Politicians of all stripes send us emails — dozens a day, and at least one authored by a dog — begging for money, on the basis of… well, take a look.
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Sent: 10/18/2022 12:59:02 PM Eastern Standard Time
Subject: hey bestie
It’s me Cali – the Team Dog for Team Harder. 💙
Hear me out:
Josh has a very big goal of raising $25,000 before his fundraising deadline tomorrow.
He really needs our help.
If we don’t raise enough monies, the Republicans will start **viciously** attacking Josh.
We need your help right away because all my people friends are already voting and they say this is the most competitive race in the entireeeeee neighborhood!
Can you please toss in $25 to Josh’s campaign? Here is my personal link…
The above solicitation was one of many emailed to a reader of this substack. He shared it — and others — with a complaint: Many campaign fundraising requests these days don’t even bother trying to explain the views or values of their candidate or provide qualifications or biographical information.
At my request, he sent over some examples, like the one from Cali the Dog, whose owner is the at-risk Democratic California Rep. Josh Harder. These came from Democratic candidates but, as you’ll see below, the same pattern holds true for Republicans.
Voters are asked to fork over money solely on the basis of a candidate being in a close race, having a vile opponent, or being essential to the party’s control of Congress — or often all three.
Now, it may well be that in this era of extreme polarization, there really is no need to know anything about a candidate besides party affiliation. I’d like to set that aside for the moment, because that’s a debate for another day, and the answers, to me, are not simple.
I do think that looking at the granular details of these emails is a valid endeavor unto itself, for what it reveals about that polarization, how marketers think about us and how we process information in the current climate, and what will and won’t get us to do what they want us to.
For example, some messages have no campaign logo at the top and use only the candidate’s first name throughout; you have to look hard even to see what the surname is. And some don’t even bother to mention specific candidates at all.
Often, the email subject line will be well-nigh incomprehensible and the text doesn’t explain it. For example,
Subject line: “46-46 IN GA”
As is often the case, the hook is some “New!” and “Exciting!” poll numbers — typically from unscientific “push polls” that are wildly divergent from what you might find if you checked a responsible polling aggregator like RealClearPolitics or The Cook Report, so to be taken with more than a grain of salt.
Then, the email itself starts right off with a list of the amounts you can donate. If you read the disclaimer at the bottom, you find the claim that a group, “Democratic Majority,” is working to help keep Democratic control of Congress. But there is little or no explanation of who they are, what exactly they do, or which candidates they support. Or what this has to do with “46-46 in GA” (presumably Georgia).
It’s a bipartisan phenomenon.
An email I received from Republican US Senate candidate Blake Masters of Arizona fits into this pattern. The subject line is:
THIS IS URGENT
The text begins, in case it was unclear:
THIS IS URGENT.
President Trump needs you to bolster the Final Countdown Fund.
16 DAYS until the Election.
What does Blake Masters have to do with Trump?
What is the “Official Final Countdown Fund”? Who ultimately will benefit from the Final Countdown Fund — Blake Masters, Trump, or Fido?
It’s impossible to determine from this strange messaging.
Voting Blue No Matter Who
With control of Congress — and, if we heed all the dramatic warnings, the future of American democracy — hanging in the balance, that’s all that matters to folks. People typically don’t vet the organizations they send money to. They go on faith that the group does what it says it does, that it uses some effective strategy — and that the “group” isn’t actually one person raising money for a new yacht. Or throwing money at a candidate who has absolutely no chance.
Assuming that this isn’t the case, a lot of this money is being wasted anyway or not going where people are told — if they are told at all.
For example, in races for secretaries of state — an office that typically oversees and certifies elections — Democrats are outspending Republicans on TV ads by a staggering 57 to 1 margin.
Yet despite this enormous funding gap, 2020 election deniers — who are poised to undermine any result they don’t like — are expected to do well in a number of these races.
Spending to send mass emails — and then spending the collected loot on advertising — may make little difference when one party is so effective at manipulating people with fear that the other party is destroying America. For a variety of reasons that have been noted over the years, Republicans are strategically much better at this. Especially when it involves generating and harnessing uninformed rage for their purposes
And that messaging is getting angrier and more extreme by the minute.
The Dogs of War
To understand this strange email phenomenon, one needs to examine the ideology behind the Blake Masters email, and, if you will, the message from the dog that did bark. (Different race, but I hope you take my point about what’s going on here.)
A good example is a recent article published by The Federalist, called “We Need to Stop Calling Ourselves Conservative.” The article announces:
The conservative project has failed, and conservatives need to forge a new political identity that reflects our revolutionary moment.
Although I agree with the author that society — and certainly the GOP — has abandoned “traditional values,” I nevertheless find the dire call-to-arms invective terrifying.
This is the “intellectual” wing of the far-right’s storm troopers:
Republican politicians, if they want to stay in office, had better have an answer ready when they are asked what reasonable limits to abortion restrictions they would support. The answer is: none, for the same reason they would not support reasonable limits to restrictions on premeditated murder.
Parents who take their kids to drag shows [Russ’s note: warning — graphic language at link] should be arrested and charged with child abuse; doctors who perform so-called “gender-affirming” interventions should be thrown in prison and have their medical licenses revoked; and teachers who expose their students to sexually explicit material should not just be fired but be criminally prosecuted.
And this, which reveals the fate of democratic rights and free speech in America when this vision of Lincoln’s party is done:
To those who worry that power corrupts, and that once the right seizes power it too will be corrupted, they certainly have a point. If conservatives manage to “save the country and rebuild our institutions,” will they ever relinquish power and go the way of Cincinnatus? It is a fair question, and we should attend to it with care after we have won the war.
This movement may actually overthrow democracy altogether, through constitutional means. They’re saying so, saying out loud what many of these neo-Republican candidates and leaders have so far been merely dog-whistling to their MAGA base. And the same outlook drives the cadre of “disruptive” tech billionaires like Peter Thiel and David Sacks who strangely find much to love in Donald Trump.
This “we win or else” mindset both informs and justifies the dirty tactics, like lying about an election being stolen and trying to take over social media so that deliberately misleading material becomes a protected and acceptable way to influence the public.
As the Federalist article concludes:
For now, there are only two paths open to conservatives. Either they awake from decades of slumber to reclaim and re-found what has been lost, or they will watch our civilization die. There is no third road.
By the way, this Federalist — funded by right-wing activist billionaire Richard Uihlein — is unrelated to the powerful Federalist Society that has so brilliantly stacked the courts with judges who support this thinking.
Democracy Can Be a Real Drag
In truth, many of these “outrages against civilization” are the normal frissons in an evolving society that can be found at most any time in history. Sometimes these conflicts lead to violence; other times they lead to changes we now view as welcome evolution.
But there are almost always extenuating circumstances that are deliberately hidden. In this case, The Federalist is dishonestly misrepresenting what’s happening in order to stoke fear and division.
For example, perhaps you clicked, as I did, on the link to see who would take a child to a drag show. The video shows very graphic sexual content that’s also clearly satirical, all based on dubious song lyrics.
But as someone responding on the drag show investigator’s social media noted, the invitation clearly states:
Remember that the Federalist writer demanding a revolution in response is the same person who won’t accept any limitations on parents’ control over their children’s educational content.
In this case, the befuddled parents in that video are products of their society. Plus, they are clearly discomfited by what they’re watching. A safe bet is they didn’t read the disclaimer and/or didn’t understand what “drag” meant, which is more about our education system than anything.
One wonders why the person who filmed and posted this in outrage chose to go to a drag brunch. It’s not hard to imagine a more strategic agenda at work to ignite other people’s ire. Oh yes — that’s her business, and she got on Tucker Carlson for it. BTW, her Twitter profile reveals her own taste for the wild side:
Host of The News and Why It Matters on @BlazeTV | CEO of American Beauty | Whiskey drinker | “Spicy Bitch”
She is, as the Blues Brothers put it, on a mission from God to get on Tucker Carlson and stop the onslaught of illicit children’s drag brunches, expose the millions of fraudulent voters, and all the baby-eating Democrats who are denying Santa is white and perpetrating a war on Christmas as they eradicate America’s sovereign borders and local police forces.
Meanwhile, what do those fighting to protect “our civilization” care about?
They’re upset that there are people who don’t relate to their birth gender, and a somewhat larger but still modest number who love someone of the same gender. They’re upset about people who feel society has to make amends for past misdeeds and the current mistreatment of certain races and groups (and genders). They’re upset at the nature of modern society’s social contract, where we all put a percentage of our income into the kitty, some of which directly benefits us and some which benefits others, including those less fortunate.
But there are also things that don’t bother them.
Consider the news that Donald Trump’s own hard-right lawyer admitted there was no basis for claiming that the election had been stolen. And Trump knew this but proceeded with those claims anyway.
The majority of Republicans, according to polls, are not troubled by that — or, more precisely, still buy whatever Trump claims. Even despite the abundant evidence to the contrary. Indeed, we see Republicans who privately admit that Trump is lying but still give lip service to those lies so they can keep up with the charade parade and reignite the MAGA mania for their own benefit.
They think that any female, no matter how young, who becomes pregnant accidentally or through victimhood should be forced to bear a child — but are not willing to guarantee that child even basic health care, unlike virtually every other “advanced” country.
And despite the fact that large numbers of innocent American children are at risk of being shot and killed in schools, they think nothing should be done. In fact, they want any existing restrictions on guns to be eliminated.
Meanwhile, some of the people touted as the leaders of our military — who pontificate on patriotism, sacrifice, and values — are jumping ship to cash in, working for the worst despots in the world, without notifying Washington about becoming agents of a foreign government.
Somehow, US military leaders becoming Saudi agents and Putin’s murderous assault on a sovereign country aren’t issues of moral outrage for these “federalists,” but a playfully tasteless drag brunch is a call to arms.
And while a drag queen reciting profane rap lyrics is deeply distressing to these folks, so far we haven’t heard any complaints about Trump’s attorney, Alina Habba, who is being sued for harassment by a Black woman who worked for her. As a Newsweek summary of the suit notes:
Habba allegedly became enraged after learning she had lost a legal argument to [New York Attorney General Letitia] James, who is Black. …
The lawsuit alleged that after learning of her defeat, Habba emerged from her office and yelled, “I hate that Black b***h!” She then “began parading around the office seething” about the judge, the lawsuit claims. …
Habba and her partner, Michael Madaio, regularly played and sang along to music with sexually explicit and offensive lyrics that made Drayton uncomfortable, the lawsuit alleges.
On January 26, they played several songs that Drayton felt were “both racially offensive and sexually inappropriate” for the workplace, including “N***** in Paris” by Kanye West and Jay-Z, “Ruff Ryders Anthem” by DMX, and Lil Wayne’s “Rich A** F**k” and “Lollipop.”
Clearly, being righteous and upset by the “end of Western Civilization” turns out to be a very, very selective game.
Drag brunches, no. “Gentlemen’s clubs,” yes. Exposing children to the horrors of slavery, no. Shooting children in school, well, deal with it.
And that’s what the message of the emails comes down to. An intuitive sense that you’re on one side or the other of this existential moral crisis in our Christian nation, and that you’d better plunk your money down. Now.