Grand Old Preying

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By David S. Holland
Thursday, April 6, 2006

Political fundraising solicitations cater to the lowest common denominator, a fact with which everyone other than those in the lowest common denominator will probably agree. Recently, however, I received a solicitation that might give pause to even the lowest common denominator.

The solicitation was from the Republican side of the aisle, but Democrats should not feel too superior: Their communications are certainly not aimed at rocket scientists. Still, this particular Republican effort sets a new low.

North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole, a graduate of Duke University and Harvard Law School, was, in her capacity as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the signatory of the covering letter. I hope her signature was nominal only and not indicative of any actual awareness of the contents of the solicitation.

Life is too short to dissect the solicitation point by point. Let's just hit the highlights, saving the totally outrageous item, the item that aims below the lowest common denominator, for last.

A characteristic of low-life solicitations, both political and otherwise, is an official, government-like look. The theory apparently is that the more the thing looks like an official communique from the government, the greater the response from the more trusting members of the populace. Aunt Maude sees the official-looking envelope and thinks, "Oh, the government needs my help." The fact that the more trusting members of the populace are likely to be old, gullible and financially strapped doesn't seem to bother too many consciences.

Dole's solicitation certainly looks official. In the upper left corner is an official-looking American eagle. In white letters over a black bar above the address window is "U.S. INDIVIDUAL RESIDENT." In the bottom left corner is "Form 1163 (2006) Return Enclosed." Aunt Maude's hands are already shaking.

Stamped in red and black on the upper right corner of the covering letter is the imposing label "Registration#: 54.93.252." The letter starts off: "Your immediate attention is required on a confidential and time-sensitive matter." And then, "Enclosed, please find your official SURVEY DOCUMENT -- REGISTERED in your name only -- assigned to you as a REPRESENTATIVE of ALL REPUBLICANS living in your voting district." By now, Aunt Maude is in a sweat.

After several paragraphs is the slightly sinister warning, underlined in part: "DO NOT DESTROY YOUR SURVEY! The enclosed Republican Leadership Survey is an OFFICIAL REPUBLICAN PARTY DOCUMENT. Your Survey is REGISTERED IN YOUR NAME ONLY and MUST BE ACCOUNTED FOR upon completion of this project." Aunt Maude may be envisioning time in the slammer.

The letter continues in similar pleading, cajoling and threatening veins for several pages. Gradually, the cause of the nation's troubles and the source of President Bush's difficulties become clear: liberal Democrats.

The document has 28 questions ranging from the innocuous, "Do you think we should fix the federal tax code so that it is simpler and fairer?" (go ahead, Maude, check no), to the real gist of the matter: "Will you help continue to build a strong foundation of Republican grassroots support for President Bush and his agenda by making a generous contribution to the NRSC today?"

And then comes the insult to the intellect of even the lowest common denominator. Aunt Maude has three choices. She can check "YES!" she wants to help defend the Republican Senate Majority with a contribution of $500, or several lesser alternatives. She can check "No," she does not wish to participate in "this vital Republican Senate Leadership Survey," but she does want to give a generous donation of $500, or several lesser alternatives, to "help build Republican grassroots support for President Bush and his agenda."

Or she can claim membership in the group below the lowest common denominator by checking No: "I do not wish to participate in the Survey, nor do I wish to make a donation to help the Republican Party. I am returning my Survey Document, along with a contribution of $11 to help cover the cost of tabulating and redistributing my Survey."

Two questions. First, how was the odd figure of $11 determined? Second, Aunt Maude, you're really not gonna send them $11, are you?

The writer lives in Alexandria. He unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for a congressional seat from Northern Virginia in 1984.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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