Somehow the paperwork has gotten all mixed up. My position as a member in good standing in the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy seems in jeopardy. For years I have fought in the trenches, often as an active subaltern. At other times I have been merely a fellow traveler, but on the right side nonetheless. And there has never been a question in my mind, or in the minds of my friends and acquaintances, where my politics stood.
But somehow the Left didn't get the memo, because now its shepherds consider me one of their flock. In recent weeks my mailbox has been stuffed to overflowing with a barrage of direct-mail pieces soliciting my support (and my cash) for any number of loony left causes. Hardly a day goes by that I don't receive an appeal to help free Mumia or stop drilling in the Arctic.
How did this happen? Why am I all of a sudden counted on their membership rolls? The logical guess is that someone, somehow, has been selling my name and address to unsavory groups like the Sierra Club and Planned Parenthood.
Some conservatives, particularly in the Y2K crowd, get worked up over such invasions of privacy. I don't. Frankly, I think that's probably the first step on the road to joining the Michigan Militia and dying in a pointless shootout with federal agents on a lonely ridge somewhere. I'm all for protesting an overreaching federal government, but I stop short at issuing my own currency and hoarding food and ammo in my barbed-wired compound. That fight's not for me.
But while I don't mind getting peppered with unwanted mail, I am curious about who's selling my info. I take all sorts of subscriptions -- the Washington Post, Washington Times, Wall Street Journal, National Review, Human Events, and Reason Magazine. Plus I get regular mailings from the usual conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Cato Institute. I can't see any of them selling me out. (Well, maybe the free-love and drugs crowd at Reason or Cato …)
My hunch is I'm being given up by some of the other peddlers whose periodic bilge I take on -- particularly the New Yorker, Harper's, or Rolling Stone. They must think that because I subscribe to their rags, I would be interested in hearing from every earnest, left-wing group that's pushing the cause of free bicycle helmets for senior citizens or an abortion in every pot.
If they can get a couple pennies for my name and address, more power to them. Perhaps the extra revenue can go to increasing remuneration for contributing writers. And as it turns out, I actually like getting these letters. They give a delicious insight into what the other side is thinking in its least guarded moments -- kind of like stealing the other team's playbook.
The Nation, for instance, challenges me to take a cut-rate subscription and find out "what the corporate-owned media aren't telling you about Washington's terrorist smokescreen … Citigroup's offshore-banking abuses … sexual extortion in the military, and MORE."
Hard to pass up an offer like that, no? Its dense, single-spaced, stupefying appeal (just like the magazine itself) throws down a gauntlet, suggesting The Nation is not for me if I'm not disturbed by John Ashcroft's trashing of constitutional rights, or if I thought "grassroots action was phased out with the sixties." I'm told that, "If your idea of news coverage is all Afghanistan and all anthrax all the time, you'd be irritated by The Nation's insistence on reporting on other issues." But a quick check of The Nation's web site shows that their idea of reporting on other issues is to give us all Enron all the time. I'm not exactly reaching for my checkbook.
At least the Sierra Club's mailers give me lots of pretty pictures, like a membership card with polar bears on it and an assortment of decals for my car. This assumes the typical Sierra Club donor can find space on his vehicle already crowded with bumper stickers alerting that the driver is "Pro-child, Pro-choice" and imploring the public to "Visualize World Peace" and "Re-elect Gore in 04." It also assumes the vehicle is a car, and not a bicycle, which is a stretch.
Sierra Club chief Carl Pope's breathless missive lets me know that I MUST HELP NOW! because "'Big Oil' and its allies are using enormous campaign contributions to influence members of Congress to open [the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] to drilling." Apparently Sierra hasn't gotten the good news about campaign finance reform. Not to worry, Carl! John McCain and Russ Feingold have made the world safe from the special interests!
Ben & Jerry's has teamed up with a long distance company called Working Assets that will connect me to friends and family for just seven cents a minute AND will connect me to my ideals. A portion of the proceeds will go to groups like the Children's Defense Fund and Greenpeace. So "every time you make a long distance call, you help build affordable housing in our cities, clean up toxic waste dumps in our communities, [and] protect a woman's right to choose." The best part is that my calling card would be made from recycled plastic. Um, no thanks.
My favorite part of these requests for my time and money (but mostly my money) is the BRE -- the Business Reply Envelope. Each solicitation has one. Just enclose your check and mail. They all say the same thing: No postage necessary if mailed in the United States. That means that Planned Parenthood or The Nation or whoever has to pay the Post Office for every BRE that comes in, whether there's a donation in there or not. So I have gotten into the habit of taping these BREs to bricks, and sending them in. That's gotta cost the Sierra Club what, three or four bucks a pop?
Now that's political activism.