A while back, I posted an article on the general subject of “political emails”.
There are people who do a lot of forwarding of the email messages they receive, many of which have been forwarded to them. Too many remind me of the old-fashioned chain mail letters that used to circulate before the advent of personal computer usage. Unlike the sending of a chain mail letter, which required more effort and expense (going out to make copies somewhere, envelopes, and postage), it is just so very easy to hit “forward”. So, rather than seeing one of these chain mail letters showing up in the mail infrequently, email inboxes can fill with a multitude of the stuff if one has friends who are politically interested and/or involved. Outside of the chain-mail like character, this email forwarding reminds a great deal of the party game “telephone”. Since the messages are forwarded, re-forwarded, and re-re-forwarded, and so on, sometimes things get lost in translation. Who knows what is going to come out the other end?
Since I don’t see any decrease in the volume of these kinds of messages, I decided to start writing about them. In my first round, I covered the general problem and admitted, likely, this whole exercise will only serve as an outlet by which I can personally vent. So be it…*sigh*. Maybe, just maybe, though something I put forward will have a tiny impact. In reviewing what I wrote on the first round, it occurs to me that there were several basic points it might be helpful to highlight.
Problems with the forwarding phenomenon for those interested in having some impact on important issues:
- It creates a lot of noise. All of these forwards piling up in peoples’ email boxes mean IF there are any really good pieces of information sitting there, they are less likely to be seen, read, and/or acted upon.
- Substantive, effective information and solid recommendations for actions that can be taken are the exception, not the rule.
- Too many of the messages have no real basis in fact, or at best, have a grain of truth running through them that is often obscured by the “Chicken Little” style in which they’re written. While I have not done a scientific, statistical analysis, my experience tells me fewer than half include links to the original information source or any supporting documentation.
- The majority of forwarded messages I see are nationally focused; federal government problems, politicians, etc. rule the information, not state or local, which is where people are more likely to have success. How much can we do to impact Washington, D.C.? Meanwhile, “back at the ranch” your state and local officials are selling state sovereignty down the river to suck up federal funds as fast as they can, implementing the health care law, and doing everything they can to avoid making necessary cuts to state budgets drowning in red ink.
Now to my biggest pet peeve…
Nearly-panic stricken urgings to “sign” some petition.
Such petition appeals, in my opinion, are problematic for a lot of reasons. I have included just one of many examples of petition appeal emails that has been forwarded to me. The example I’ve provided is the email in its entirety, outside of necessary editing to remove the name of the entity and any links. I did the editing not because any “innocents” need protecting, but because I’m not going to give the organization sending it any particular attention…they don’t deserve it.
The email was sent to all of the “members” of an online site which is comprised of many different sub-groups, both geographically and issue-based.
“The House will vote on repealing ObamaCare in less than a week. We want to present 100,000 “Repeal ObamaCare” petitions to Speaker Boehner before the scheduled House vote. Go here to sign and see below for more information:
[This bit was followed by a link to the petition, which I have removed]
The results from our CITIZEN MANDATE were startling…
Ninety-seven percent of [the group membership] listed Repealing ObamaCare as an important issue. Even more telling was the fact that repealing ObamaCare was far and away the single most important issue to [all of the members] — more than twice as important as any other issue!”
In fact, when you completed your Citizen Mandate, you told us that “Repealing ObamaCare” was one of your important issues…
Now with the House preparing to vote on the “Repealing the Job-Killing Healh Care Law Act” on January 12, [the group] has launched a “Repeal ObamaCare” petition to give citizens an opportunity to voice their opinion on the repeal effort.
In fact, when you completed your Citizen Mandate, you told us that “Repealing ObamaCare” was your single most important issue…
We have less than one week to gather and deliver Repeal ObamaCare petitions. Take a moment right now to be part of this delivery by clicking below and using our exclusive QUICK SIGN feature to add your name to our “Repeal ObamaCare” petition:
[another link to the petition...removed]
In addition to demanding a Repeal of ObamaCare, this petition also calls on Congress to Defund all aspects of the ObamaCare legislation until it is purged from our laws.
Obama can’t fund his socialist health care plan if he doesn’t have the money!
That’s why this delivery is so important!
[our] members have spoken on the issue. You have said that Repealing ObamaCare is your #1 issue. Now we want to send Congress a strong, unwavering message on your behalf.
But we have less than a week to make it happen! Because time is SO LIMITED, we are counting on you to sound the alarm and rally your friends and family to join with you.
Forward this message DIRECTLY to 30-40 conservative friends and family urging them to sign our petition in time to be included in our upcoming delivery on January 11.
Have them click here to sign our petition:
[yet another link to the petition...removed]
We want to overwhelm Speaker Boehner, and other members of Congress as they prepare to cast their votes. We want them to understand clearly that the American people don’t want the federal government involved in their healthcare decisions!
We also want our petitions to serve as a reminder to every member of Congress that the repealing of ObamaCare is a MANDATE from the American people!
But as is so often the case, we are dependent on your actions over these next several days.
Don’t delay. Take a moment to sign our petition by using our QUICK SIGN feature by clicking below:
[and amazingly, yet another link to the petition...removed]
Then use the remaining time to alert and rally your friends!
This is an important first step in the restoration of our nation. Thank you for letting your voice be heard.
Your friends at [name of entity removed]
P.S. Again, after signing our petition, forward this message to 30-40 friends alerting them to our petition delivery to Speaker Boehner’s office the day before the January 12, House vote to repeal ObamaCare. Encourage them to be a part of this important vote by clicking here now:
[yes, believe it or not...another link...removed]“
end of message…
Wow! Where DO I start?
Substance of the issue…
- Did the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, seem “weak-kneed” regarding whether or not there would be a vote on repealing the health care law? The “membership” is CLEARLY on board, Speaker Boehner and company, clearly on record regarding taking the action noted. Is this a necessary effort or just an opportunistic way to get some attention by members AND most importantly, get them to forward the thing to non-members so the group can get their contact information?
- Is this the only way to “stop Obamacare”? Is it even a viable way to stop implementation of the health care law at this time? I support the idea of the House vote – the political point did need to get made. BUT, did the House vote stand any chance of resulting in actual repeal? NO. Does the petition encourage any action regarding the set up of insurance exchanges in your home state? Vast expansion of your home state’s Medicaid program (a huge element of “Obamacare”)? Grant monies requested by your state’s Governor to implement the law? Address the medical records technology and “comparative effectiveness council” in the February 2009 Stimulus bill which affects ALL Americans? (Click HERE for more.)
Insulting the intelligence of the reader…oh, let me count the ways…
- Just how many times does one need the link to be presented? There is less repetition in a kindergarten class memorizing nursery rhymes. Why? Clearly, the group / organization wants to get signers, even if they bail out from their reading early on.
- THE GROUP / ORGANIZATION is NECESSARY…you, the reader, needs to interact with this group…THEY are going to deliver this petition ON YOUR BEHALF. Would you have a voice WITHOUT THEM? If the point is truly to encourage people to in turn, encourage Speaker Boehner to carry on with the vote…why not just give his contact information and request that people contact him themselves?
Food for thought on petition drives:
More than shades of populism…
Should the passion of any given moment drive the decisions of elected representatives?
Isn’t momentary public passion an element of democracy?
Is democracy a good thing?
Are we a democracy or a representative republic?
Should opinion polls and petitions be important factors in public policy decisions or should the electoral process, fact gathering, and deliberation?
(Jonah Goldberg wrote an article in 2006 about populism that gets right to the point in paragraph one. Important note…Goldberg needs a refresher on what the Founders thought about democracy.)
- Is there evidence that this sort of populism has done much to affect the what happens in our government? I’ll get to a good example of such a petition drive effort that did accomplish a number of things, none of which were associated with affecting public policy, momentarily.
- Consider the no to yes call ratios going into Congress during the fall of 2008 associated with the bailout bill. I’ve heard a minimum of 9 to 1 against. Did that stop the people in Washington from carrying out their bailout? NO.
- Nebraskans inundated Senator Ben Nelson with calls, emails, letters, and ad campaigns urging him to vote against cloture on the health care law. Public opinion polls conducted within the State clearly indicated his constituents did not support the bill. Did it stop him from voting to allow the bill to go to the Senate floor for a vote?
- Do we really want to have government that means whoever can pull off the most phone calls, emails, or letters (not to mention TV, radio, mailers, and newspapers ads) wins the issue of the day? Should elected officials be so easily swayed? Should we have to hover over our representatives to this extent? Or should we be considering many more factors before we vote for them?
- What are the most appropriate circumstances under which making contact with elected officials makes sense? Ideally, it is an elected officials’ constituents giving feedback to the person representing them that is most appropriate.
When contact is appropriate…
What do you think is more effective? Individual emails, letters, and phone calls from constituents written in their own words and sent directly to an elected official, or a petition collected by a single online entity, with unverifiable information as to the participants? (Regarding online groups; do group members have anonymous usernames?)
Entities can be easily pigeon-holed in an instant. Large number of individuals taking time to make contact in their own words are much more difficult to dismiss.
The largest effort I can recall in the past couple of years is a perfect example of “petition populism”…
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich conducted a full-court press for his American Solutions “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less” petition drive in 2008. In fact, the effort is ongoing, and yes, the entity is continuing to disseminate information about oil prices and drilling. To date, American Solutions has collected 1.5 million+ plus petition signatures. In late summer 2008, Gingrich did present the original petition, in some form, to members of Congress.
Question: Did that petition drive change anything whatsoever about American oil drilling policy?
Here’s what it did accomplish…
Gingrich managed to collect approximately 1.2 million Americans’ information. That number has risen by about 300,000 since. That’s a HUGE contact database. It might be really handy for something like a presidential campaign.
I have questions…
- Just what information collected was given to Congress? Who has it now…anyone?
- Where else might the information be sent?
- Does American Solutions rent or sell its list to other groups, organizations, or individuals as a means by which to generate revenue?
Petition drives… UNLESS they are limited to putting a bond issue, constitutional amendment, law, or candidate on a ballot…
- Are nothing more than list building marketing tools
- Provide a potential revenue stream (through renting or selling of the list)
- Encourage people to give their information away indiscriminately
- Potentially provide opposition with a list of people who oppose them
- Condition people to believe they are doing something effective about an issue when history proves otherwise
- Allow groups and organizations to claim large numbers of “members”, increasing their own influence and profile
- Fill people’s email boxes with junk
- Encourage populism and small “d” democracy, not republican government
Image found on Michael Hyland’s Tumblr.