Nancy Pelosi Is Not Giving Up Your E-mail Without a Fight

23 03 2013

Sometimes I swear Democrats are just as sleazy as Republicans. Not in the grand scheme of things, perhaps, though with senators like Robert Menendez in the news for possibly soliciting prostitutes and probably dealing out favors to a contributor, you do have to wonder. Liberals at least don’t waste time tilting at windmills with crusades against energy-efficient lightbulbs (Michele Bachmann), the United Nations’ plan to eliminate American golf courses (Ted Cruz) or creeping Sharia law (Bachmann again.) But when it comes to the little things — the tiny, everyday issues on which basic ethics are on display — Democrats aren’t pure as the driven snow either.

Like any good liberal who has ever innocently offered up her e-mail address in response to a plea to Help Defeat the Paul Ryan Budget! or Stand Up for Women’s Right’s Today!, my inbox is swamped with missives from everyone from Planned Parenthood to the DCCC to MoveOn. And like millions of other people, I am apparently on a first-name basis with the Obama folks, regularly receiving entreaties from “Jim” (as in Messina), “Anita” (as in Dunn) and Alixandria (no idea, but apparently she’s associated with the DNC) and being asked to “confirm” my “supporter record” (helpfully laid out in dollar terms) by kicking in $3 as soon as possible. Campaign-season metrics showed that the e-mails with the most banal subject lines — “Hey” or “Listen to this” — drew the best responses, but I have to say, anything that isn’t absolutely up-front with what it wants gets a one-way ticket into the trash bin. And the melodramatic hyperventilating that characterizes every NARAL e-mail I receive — is another doomed amendment to a random piece of legislation really going to end women’s rights as we know them? — doesn’t endear me to the cause either. For that reason, the automated Democratic response to an early-morning attempt to prune some of the biggest offenders from my Yahoo account particularly disappointed me.

Want to unsubscribe from the constant stream of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee e-mails? It’s not as easy as it looks. I didn’t expect to get away without a well-deserved guilt-trip; heck, of course I want to help elect liberals, and are a few quickly-deleted e-mail solicitations really such a high price to pay? (That said, has a DCCC e-mail ever actually prompted me to contribute? Nope. I gave at the website, thanks.) But the screen I was taken to when I clicked the “unsubscribe” link struck me as irritatingly disingenuous.

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Did you catch the dodge? A casual observer might assume that, by clicking on the link in Nancy Pelosi’s morning grovel that claims to remove your e-mail address from the DCCC list, you’ll be directed to a site that allows you to . . . remove your e-mail address. But instead of re-entering your address to OK the deletion, you’re asked to only “receive our most urgent messages.” It’s only a small ethical step away from the spammers who trick you into “unsubscribing” in order to confirm that, yes, there is a live person at the other end of that Yahoo account. In both cases, the solicitations won’t stop. And in the DCCC’s case, I have to wonder how many “urgent” issues will pop up every day, or how many events will be billed as “BREAKING” news.

There is an option at the bottom to actually unsubscribe, but it’s one more step away, a step that an irritated supporter trying to clean out her work inbox before an 8:00 a.m. meeting could miss. Now, I know this is a standard practice for online outfits. Even charities are determined to preserve their backers’ priceless personal information at almost any cost. Complaining about it will get me nowhere. But is it too much to expect that the party that paints itself as better, more ethical and closer to the people than the GOP actually be better and more ethical? Granted, perhaps the donations the DCCC takes in from an expanded e-mail list outweigh any reputational benefit of dealing with supporters in a straightforward fashion. However, that doesn’t make it any less disappointing when the politicians I elect to represent me in Washington turn out to be no more principled than, uh, your average politician.

I almost feel guilty for complaining about how Democrats treat their supporters, as they certainly do better than the GOP on this front. The time I spent this fall volunteering for the Obama campaign was one of the best experiences of my life, and the campaign’s ability to reach out to literally anyone who walked through the door (from slightly unhinged women who offered us anchovies to high-level executives willing to make a few phone calls) and put them to work was one of the drivers of the president’s victory. I realize that politics is big business and that Obama succeeded in 2012 due in no small part to his campaign’s tech-savvy ability to capture e-mail addresses and mobilize supporters online. Indeed, one of the campaign’s most valuable assets is its vaunted e-mail list, which the GOP has been dismally unable to match. For this reason, I’m wary of being too critical about the Democrats’ online practices. Hey, they’ve worked pretty well so far. But sometimes you wish the people on your “team” would take the high road. Find some principles, stick to them, and occasionally stand up for them, even if it makes it slightly harder to hang onto those precious e-mail addresses.

Americans trust politicians so little and hate them so much that Congress’ approval ratings rarely make it out of the single digits. Surely Washington-hating citizens are thinking more about pork-barrel legislation and backroom horse-trading when they express distaste for the political class, but even the littlest incidents of sleaziness only contribute to the sense that our representatives will double-cross us at every turn, if given the chance. Ideally, politicians would eschew the biggest sins — giving preferential treatment to high-dollar donors, caving to special interests like the NRA — and receive a pass on the minor infractions. But it’s actually more realistic to hope for improvement on the little things. Often, as well, it’s the little things that cement a party’s reputation and come together to add up to an image that is either welcoming and honest or uncaring and shady. The GOP’s problems with Hispanics are rooted in its hostility to government and its history of opposition to anything that smacks of “amnesty,” but seemingly insignificant slights — their dogged use of the word “illegals,” Mitt Romney’s articulation of the party’s “self-deportation” philosophy — don’t help either. Likewise, the DCCC’s inability to produce an honest option to unsubscribe from its e-mail list sends the message to people that the party cares more about your money and your personal information than your trust.

Scoff at my naivete if you want, but I put in a lot of time to get Pelosi and Co. elected. If we’re friendly enough for her minions to address me as “Emily” and enthuse about “an incredible opportunity to meet Barack and Joe,” surely we’re friendly enough for her to at least pretend to treat me as a friend, not a cash cow. It may be an act, but in politics, image is everything. Every interaction is a chance for voters to decide whether their elected officials are basically honest, trustworthy emissaries to Washington or just another group of glad-handing opportunists. The little things count; they add up to big things. Aristotle once said that “we are what we repeatedly do.” To cite a less lofty source, H. Jackson Brown (the guy who wrote Life’s Little Instruction Book) quips that “character is what we do when we think no one is looking.”

It may not matter much to the DCCC, but if anyone’s listening: Hey, Nancy. I’m looking.

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