Saturday, November 17, 2007

Lunch with Barack Obama and I couldn't pay the tab

I've been reading as other bloggers had exciting, motivating, and informational meetings with politicians. Momocrats and other political bloggers have been excellent sources of information and opinions as we try to sort through a rather crowded field of candidates for the next major election.

Written platforms, news articles, appearances in debates on television and so forth are all well and good, but there is something to be said for a more personal, face-to-face venue.

I was fortunate enough to meet Hilary Clinton in Nashua, NH, and it gave me a better idea of who she is...that chance to be in person.

Therefore, I was extremely pleased to get an invitation to lunch with Barack Obama in a private Houston home.

Barack Obama is one of the greenest of the candidates and I can't decide if that's a pro or con. He certainly says some extremely intriguing things, although it seems lately his message has been a bit watered down, if consistent.

I imagine Howard Dean is still fresh in everyone's mind.

A small venue lunch at a home seemed like a perfect opportunity to get a better idea of who Mr. Obama is, and whether he is a good possibility as a future president of the United States.

Then I saw the fine print: only a $2300 donation required.

My friends, if I had $2300 I'd: replace my flooring, master bath, backyard drainage, install new windows...and so on.

I was ready to delete the invitation in disgust, then I considered replying with disgust, and then I stopped and thought.

Politics is a game of strategy that requires large budgets. This is unfortunate, because it puts the focus on the money, but true. Candidates must buy their way into office.

Thus, people must buy their way into candidate's company.

It's a good way to create a win-win: candidate gets some more dough for the pot and people who want to bend his or her ear for a bit get the chance. Attendees might also even get a money shot of standing alongside said candidate.

David Westcott, "politcal hack/PR flack" (in his own words) recently wrote, "Women are so important in politics today that my company even tracks and aggregates the discussions taking place on “political mom” blogs. We need you a lot more than you need us..."

I asked him, "If women are so essential in politics, why are they so ignored by politicians? Who came to BlogHer versus who came to Kos?"

I mean ever since the soccer mom craze, there hasn't been much appeal to women, nor has there been a focus or priority.

At BlogHer, candidates had the opportunity to hit a large group of very active and involved women who do, on the whole, vote.

Instead, they went to Yearly Kos, a more male dominated venue. Where, they heard, they were more likely to get donations.

Has money become more important than votes? Do candidates assume that with money they can buy votes?

Each time I vote it increasingly feels like a compromise, and with each passing year I feel more and more marginalized.

David validated this sensation when he replied, "’re right about the politicians not showing moms who blog enough respect and it’s for one simple reason - political blogs like Daily Kos raise a lot of money for candidates, mom blogs don’t. The campaigns are only starting to understand the non-financial value of engaging moms (and others) online. Only a handful of people get it now but more will after 2008."

I hope David is right.

Because I missed lunch with Barack Obama. I couldn't pick up the tab.

$2300 is so far out of my reach it's not even funny. So, more or less, priority-wise, is the $500 that would have bought me a place against the wall when he spoke (missing the reception).

Had the price tag been lower, it might have been a harder decision to make. I might have scrambled.

These days it seems that politicians don't (can't) value people who can't afford to buy their way into their company. (The little people, who, statistically, are women.)

The feeling might be mutual.

I think this system---of politics are for the very rich and privileged, as is access to politicians---explains a lot about what to the vast majority of the US seems like bad or incomprehensible decisions by politicians. Their circles don't encompass a fair representation of all people; and you tend to think what you are surrounded by is a fair idea of reality. It's not.

What if I assumed that everyone had the same lifestyle, priorities, needs and ideas as I did: a middle class mom who owns her own business, writes in a blog, lives in an environmentally disgusting town full of friendly people so nice lots of folks still don't worry about locking their doors?

That's not reality for most people. Our concerns and stances on issues won't per se match least not in priority.

My priorities are: health care, environment and education.

I want more and better care paid to all three. I want a leader who isn't afraid to sign in health care for kids. I don't want to hear another story like this one from my good friend: Healthcare is a bitch.

I want a leader who is willing to quit taking with one hand and withholding with the other when it comes to the environment. Get tough people. It's not a joke. We need to clean up our acts. There are more environmentally caused health issues than we realize.

I want to send my daughter to a school that has no agenda and only one priority: the best education for her. And I want it to be a public school where she gets group influences, and education from a variety of people. Schools need adequate funding, but they also need better---and less political---funding management. If schools could buy art supplies instead of state mandated plastic red ribbon wristbands...well.

But Barack Obama missed hearing me say this.

Because it cost $2300 to tell him, and I don't have it.

Note: To be fair, I could have trailed Mr. Obama to Austin, where, for $25, I could have joined thousands of others to listen to his speech, which appears to have primarily focused on why nots for other candidates and war. My point is not the simple ability to see a candidate in person, while he speaks, but to have the opportunity to participate in back and forth discussion with a candidate. To be further fair, some politicians do make this a priority, such as Nick Lampson, who I have also had the privilege to meet with and engage in conversation with, in person. My criticism doesn't include local politicians, who I can easily chat with on a daily basis.

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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slouching mom said...

Oof. This is a tough one for me. Obama has to play the game in order to get that nomination. The game requires money, lots of it, too much of it. It's ridiculous, and unfair, but I don't blame Obama for the state of politics today.

(I do, however, blame him for seemingly not having the courage of his convictions. What, in fact, are his convictions? Does he have any? I can't tell. And he appeared to be such a promising candidate back in January...)

Julie Pippert said...

It's tough for me too, because, as I said, it's a game of strategy that requires large buckets of money.

It's really the system I'm criticizing.

I hope that came across (but fear now it hasn't).

It was upsetting to me to have this amazing opportunity and not be able to afford to do it.

Primarily because, as you said, he seemed so promising and has, as I said, become so watered down and typical.

That, almost more than anything, is swaying me away from him.

slouching mom said...

Oh, no worries. You most certainly got your point across.

Obama used to get me all hot and bothered (innuendo intended), but he's really disappointed me, and I don't totally trust my reactions where he's concerned.

I'm leaning more and more towards Edwards.

Suz said...

I agree. The point came across loud and clear; it's only a very priveleged few who have the sort of access that many of us crave. However, I think that this isn't only a problem of money, but with our electoral system as a whole. I know my chances of speaking one-on-one would be much greater if I lived in New Hampshire or one of the other early poll states. I don't begrudge these folks this opporunity (well, maybe a little) but it also seems to me that another system would better share the wealth, so to speak.

Lawyer Mama said...

I completely understand where you're coming from.

It annoys me more than I can say that the "mommy" bloggers are pretty much ignored by everyone except the Edwards campaign. I've emailed back and forth with someone from the Dodd campaign and part of it is their current budget limitations as well. But I hope David is right and they will eventually figure out how valuable we really are. No, we don't blog exclusively about politics. But, yes, we may be able to raise money for candidates. More importantly, we can get their message out there in a much more personal way than traditional campaign media can. Even if there's no money involved.

Julie Pippert said...

SM, thanks for the reassurance said basically what I think, too. (What a SHOCK, like I've NEVER said that before LOL!)

Suz, you make a great point. Politics were much more accessible in MA and NH, on a national level. I have also found my degree of political participation to be a factor, as well. But I agree, the system is the issue, and our complacency for playing within it.

LM, the value we bring---even though not exclusively blogging about politics---is a pulse on a big population and the issues and priorities they have. You could go to Moms Speak Up and see immediately the main things women are worrying about, which, on the whole, are homefront issues. I don't begrudge war talk at all. It needs to happen, that dialogue. But it's gotten such a forefront, as have other "trigger" issues such as illegal immigration. Democrats are almost playing a bad game of Defensive Politicking and letting Republicans continue to set the issues. Then they merely react. JMHO

And you are SO RIGHT: we may be able to raise money for them. With conditions: (a) we are convinced it is money well-spent, (b) it is for a candidate we can trust to speak for our needs and concerns, and (c) as SM said, for a candidate who has the courage to maintain his convictions.

The MOMocrats initiative is extremely persuasive for Edwards. Look at that power.

You are converting votes. With words, not $$$.

So, in short, what you said...ITA, and great points!

thailandchani said...

Any means to bring the issues to the table for people to think about is worth it.

As for the system itself, I admit to having no involvement simply because I do believe it is corrupt and money-driven. Those two facts alone eliminate any faith I might have in votes.

But I do believe that thinking about issues can change people's worldviews. Maybe that's the best we can hope for and, all told, is not a bad thing in and of itself.

Emily R said...

"Has money become more important than votes?"

Well, no. But without money they cannot reach a large number of voters. This is why campaign finance reform is so important. The more you need money to run, the more power people with money have. It is that simple.

Family Adventure said...

Not being American, it is not my place to criticize the US system. But I would have loved to have heard your take on Obama in person. He seems to have faded into the background, at least according to Norwegian reports. Is Hillary a shoo-in?


PunditMom said...

I'm hoping that with the growing amount of internet politicking, that our influence will grow with or without political contributions. As for being ignored, it's not just the menfolk not tuning in to the women bloggers. At BlogHer I was blown off by HIllary's contact person. Not really a wise move.

Why do they think the "guy" bloggers have more influence?? I'm still chewing on that one.

Kyla said...

Profit margins. Everything in our country boils down to profit margins.

Imagine me shaking my head with disgust, because I am.

I know he has to play the game, everyone does, but it doesn't mean the game is fair.

Christine said...

what kyla said--seriously i am right there with ya guys.

Jenny said...

I'm so politically inept I don't even have the right to comment here...but people who do have important things to say (like you, my friend) should be given that opportunity. Or at least, more of an opportunity than we currently have.

Queen of the Mayhem said...

Why didn't you tell me? I could have bought us both tickets! (hee-hee)

Seriously, I do agree that it is important for everyday people to be heard.....even those whose pockets are not as deep!

whymommy said...

Your point came across loud and clear. It's the system. The money. The fact that largely those who have are the ones with access. Same old story, in other words. I had hoped it would be different in this age of the internet....

ALM said...

I was just talking about all this today over brunch with my uncle. He says that this era will go down in history as the most corrupt.. where people have lost all their belief in the "system" because it's all about money.

I really trying not to agree with him... because I'd still like to kinda believe.. But it's really getting hard.

Aliki2006 said...

The system is definitely worth criticizing, and I do feel candidate's end up getting stuck between that rock and the proverbial hard place. Still...I'm finding it harder and harder to believe as well, as others have pointed out.


anne at said...

As always, Julie, a terrific read. You make me wanna be a better blogger.

Jeff said...

It's sad. Everything about our entire electoral process is flocked. There's just too much to say about it here in your little ol' comments section, but trust me when I say I am not happy about it. Great post (as usual) Julie. But now you got me all riled up ;-)

Scribbit said...

You should have put a PayPal button on the blog and see if you could have got people to send you to "Lunch with Obama" I bet you could have got the money--I would have paid a couple bucks just to see the post you'd have written :)

Mary Alice said...

People who have 2300 to drop for lunch with Obama, probably have health care - and their kids probably have some school choice.

Julie Pippert said...

Chani, well, yes, that is my frustration: I had no chance to bring the issues to the table fro consideration. As Mary Alice wisely pointed out, people who could afford the $2300 tab probably don't face health care or education issues. Money greases all wheels.

Emily R, I think you said the magic words: campaign finance reform. I guess that's easier said than done, although as I once said I get VERY suspicious when people say something is too complicated to fix (when you see it being fixed in other real world ways elsewhere) or this is the only way.

The protests become disingenuous.

Heidi, WOW, how interesting to see the media focus in Europe is on Clinton. Here, from what I see and here, it is pretty well split between Obama and Clinton, who are considered neck and neck. At the moment there is no obvious shoo in. Edwards is picking up steam, I think.

PM, you ask a key question: why are men considered to have more influence? I have my theories: money and perceived authority. I continue to believe that "women's" issues and priorities aren't considered important enough. As David said, it's an issue of not being able to value adequately that which is not monetary. You'd think they'd learn after the dark horse Dean (although that is a mixed lesson).

Kyla, so well said. Yes, that's it. And I agree: the system is flawed. (Ditto Christine. )

Queen, absolutely...and geez If I'd known I would have...what a fun weekend we could have had! ;)

Whymommy...I hope we have enough time to drive home a powerful point that it can, and should, be different in the Internet age.

Alm, as someone who recalls the Nixon effect (which seems so tiny compared, although obviously it was a stone in a pond) it seems amazing that your uncle could be correct, and yet...I think I agree. But like you. Reluctantly.

Aliki, absolutely. It's a rock and a hard place. But. I believe we can turn the boat...if we want to.

Jeff, sorry to rile you up, but then again, not so much. I think if we get riled up enough we might do something constructive, or get one more voice out there.

Michelle! DRAT! I wish I'd blogged about this ages ago. What a great idea! My mind is whirling how we can create a pool for a representative... :)

Anne, thanks, and don't get too much better or we'll all feel too intimidated. ;)

Mary Alice, oh PERFECT...that is it EXACTLY. When they don't hear from "real" people about "real" issues, like i said, you don't get a real representation of priorities. THAT is how I think politicians have gotten so out of touch and make what appear to be incomprehensible decisions, like denying health care for kids.

Mrs. Chicky said...

I think the politicians from both sides are missing a huge opportunity. As for the money, what kind of messages are the candidates sending by only appearing in intimate settings if the price tag is high? Very frustrating.