Connections: Spambox Politics

Isn’t it time to move on?

By the time Bernie Sanders swept the New Hampshire Democratic primary and urged voters to go to Bernie Sanders.com to make online contributions to his campaign, Barack Obama had long since revolutionized presidential fund-raising by using the internet in the 2008 race to seek donations and to gather information and organize the ranks. (Time and Twitter moved on.)

It will come as no surprise if I say I admire Mr. Obama. These last few weeks of his tenure, and his eloquent farewell address — in particular, his willingness to address the topic of race head-on — have secured his place in my mind as an exemplary president and a fine human being.

So it was a bit annoying on Tuesday to receive an email, purportedly from him, asking for $1. Anyone who has gone to a political website in the last few years is likely to be familiar with the experience of inadvertently signing up for innumerate emails from candidates running for national office and, naturally, asking for signatures on petitions as well as, of course, money. 

As Trump supporters are wont to say: Isn’t it time to move on?

The small print at the bottom of the Obama email noted that it wasn’t actually anything to do with a presidential campaign, or really much to do with Mr. Obama, but was from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, although that wasn’t spelled out in the body of the text. The name of the organization is in any event somewhat misleading because it assists only those in or seeking to be in the House of Representatives.

The subject heading of the email — “unfortunately,” with a lower case “u” — drew me in. In part, it read: “Helen, I’ll make this quick — I’m emailing for $1.” It went on in what were supposedly Barack Obama’s words: “As my time in office comes to a close . . .” and so on.

What I find annoying about these emails, in addition to the $1 thing they always try, is that I don’t remember ever having given money to the D.C.C.C. before; in fact, I’m quite sure I never have. As a rule, and as a journalist, I have never registered in any political party. Nevertheless, it seems I must have made some sort of donation in the past that flagged me as someone who could profitably be entered into the email pipeline, forever to be tapped on the shoulder and asked. 

Whatever side of the political fence you fall on, it is likely that you, like me, have received many insincerely personalized messages in the last year, with pleas from candidates whose names you barely recognize, from all over the country.

But really, do any email recipients in 2017 still believe patently silly statements like this one in Tuesday’s email? “We still need 35 more Democrats from 11937 to step up before Friday.” Still need 35 for what? I get the Zip code, but why Friday?

I know the word “algorithm,” and can throw it around, but I don’t have a clue about algorithmic procedures. Which brings me back to the internet. If an email from an organization with which I have no quarrel and which is signed by someone I admire contains information that is less than 100-percent factual and reliable, how am I supposed to believe information that comes from it at more important moments? And what am I supposed to make of the email promises of those whose points of view I do not even share?