On June 16, 2008, Barack Obama’s campaign sent an email to supporters containing a short list of phone numbers for flood-related information. I laughed when I saw it because it is so typical of Chicago’s machine politics. It sends the message that the politician is there to give aid to the people, and please remember that when it comes time to vote.
The opening paragraph stated, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who have been affected by the flooding in Iowa.” Compare that to the wording used by John McCain in a June 14th statement: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those impacted by the flooding throughout the Midwest.” The second sentence in McCain’s simple media release was, “Cindy and I would like to extend our sympathies to all those who lost loved ones, and stand ready to help those in the Midwest to recover and rebuild.” Obama’s June 11th statement was centered on Illinois and his role as one of that state’s senators, although he made passing reference to flooding throughout the Midwest. Obama concluded his media release by declaring, “I will do everything in my power to see to it that ["the full resources of our state and federal government"] get to the people who need them as swiftly as possible.”
The candidates’ statements reflect their policy differences. McCain’s statement comes across as personal and with the implication that it is individuals who should first help their neighbors. Obama’s statement dives right into the belief that the government is the first line of resource.
I found it interesting that Obama’s campaign email with flood-related resource numbers arrived days after the same information had already been widely distributed by local governments and media in Iowa. In short, the e-mail offered nothing new, came after other people had implemented processes, and thus appeared to seek credit for work others were already doing.
Before I was distracted by the levee breach in Des Moines, I was working on a commentary about another Obama campaign email. That email announced a summer sale with 10% off all sorts of merchandise. There are lawn signs ($8), posters featuring a large profile of Obama ($20), a ladies’ fleece jacket ($50), and much more.
Decades ago I read that Jacqueline Kennedy started the practice of breaking old White House china instead of giving it away. This supposedly happened after the first lady discovered some low-income woman had bought discarded china at a garage sale. I’ve remembered that for all these years because it stank of elitism and environmental waste. I liked the idea that someone who would never have the resources to be an elected representative could still acquire something used by presidents. It created the sense that we are all one America, rich or poor. The Obama merchandise store is a stark contrast to that feeling of inclusion. The campaign-controlled merchandise reeks of a cult of personality and the selling of the presidency.
M.R. Field has written about and played around politics for many decades.