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Jewish World Review Sept. 3, 1999 /22 Elul 5759

Arianna Huffington

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Politicians' 'extended family' values -- THE MORE MONEY-DRIVEN and distant our politics becomes, the more politicians try to make up for it with phony intimacy. Here's the latest example: A friend of mine just received a beautiful card with two adorable little twin girls smiling from it, beneath the inscription, "Happy Birthday Dad!''

Enclosed was a letter from Congressman Jim Rogan's (R-Calif.) wife.

"Dear Carole,'' it began, "can I ask you a big favor? I need you to keep it secret. You see, my husband Jim's birthday is coming up, and I wanted to do something special for him this year. And I need your help. I have enclosed a birthday card for you to sign and send back to me so I can give it to Jim at the family birthday party Dana, Claire and I are having for him on September 5th.''

The true purpose of this warm family letter is exposed in the fifth paragraph: "I hope that when you send back your signed birthday card, you will include a special birthday contribution to Jim's re-election campaign. Perhaps you could send $100, $75 or even $42 -- as a special gift on Jim's 42nd birthday.''

Despite the massive fund-raising edge this gives Strom Thurmond, the birthday mailer is catching on. About the same time as Rogan's, a letter went out from Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) wife. "I'm excited about my plans to surprise him with a special birthday gift,'' Cindy McCain wrote. "I've arranged with the Senate staff and the campaign staff to give John a gift he can desperately use -- a solid three days off from worrying about politics to spend some quiet time with me and our children, Megan, Jack, Jimmy and Bridget.'' Of course, it's hard to throw a surprise party when the invitation is posted on the Internet.

This time, the real purpose of the letter appears in the 11th paragraph: `I'm also hoping you can contribute at least $63, along with your birthday greetings. Your contribution of $63 -- just $1 for each year -- will be a special way to thank John for all he's done for our state and nation. ... Thanks again for being such an important part of our extended family.'' At last, we know what politicians mean when they refer to strong "family values.''

Christine Rogan gets even more up close and personal: "Carole,'' she writes, `you have been such a good friend to Jim.'' In fact, Carole barely knows Jim. But this did not prevent Mrs. Rogan from underlining the following sentence: "I know how much your friendship means to Jim ... ''

The Rogan birthday mailer was sent to 20,000 special friends on his donor list, the McCain one to 40,000. "We have already exceeded our 'oal of raising $63,000,'' Rick Davis, John McCain's campaign manager told me. `Because it's signed by Cindy, it reminds people that John McCain is a human being who has a birthday and a family.''

But what if a mailer is signed by someone barely old enough to write? "Hi. My name is Julia and I am eight years old,'' begins another five-page missive, produced last year by The Lukens Cook Company, the direct-mail consultants behind the Rogan piece. It was written in a child's scrawl with a teddy bear at the bottom of the page. "I know that you don't know me, but you do know my Grandpa. His name is Jim Bunning, and he's running for the U.S. Senate, and October 23rd is his birthday. ... We usually get him a sweater for his birthday. But after talking to oy cousins, we decided to write this letter to you and some of Grandpa's other friends.''

It's good to see such a practical-minded third-grader. No wonder she was a trusted member`of the campaign's inner circlez "I talked with Miss Vebbie (Grandta'w campaign manager) and Mr. David (his finance director) and they told me we must raise $50,000 to get Grandpa on TV more. ... We can't wait to see Grandpa's face when we give him your cards at his surprise birthday party and then call the people at the TV stations and tell them we have the money to get Grandpa's commercials on TV for the last week of the campaign.''

If you can accept this with a shrug, as just more politics-as-usual, it simply means that you have completely given up on expecting authenticity in politics and that you are content never to truly believe what politicians say to get your vote -- or your money. So contagious is this shameless exploitation of everything, including one's children and grandchildren, that even a champion of cleaning up the system like McCain is dragged into it by the professional political class that dominates modern campaigns -- the consultants, pollsters, ad men, media buyers, direct mailmen, private eyes and astrologers.

These shenanigans won't stop until the targets of these hollow pitches decide they must be stopped. I'm not suggesting that you go to your window and yell, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore''. But at least you can mark these letters "Return to sender.''

And since you have been such a trusted and valued member of my extended family over the years, dear reader, I know you will come through -- if not for my sake, then for the sake of my two young daughters.


09/01/99: Campaign indictments: A harbinger of things to come?
08/30/99: For 2000, a race to define the race issue
08/25/99: Bush's cocaine question and the drug war
08/20/99: Hungry lobbyists gnawing away at democracy
08/18/99:Media grasping at straws
08/13/99: George W. and the corporate gravy train
08/11/99: Does Bulworth Have A Future In The White House?
08/06/99: As the White House turns

©1999, L. A. Times Syndicate