Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dinner with President Obama: You Too Can Win!

The President of the United States of America is holding a raffle. I received in my email today a fundraiser promotion from President Barack Obama's re-election campaign offering me and everyone else a chance to win dinner with the the President of the United States. Of course, it didn't say it that crassly, but still it's a chance for me (or you)--an ordinary citizen--to win dinner with the most powerful man in American government and four other winners/supporters. All we have to do is make a donation.

I like the idea of it more than I dislike it, but when I first saw the email, I had reservations: "A raffle, Mr. President? Seriously?" I flinched because immediately I could hear the flack he'll take on this one even though, as a friend of mine says, he did similar fundraisers during the 2008 campaign. The distinction for me is that in 2008, Obama was not a sitting president. Has any sitting president before him ever raffled off a dinner with himself to ordinary folks? (He also did this during the midterm elections last year to help the Democratic Party.)

As his campaign writers explained this fundraiser in the email, I agree with what he's trying to do, which is to not take money from lobbyists. Consequently, by raffling off time with him to everyday people, he is able to raise money without being in anyone's pocket but the people's. Nevertheless, I hear someone objecting somewhere and saying that this kind of move cheapens the Office of the POTUS.

Does it really? He's not selling himself to the highest bidder but drawing donors' names whether that donor's given $5 or $2500. (It probably won't be that simple. I'm sure if your name is drawn and it's discovered you're a violent felon or a member of the KKK or some have been associated with anti-American extremists that you won't be called to dinner).

To declare that this fundraiser cheapens the office of the president, however, also implies an elitism that would exclude average people from having the chance to do something the wealthy have been doing for a very long time, which is sit down to dinner with the President of the United States after buying a plate for a re-election fundraising dinner. However, some Americans tend to associate the Oval Office with the seat of royalty, and so, they might think something as ordinary as a raffle, something little churches and benevolent associations do, is beneath that office.

To my knowledge, fundraising dinners to re-elect presidents in the past have had little to do with opening the door to any ordinary citizen because they have had minimum "donations" that often began in the thousands of dollars range. What working-class family can afford that? So, in the past, it's only been rich people and special interest lobbyists who have had access to sitting presidents via fundraising dinners.

Anyway, here's an excerpt from the email:
Most campaigns fill their dinner guest lists primarily with Washington lobbyists and special interests.

We didn't get here doing that, and we're not going to start now. We're running a different kind of campaign. We don't take money from Washington lobbyists or special-interest PACs -- we never have, and we never will.

We rely on everyday Americans giving whatever they can afford -- and I want to spend time with a few of you.

So if you make a donation today, you'll be automatically entered for a chance to be one of the four supporters to sit down with me for dinner. Please donate $5 or more today:

We'll pay for your flight and the dinner -- all you need to bring is your story and your ideas about how we can continue to make this a better country for all Americans.

This won't be a formal affair. It's the kind of casual meal among friends that I don't get to have as often as I'd like anymore, so I hope you'll consider joining me.

But I'm not asking you to donate today just so you'll be entered for a chance to meet me. I'm asking you to say you believe in the kind of politics that gives people like you a seat at the table -- whether it's the dinner table with me or the table where decisions are made about what kind of country we want to be.
The same friend who said Obama did this during the 2008 campaign also said this kind of fundraiser may reflect how social media (and the Internet) gives candidates new ways to connect to potential donors and supporters. Could be. It seems to fit a president who effectively used social media and new methods to connect the first time around.

Undoubtedly he'll still have town meetings, and everyday citizens can ask questions there, but those won't be as intimate as sitting down to a small dinner with him. At the very least this raffle and the dinner itself intrigues me as a media event.

How do you feel about this?

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