Stories From A Life

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Sally Swift

Sally Swift
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
June 14
VP, Repartee
Swift Retorts
sally: a journey, a venture, an expression of feeling, an outburst, a quip, a wisecrack ... me


Editor’s Pick
JULY 18, 2008 6:57PM

Barack Obama Wants Me Even Though I'm Ordinary

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Barack Obama wrote me an email last week. Signed, Barack. He addressed me personally, as Sally. Which is odd, since we never met. I didn't contribute to his campaign. Hmm. He must have Hillary's lists now. No matter, he wants to hear from me. Even though I'm "ordinary."

Hey, he said it, I didn't. Twice. Take a look, I emphasized it.

Sally --

Every four years, the Democratic Party assembles a platform that outlines the party's position on a number of issues.

Traditionally, the drafting of the platform is not open to ordinary people.

This year, that's going to change.

For two weeks in July, people all across America will hold Platform Meetings in their own communities to discuss the issues and share their input. The outcome of these meetings will be reviewed by the Drafting Committee as it creates the final Platform.

No political experience is required. Your thoughts and experiences are all that matter, and they will shape a platform that -- like this party -- is owned by the people.

Sign up to host or attend a Platform Meeting in your neighborhood:

This year, ordinary people like you will gather in their homes, community centers, places of worship, and even coffee shops to discuss the issues that matter to them and help decide what should be at the heart of the Democratic platform for change.

The input we get from these meetings will help shape the platform at the Democratic Convention in August.

Platform Meetings are a great way to connect with fellow supporters and help write the next chapter in the history of the Democratic Party.

We'll make sure you have all the resources and support you need to succeed. All you need to provide are your ideas for America and your hunger for change.

I hope you'll take advantage of this opportunity to make your voice heard in the political process.

Thank you for all that you do,


I am, to say the least, under whelmed. What is happening to the  Democratic Party? Who is dumbing it down? I worked for the DNC. I still know people there. Smart people. But whoever's running this particular little marketing campaign seems to be appealing to the lowest common denominator.

Patronizing voters  is no way to educate them. Certainly no way to appeal to experienced voters. To veteran Democrats, older women, Hillary's demo, the one I fit. Well, maybe they think we need help, they made the typeface size 14. Granted, Boomers need larger type and like to think young. But talking to us as though we're callow college students is not the way to our hearts, guys!

I'm not crazy about Barack Obama to begin with, but he's what we've got and I'll live with it. Literally. Because I believe more of us will stay alive if Senator Obama becomes president. I want my fellow Hillaryites, dissed and disenchanted though we may be, to get on board. I want us to WIN!

So I wrote and suggested they step back and take a look at their puerile language. At the way they're talking down to their supporters. At the affect it might have on participation. Although, I don't know, maybe they don't really want my participation. I skew Boomer, too old to create Change We Can Believe In. Like hell.

The Obama campaign needs everybody's help to defeat John McCain. Even ordinary people like me.

Update: Apparently I'm not the only one who complained. The web site language has been edited with a "what we meant to say" excuse. It now reads:

Every four years, the Democratic Party assembles a “platform” that outlines the party’s position on a variety of issues. Traditionally, the platform is written by paid professionals and then presented to the American people.

This year, that’s going to change.

From July 19 to July 27, everyday people all across America will hold Platform Meetings in their own communities. From Atlanta, Georgia to Muncie, Indiana, from Bangor, Maine to Eugene, Oregon, Americans will meet to talk about what issues are most important to them and what should be at the heart of the Democratic platform for change.

The results of these Platform Meetings will be incorporated into the formal process that culminates in the adoption of the platform at the Democratic Convention in August. A few participants may even be invited to appear and testify at the National Hearing and at the Convention!

You can write the next chapter in the history of the Democratic Party. Host an event in your own community. We've prepared all the materials that you need to host. Or, if you'd prefer, find an event near you.

Well. I am no longer ordinary. Now I'm "everyday." That's better.

And thanks so much for filling me in. Let me get this straight: every four years the Democratic party assembles a "platform"? Wow. Really? Is this like Habitat for Humanity? Do I get to use a hammer and nails?

Oh wait, I think I've heard of it. They do this to come up with a plan for the Democratic National Convention, right? The one that comes before the Presidential Election?

God help us.  Do they think we've never heard of a "PARTY PLATFORM"???

Oh wait, all those newly deputized, politicized college students might not know about the party platform. How comforting. The ones who created the Obama-Mania momentum and pushed him to the front of the line don't know shit. But they'll do whatever the Obama marketing gurus tell them.

This is not a "new generation for change." This is a new form of political pandering. Which, while it might appeal to the uninitiated, is downright insulting to those of us in the know. And should be equally insulting to the Generation for Changers who've bothered to educate themselves on the process.

It's often the little things like this that matter. Wait and see. They grow and fester and turn into a landslide of anger. Which translates into votes for the other side.

What. Ordinary. Idiots.


Update: Based on her post below, as described by ktm: A Voters' Platform... revised

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So do I, Stella. And if a campaign still needs to motivate it's own kids to vote, it hasn't effected any change at all.
Stellaa, please call and tell them exactly that! I was beginning to think I was a tree in the forest with nobody listening. Help, I've fallen and I can't get up!
eyes on the prize, people, please, i beg you. my philosophy is: is what I am about to say going to help barry get elected? if the answer is no, I zip the lip. and if the last 2 elections are any indication, criticism from within their own party/constituency does not help democratic candidates get elected. but that's just my approach, though I am happy to have converts.
Le Castor, in a perfect world, say a college campus, you'd be 100% correct. And in theory I totally agree. But if we can't speak our minds because our candidate might lose, what a statement that is... And by all accounts, in this case the campaign either listened to us or tacked on their own. Either way, a better outreach was achieved.
But if we can't speak our minds because our candidate might lose, what a statement that is...

I've thought about this, you know I am a big proponent of unfettered free speech and expression of all ideas. To me, this is a question of delayed gratification: look where 2 elections of speaking our minds have gotten us, the sorry state of all our rights, of diversity of ideas, etc. Our rights and principles aren't worth very much if we can't get a candidate elected. I don't want another 4-8 years of Bushesque government, so I'm not going to risk it.
That they changed the language seems significant. Last time Bush ever changed ANYTHING was. . .well. . .you know!

Also have to give props to leC's comment on delayed gratification---I think that does figure in somewhere here. . .
Their first mistake was in not realizing that most of those who get that involved in politics (i.e., enough to help construct a platform), are really often extraordinary people. Like Sally.

I don't remember now if it was the 2000 or 2004 election, but I do remember thinking that we needed a voters' platform, not something like this, where we are being asked for input into the party's platform, but one that is not beholden to any of the power or money interests. So, I wrote a little something up... and that was pretty much it. Online life had not grown to the extent it has in the last cycle or two. (So, it must have been 2000.)

I happened to mention it to an online acquaintance who was starting a new blog, and used it for an early post. We haven't gone very far with it, but it's still out there on, the brainstorm of Gordon, who also has a shingle here at O_S.
If you arrow down the left sidebar, you'll find a link to that post in the archives, and you can still leave comments.
In fact, I could probably add a whole bunch of things now that I never thought would be necessary way back then... pre-BushCo.
Sally, darlin', I love ya but I think your pro-Hillary, anti-Obama bias is showing through. No, I didn't like being called ordinary. Whoever scripted the initial letter did a poor job of conveying the idea. But I DO think it is a good job to get the general populace involved in cementing the party platform, to get as many voters as possible feeling like they are a part of things, because for years now we've been excluded to the point in which we are meant to feel like peons. Our civil rights have been ripped from our still-beating hearts and our constitution has been nothing more than a piece of parchment on display in the National Archives.

So people need to get involved and asking them to form policy is one way to do it. Suggest other ways if you don't like this one. We as boomers, youngsters, and the ones on the cusp like me of '63 need to all join together to make sure another entitled. close-minded, angry old white man does not hold our nation's highest office and turn it into a larger monarchy than it already is.

I can't believe I am saying this but listen to the kinder, gentler Le Castor. I totally agree with her. Eyes on the Prize, everyone, eyes on the prize.
Where to begin?
1. Thank you, ktm, for you comments and your into. I'm going to post a link here as an update.
2. Roger, thank you for noticing they changed the language. It gives me hope that they will at least *try* not to be so arrogant
3. LeC (what the hell is your first name already?): Eyes on the prize is valid--even critical--but it shouldn't mean blind support of Obama. If anything, we should be well prepared to counter any attack. Lack of free speech isn't my complaint, it's the idea that I have to be very, very careful on what I say about Obama so I don't torpedo him. Surely I don't have that much power... Surely he's not that much on the bubble.
4. Lauren, it isn't about pro-Hillary, it's about the cold, hard reality of getting Hillary's supporters over to Obama. He can't win without them. No matter how gorgeous the rhetoric.
5. Neil, jeez, I didn't hit that email because my feelings were hurt. I was making a point that when you're trying to be inclusive, it's a mistake (which obviously even his own campaign recognized) to use language that alienates specific groups of supporters. You and others say "let it go" because you're already Obama supporters, you don't want to hear anything but good stuff. I wonder how you'd react if the roles were reversed and that email came from Hillary. Believe me, I would have written EXACTLY the same post.

My point is about making sure it's not symptomatic of an attitude that could lose more voters than it gains. I'm not making a mountain, I'm trying to make sure it's only a molehill.

George W. Bush didn't "win" either election. His brother, the US Supreme Court and Al Gore gave it to him in 2000. The Swift-boaters, John Kerry and the DNC gave it to him in 2004. Both the Gore and Kerry campaigns made Major, and I mean MAJOR, mistakes. So did Hillary's.

I said so here: Gore and Kerry and Clinton, Oh My. Expressed anti-Hillary sentiments, even. Because I don't want to see it happen to Obama.
hmm. Is being called an 'ordinary citizen' really arrogant, condescending and alienating? I know we all FEEL like we're really special and super duper interesting....but most of us aren't actually famous for those, or heck, other qualities.
Agreed, Sandra, but when a candidate is courting voters, (s)he's supposed to make us feel a little special, if only by virtue of our support. Here the courting is done in a "personal" email, "signed" by the candidate... I'm on a first name basis with Barack Obama and he with me, I don't feel ordinary.
Perhaps I am unduly cynical, but I am just a number for electoral purposes, and I am completely okay with that. This is also why any time I provide an email to a political entity, I give them an address that I check once a fiscal quarter in order to delete all the cruft.
Unfortunately, Sandra, I believe that Obama's reference to voters as "ordinary" only alienates a minority group of supporters. Members of that group already educate themselves on political issues, know what a party platform is and hopefully don't need a mass email to court them onto a candidate's side. I'll take the ego hit and be called an everyday person if it means someone who doesn't pay mind to the political process feels empowered and motivated to participate.

Stella - I am reluctant to believe people are done with the Republicans. That is what I believed in '04 and we ended up with 4 more years of Bush.
Sally, I'm going to weigh in on the notion that most people aren't going to object to "ordinary" and many probably don't understand what a platform is or how it gets created. We tend to forget that less than half of people in this country get a college degree. (Not that intellegence and college education are congruent, but it's a benchmark, however imperfect.)

I was getting my nails done one afternoon early in the primary season and talking politics with the person in the next chair, when the nail tech turned to me and asked, "What's a delegate?"

Since then, I don't presume that people know things that I consider basic about politics.
Liz, I don't disagree. (Love that phrase). It's amazing how much people don't know about our political process. But the campaign is supposed to know who they're talking to... that wasn't a mass email, it went out to those they thought would host platform meetings, which would have to include Hillary's list since I didn't contact Obama. And again, the fact that they changed the language speaks to the concept of "courting the electorate."
Like I've been saying all along, Hope is the stage name of a dancer twirling around a pole at your local gentlemen's club and Change is all that's left in your pocket when she's done with you.

And yet, people seem to buy that crap.


Talk is cheap, Obama. Show me what you've got.

And so far, you ain't shown me jacksquat.
Why did the writers of "Barack's" email feel the need to qualify the word, people, anyway? Why not just say, "people like you"?

I don't mind being called ordinary as long as I'M doing the talking. I can call myself fat, ordinary, or lazy, but it's not acceptable for other people, including Barack, to refer to me that way.

It's subtle, referring to someone as "ordinary", but it's still slightly insulting. Synonyms for ordinary include unexceptional, unremarkable, usual and workaday. None of those words makes me feel particularly important.

None of them make me want to work hard for the campaign either.
Some people identify with "ordinary" -- strive to be just "plain folks". I hear this several times a day from my office mate. If I try to talk about something beyond the mundane, the standard reply is: "I don't like my life too complicated, you know that" or "I really don't want to have to know that much about politics". So, I agree with Liz on her point.

Ordinary would have been a great term for a MASS mailing that was directed to get more people involved. The chosen language was simple, folksy, inviting in those potential voters. An effort to make these voters feel less overwhelmed by the "big picture" and politics in general -- just asking them to tell about their own personal issues. With the economy like it is, many people have time to think about little else than keeping a roof over their heads.

I am just getting to the part of his book, "Dreams from My Father", where Obama is describing his days as an organizer in the Chicago housing projects. Making the "ordinary" folk feel that they are important was the key to getting the residents involved in their own welfare. If regular, ordinary folks are feeling disconnected from their government, then making them feel that they WILL be heard is something with which he is very familiar.

Sally, most all at OS are more sophisticated in our thinking and writing capabilities. I can see how you would have taken that the letter was insulting if it were written just for you or perhaps the entire OS group. His base ALREADY includes many that have never participated in politics in the past, however.

There is a theme to his candidacy -- an effort to include more than the normal players. That is why he is taking the announcement of his candidacy to a stadium -- that worked on a smaller scale for him "back in the day" in Chicago.

So, I can see this issue from both perspectives. I don't think "ordinary" was a good choice for that particular mailer. If they corrected the wording later, they know they made a mistake. He made gaffs back in the day as well. He will correct them, learn from them and move on. At least the campaign is trying to be inclusive, which I think is important at this point in our history.
On the last four comments, I agree with Lisa, Ann, Tony and Liz. Mostly Tony if ya wanna know the truth. But puhlease remember this isn't about me feeling personally attacked... it's about my concern over the campaign mishandling my demographic, a group of millions they very much need to win. Bottom line, I want him to win.
Crap, I meant to say Tony and Ann ... Lisa, you make a compelling argument, but I also expressed concern their gaffs will continue. If so, we're doomed to another Dem in the loss column.
Here's what I want to know.

Why do people pretend to be "just folks?"

I am smarter than most people. I am more educated than most people. I make more money than most people. I have experienced more cultures and visited more places than most people.

And you know what? If it's arrogant to say it, so be it. I'm arrogant.

Why do we have so many people pretending to be average people when the average person is a person who never attended college, who has never traveled outside of the country, and who doesn't even have a passport?

Why would I want to be that person?

I don't.

And I will never pretend to be him.
I'm like that too, Tony. Many of us here are. However it seems many feel it un-PC to say so. I said before and will say again, many Hillary supporters are in the same category. If Obama wants them, he can't/mustn't/dare not talk down to them. And again: It's not about change any more, it's about WINNING.
Sally, to be honest this reads like you were ready to be offended. If as you suggest - and I see no reason to doubt it - large numbers of Senator Clinton's supporters are above average, presumably that means that they also have the wit to not take personally poorly written campaign emails.

I'm hard pressed to see how someone who was so committed to the candidacy of Senator Clinton could cross over to vote for Senator McCain. The most obvious reason I could think of would be to undertake voting for McCain in an nested logic approach (per game theory) - assuming that a vote for McCain will produce a weak one-term presidency, scotch Senator Obama's chances of running again, and clear the path for another run from Senator Clinton. That's quite a gamble, but it has a logic associated with it. Otherwise the appeal of voting for Senator McCain would be somewhat mysterious.
Haggis, I respect you and your comments, which are always thought-provoking and pithy. So why do I need to go on record for the umptheenth time that I only took the email personally in a global sense, concerned that such an easily avoidable gaff would piss peole off? Take your own unofficial poll... Hillary supporters are struggling with the Obama vs McCain decision. I. Am. Not. I want Obama to win. I have the creds to make a comment on a political miscue. Which is what I did.
Sounds to me like Sally is demanding excellence from her candidate. Go figure.

Remember when Bush ran (how could we forget, right?) and the subtext of his platform was, "I'm just a corn-pone Texas boy who barely sraped a C+ at that Ya-yel college. I'm just one of ya'll."

I think the US has had enough of Everyman as our President. I don't see Obama trying to fill that role, but I do think it would be in his best interest to avoid simplifying the race for office. He needs to elevate the electorate and subtly push the nation to a higher level. Avoid dumbing down the message.

Rather than referring to his constituency (or base) as "ordinary" perhaps he could have said, "people who want to make a difference." What I see with Barack Obama are tremendous gifts of intellect and inspiration. I think he lacks experience, however. That is why I have limited my passion for the candidate. I want to see what he can do with what he's given.

That would include firing a few of his writers and hiring Sally and Sandra (nice balance)
I never imagined a demographic so sensitive to words. Most people haven't worked inside the political machine as you have Sally. Most probably can't explain the Electoral College or delegate system. I think that demographic recognizes that some careers place one outside of "ordinary". Big company CEOs, fighter pilots, surgeons, and yes, politicians are not ordinary. I don't find recognizing that divide condescending at all.

I wouldn't call you arrogant for being proud of your accomplishments. But expecting Obama's campaign to locate, database, and tailor special messages to the "in the know" crowd only bolsters the elitism charges made by Republicans.
What Ann said. If anybody ever watched the West Wing, the campaign there was all about expecting the electorate to reach for its inner intellect. To expect a president to be SMART. And to want the president to talk to them as though they're smart too.

Eric, the Obama campaign is in fact targeting specific demographics. So they should tailor their language to match. There's a salon piece on this very subject, I'll find it and post a link.

Bottom line, I want my president to respect both his own intellect and mine.
Sally, apologies for over-reading your sentiments into the post.

I can't really take an informal poll as you suggest because I can only think of three people I know who were supporting Senator Clinton - my mother and a couple of the in-laws (there are many). (I'm not counting my father because he was an Edwards supporter but didn't get the chance to vote before Edwards bailed on the race.)

I haven't asked the in-laws (my wife's aunt and uncle), because we don't need yet another family gathering wrecked. As for my mother, she's still annoyed about Senator Clinton not getting the nomination, but she would no more vote McCain than fly in the air.

I suspect that if she has not reconciled herself to "Candidate Obama" by November, she will write in a cartoon character - she doesn't want to appear to endorse McCain by voting "against" Obama, and living in California, she doesn't have to worry about a protest vote backfiring.