordinary citizens, rather than expend their energies on doing the bidding of special interests who have earned the right to unlimited presidential access and responsiveness solely as a result of their sizable donations. For instance, the majority of Americans favor a more balanced approach to relations between Israelis and Palestinians instead of as agenda set by AIPAC, or less military spending and a host of other issues that Biden would certainly rather not hear about from disgruntled citizens. 

If he had the personal misfortune to receive this sort of angry response, rather than fulsome praise about how well he was doing, it would quickly replace Joe’s supposedly big smile with an angry smirk. Whether it is Wall Street or defense contractors, it is no secret that the citizenry wants less inequality and more social protection, but whether public preferences of this sort will be respected in coming years seems ever more in doubt. It is, at best, a perilous time to champion a politics of planetary liberation. Yet without such a politics, the country and the world will continue to experience dysfunctional global governance.  

Writing so shortly after Biden’s clumsily mismanaged mid-July visit to Israel and the Saudi Arabia makes this conjecture of dysfunction more than an abstract fear. Biden’s telling gesture of ingratiating himself to his Israeli hosts by proclaiming himself as a non-Jewish Zionist bonds him with the only prior such public affirmation of which I am aware, that of the white supremist, Richard Spencer [See Tony Greenstein’s extraordinary, scrupulously researched comprehensive critique of Zionism for confirmation: Zionism During the Holocaust: The Weaponization of the Holocaust (expected publication, 2022).] I am not intending to imply that Biden is at all sympathetic with white supremacist ideology, but that this pathetic attempt to ingratiate himself by identifying so ardently with legally, morally, politically and spiritually dubious claims to Jewish supremacy in Israel. In context, it was rightly perceived as even more extreme than such an affirmation, given Biden’s silence about Israeli apartheid so authoritatively documented during the last two years and considering the ordeal inflicted on the Palestinian people by the Zionist Project for over a century. 

If this is what being a ‘good Democrat’ in America has come to mean, then the Democratic party may be in worse shape than even I imagined. Of course, Biden would disavow such association with extremism, but his hyped identification with Israeli ethnocracy should be deeply disturbing to every American, regardless of party, who affirms the fundamental aspirational identity of the United States as a multiethnic democracy.  The only future with any hopes of national recovery from the horrors of January 6th and a Supreme Court that foists the regressive views of the voting radical right majority on the American people. There exists enough evidence of Biden’s vanity to be confident that he would have hung up the phone long before I got to my most severe political complaint of all: That by opening more widely the portals of political extremism and geopolitical confrontation Biden is being derelict in his presidential performance at a time of multiple planetary and species crises.

At least Nero made music while Rome burned. I prefer a leader who fiddles to the Biden hucksterism of the soft sell. We need to ask ourselves with a sense of urgency, ‘where is the outrage?’ and ‘why are the streets empty?’ Bob Dylan’s message of the sixties rings truer than ever: ‘The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind.”