Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Why I've just been invited to dinner by Barack Obama

Barack Obama

Barack Obama won't stop emailing me. Since the beginning of September I've had five emails from the great man himself, two from Marlon Marshall, who is Deputy National Field Director of the Obama for America campaign and another one (my favourite) from Bill Clinton.

These men are all (God help their wit) after my money.

"Lindy, I can't do this on my own," says Barack in one of his messages. (I feel we are now firmly on first name terms) "Before tonight's fundraising deadline, I'm asking for your help."

How I got on the presidential mailing list was as follows. Back in August (as I mentioned in this column at the time) I attended a campaign rally addressed by First Lady, Michelle Obama. The event was aimed at galvanising party workers ("All fired up and ready to go!" I can still hear the chanting.)

To qualify for tickets we were asked to fill in a form recording basic details such as home address, cell phone number (mobile to you and me) and of course, email.

Hence those begging missives.

I'd like to flatter myself that Barack has singled me out personally. But since he mentions in his last email that he's already had 10m grassroots donations in one election year I'm assuming that his round-robin plea goes out to a much, much wider audience than the pally, personalised format would suggest.

But it's so cleverly, cleverly done.

"I hope you'll pay attention, Lindy," the email from Bill Clinton begins. It's an email from Bill Clinton, Bill. Of course I'm going to pay attention. Marlon (whoever he is) invites me to host a "watch party" (whatever that is. I'm assuming not Rolex.)

The bash is to be held during tonight's US television debate between Obama and Romney. "All you need," Marlon tells me, "is a comfy space and TV." He will supply me, he assures me, with flyers, sign-in sheets and "special training for hosts."

Trust me, Marlon. I know a bit about hosting parties already.

Barack meanwhile, tells me "I'm saving a seat for Lindy" at a dinner where "I want to meet you. I want to thank you in person. And I'd love to hear what's on your mind." This tantalising dinner invitation is not sadly, entirely straightforward. (The man's a politician, let's not forget.) If I contribute at least $25 to campaign coffers I will merely be in a draw for that seat he's saving for me and several million other potential guests.

Oh, and "the promotion is open only to US citizens or lawful permanent US residents." There goes my chance of cheeseburger with the most powerful man in the world. Still. It's all a fascinating insight into the American way of politics. Or the American way of political fundraising.

Are politicians here as adept at the personalised mass appeal? Not being a subscriber/supporter of any local party I have no idea.

Would it be perhaps, a bit disconcerting to receive an email from say, Peter Robinson that begins with the words: "Lindy, I can't do this on my own"?

Or one from Martin McGuinness commencing: "I hope you'll pay attention, Lindy"?

Of course it costs money to send out this sort of sophisticated personalised missive. Pity then, you might think, the smaller parties like, for example, the UUP - once a flourishing "broad church" but these days down to one pew as Kim Jung Nesbitt scythes out dissenting voices.

On the plus side, the way the UUP is going they won't need to worry about mass mail shots.

A personalised message from a party leader is indeed impressive. But not when you suspect there are increasingly so few he may soon be able to write to party members. Individually.

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