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Dear friend: Please send money


I HAVE YET TO FIGURE out why this happened, but our household has gotten on Bob Dole's "confidential" mailing list. Along with the usual credit-card applications, subscription offers and Victoria's Secret catalogs (can they possibly sell enough Miracle Bras to cover the cost of those things?) we recently have been receiving a variety of missives from the Republican National Committee, including a chummy letter from Mr. Dole himself.

"Dear Friend," he writes. "I know by the fact that you're reading this letter that you're no ordinary American. You take special pride in our country. . . . That's why I've selected you to receive this 1996 Republican Party Campaign Pack."

I must confess, I'm not sure I have any more pride in America than "ordinary" citizens. In fact, I thought I was an ordinary citizen. But if Bob Dole thinks I'm special, why fight it?

Besides, I didn't want to have to send back the neat little "Victory '96" decal he sent us, or the personalized Victory '96 membership card. They make nice additions to our collection of campaign memorabilia.

The pile of stuff the Republicans sent also included a big yellow envelope. In big black letters it said, "The American Media Claims You Don't Support Republican Plans. . . . This is YOUR chance to set the record straight!" Inside was a survey and a letter from GOP National Committee chairman Haley Barbour encouraging us to refute the lies being spread by Bill Clinton and his "liberal media allies."

Obviously, there is something wrong with this picture, and not just the fallacious notion that all journalists favor free love, formation of a near-communist state and shrines to Bill and Hillary in every town square.

The GOP thinks I'm the enemy, even if I don't think it is. So why does it send me a "confidential overview" of its election (P strategy?

Why is it mailing campaign materials to people like Mike Davis, longtime Democratic strategist and chief aide to Democratic Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger? He says gets GOP literature all the time.

Democratic flotsam likewise lands in amusing places. A friend's husband is a Russian immigrant. The Democrats keep plying him with literature -- even though he's not eligible to vote.

Prospecting for donors

Mary Crawford, press secretary for the Republican National Committee, says we've been getting "prospective mailings," sent to people who have never donated to the party before. Prospective mailings are directed at anyone who has ever bought, subscribed to, belonged to or done something that indicates they might be remotely sympathetic to the party and therefore willing to send money -- which is, of course, the whole point of the exercise.

Apparently the strategy is working. The Republican National Committee has recorded 900,000 donors so far this presidential election year (compared to 410,000 in all of 1992), and 30 to 35 percent of those are first-time donors snagged largely through prospective mailings.

LTC Still, one can't help but wonder if these mailings don't end up costing parties and politicians. The errant ones make the whole process look inefficient and a little silly. Why should you donate to a party that can afford to send mail so indiscriminately? If you're a Republican who gets a cozy-wozy letter from Bill Clinton calling you "Dear Friend," how does that letter sound to you? Pretty darned phony.

Worse, it exposes the superficiality of the mail you're supposed to get. Not that you really believe Bob Dole signs those letters himself, or that party bigwigs know who you are when they print, "The GOP wants to hear from you, Jane Doe," on the envelope. But it's nice to imagine that maybe, just maybe, this mail isn't as canned as you suspect -- just as you hope, however dimly, that you might have a chance to win when some sweepstakes announces you're a "finalist." The illusion is hard to sustain when everybody's telling you you're a finalist.

The other thing about campaign literature that's bound to turn a lot of people off -- besides, of course, that it asks for money -- is that it's so blatantly partisan. That's the point, of course. But most Americans find partisan warring distasteful and fruitless. They yearn for cooperation between Democrats and Republicans, not one-upsmanship.

Lines like this one from the Dole letter -- "The Democrats have already launched their nationwide campaign of deception and escalated their rhetoric to unprecedented heights" -- may send a few GOP sympathizers running for their checkbooks but likely will reinforce the cynicism of more ambivalent types.

Politics as usual, they'll say, tossing the stuff on the recycling heap with the rest of the junk mail.

Elise Armacost writes editorials for The Sun.

Pub Date: 9/01/96

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