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irregular times logoTo Defeat a Campaign, Donate to It

Way back when, in the days of yesteryear when John Kerry had not yet gained the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency, I donated $20 to the then-insurgent campaign of Howard Dean. I was soon reassured by a letter from the Dean campaign that my small donation, together with other small donations, was making a difference in American politics.

I gained the same reassurance in a letter the next week. And the next week. And the week after that.

Then they sent me a bumper sticker, a "membership card," a recruiting brochure and numerous glossy photos.

After I started getting repeated phone calls, I pulled out a calculator and did a rough tally of the expense the Dean campaign had incurred in its various forms of follow-up solicitation. The sum: $26.23. On balance, it turns out, I had donated negative $6.23. That wasn't exactly the difference I'd hoped to be making in American politics.

At first, I felt a mix of fury, desperation and tension over the counterproductive nature of my small donation to a political campaign. How exactly were regular people like myself to donate effectively to political campaigns when our small efforts would turn out to be for worse than naught?

The phrase worse than naught stuck in my head like stubborn peanut butter, because that phrase was associated with another political figure in my mind: George W. Bush. I mean, let's be honest: this guy is the Worse Than Naught President. A brass doorstop in the shape of a duck occupying the chair in the Oval Office would have done less harm to this country than George W. Bush has managed in his not-brief-enough tenure.

Suddenly, it occurred to me: couldn't one apply the Worse Than Naught principle to our Worse Than Naught president? It was worth a shot. So I took a deep breath, calmed my twitching hand and wrote out a $10 check to the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign. After hastily shoving the check in the corner mailbox, I returned to my home to wait.

That was in May. Sure enough, after about one month the mail started coming. It's been three months now and I've received eighteen pieces of correspondence from the Bush-Cheney campaign, the Republican National Committee, and various other "unaffiliated" (hah!) groups wanting something from me to help Bush and Cheney get re-elected. Here are my rough calculations of cost to the Bush campaign and its surrogates, using quick-and-dirty estimates:

A. 18 envelopes * 3 cents = $0.54
B. 40 sheets of paper and various inks * 3 cents = $1.20
C. 1 30-page glossy magazine * $1.00 = $1.00
D. 18 bulk-rate mailings * 20 cents = $3.60
E. 4 bumper stickers * 10 cents = $0.40
F. 16 business reply envelopes * 2 cents = $0.32
G. 16 return postage mailings * 20 cents plus 10 cent surchage = $4.80
H. 30 minutes' staff time to assemble, send, receive and read correspondence * $3.85 minimum wage = $1.93

The sum total of the cost of all these mailings comes to $13.79. So far, I have cost the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign and its various surrogate groups $3.79 with my $10 donation. But wait, it gets better. Most of the 18 pieces of mail I got came in the three weeks leading up to the writing of this article on August 24, 2004. We haven't as of now even reached the date of the Republican National Convention, and already I've dug the Bush-Cheney into a hole by sending them money! There's two months of appeal-sending left to go, too. Of course, the Bush-Cheney campaign itself has had its last chance to appeal to me for money, but all the affiliated groups, including the RNC, are going to continue sending loads of materials to me. My guess is that by the end of the campaign, the $10 contribution I sent to Bush is going to cost him $20. If I had started earlier, I would have cost Bush and his pals lots more.

You'll notice that an important part of this effort is taking "Business Reply Mail" seriously. The campaign doesn't say explicitly on the envelope what kind of reply they're looking for, so I decided to send a helpful "Dump Bush" message along with each mailing. I'm sure they'll find that sort of reply helpful for morale at headquarters.

It's probably too late for you to get on the bandwagon this time around, but next time you see a particularly pernicious twerp running for election or re-election in a high-profile race, you know what to do. Don't send his or her opponent $20. Just send your foe $10.

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