By Richard Falk
A few days ago among the many solicitations for funds to support Democratic candidates around the country in the 2022 elections came one that caught my eye with this obviously phony seductive line “I’d like to give you a call, Richard.” Reading the next line, none other than the U.S. President apparently with much time to waste, was supposedly eager to learn my views on what government might do better on my behalf, purporting even to be on a first-name basis with me despite the utter absence of any prior contact. To dumb down the President for the sake of a hypocritical sales pitch struck me as distasteful, but also revealing.
The approach became even more personal a day or two later when the same lure line was attributed to Jill Biden, cast in the role of a political party team player. The First Lady went on to expatiate upon the cynical view that Democrats are so desperate for a chance to interact with the President that they would fall for any come on, however absurd. In her astonishing words: “Throughout the years, I’ve learned that there are at least three things that can make Joe smile from ear to ear: Our kids and grandkids, chocolate chip ice cream, and getting to talk one-on-one with Americans like you, Richard.”
And continues, “Having the chance to hear your hopes and dreams grounds Joe and motivates him to keep fighting the hard battles. That’s why Joe would love nothing more than to give you a call soon.” Then come what the message was really about—nothing more or less than a crass appeal for money coupled with a sly ‘confession’ that, after all, receiving a call from Biden was as unlikely as Donald Trump committing civil disobedience as a consequence of becoming an ardent anti-nuclear activist.
I didn’t have to read much further for these suspicions to be crudely confirmed. The price of admission to Biden’s specious ‘inner circle’ of solicited political feedback dupes was disclosed. It turned out if I wanted to be among those who might receive such a call, all I had to do was ‘to chip in’ as little as $7 to get on line to receive a call from the President. This more plausible message no longer seemed to resemble what Biden claimed when he reached out to me, which had I been less jaded, I would have interpreted as an unconditional wish by a conscientious leader who was seriously interested in learning my views on national policy issues, and not just another baited hook for donations.
Surely, a real call from Biden was worth more if indeed swallowing the donation bait was a genuine assurance that the call would indeed be forthcoming. This low price of admission sent an unmistakable signal that I would wait until at least until the age of 90 before the phone rang and Biden was waiting on the other end. If the price of admission had been pegged at $10,000 or more it would have been a plausible means of reaching out to the real ‘good Democrats,’ which for those in the know had in any event become a synonym for ‘rich Democrats’ rather political loners like myself who some sloppy hack had added to the DNC rolodex.
When it became clear that this was just a different, and deceptive, way to plead for funds, the mysterious prospect of actually receiving the phone call faded far into a zone of extreme improbability. This was a discrediting revelation being conveyed to prospective donkey donors like myself by subtly letting us know that after receiving a donation we became eligible to receive the phone call but only fools would hold their breath in anticipation. I now understood that all my donation would have achieved was to add me to what I imagined must be a lengthy list from which, perhaps during a lull in Biden presidential activities, a few contributors would be chosen to fulfill the literal commitment of the solicitation. In effect, you were being asked to buy a million-to-one lottery ticket with a tiny fraction of a chance of being chosen, and even this might be fanciful as I doubt that even Biden would be so at loose ends as to risk receiving a harangue delivered by someone like myself. The fact is that this personalized solicitation was basically always about money never about soliciting views. Given the dependence of many valuable civil society initiatives on public funding and private trust, the Democratic Party should be ashamed to be giving responsible appeals for support a bad name associated with deception and manipulation.
Actually, I would not have welcomed such a call if by some dark twist of fate I had received it, nor would Mr. Biden have liked what I might have said if given the chance, especially so shortly after his clumsily mismanaged visit to Israel and the Saudi Arabia. For Biden to ingratiate himself to his Israeli hosts by proclaiming himself to be a non-Jewish Zionist bonds him with the only prior such public affirmation of which I am aware, that of the white supremist, Richard Spencer [See Tony Greenstein’s extraordinary, scrupulously researched comprehensive critique of Zionism for confirmation: Zionism During the Holocaust: The Weaponization of the Holocaust (expected publication, 2022).]
If this is what being a ‘good Democrat’ has come to mean, then the opposition party may be in worse shape than even I imagined. Of course, Biden would disavow such an association, but his hyped identification with Israeli ethnocracy should be deeply disturbing to every American, regardless of party, who affirms the fundamental aspirational identity of the United States as a multiethnic democracy, the only future with any hopes of recovery from the horrors of January 6th and a Supreme Court that foists the regressive views of the radical right majority views on the American people. I have enough faith in Biden’s leadership skills to be confident that he would have hung up long before I got to my most serious political concern: the lethal passivity of pro-democracy political forces in the U.S. in responding to the growing strength of a pre-fascist movement on the extreme right.
Of course, the cynical depths of appealing for political funds on the basis of an entirely contrived intimacy and a false claim of wishing to gain valuable feedback from representative ‘good Democrats’ is more than a cheap shot to empty the pockets of gullible folks with little cash to spare. It offers us an apt metaphor for the overall debasement of electoral politics by its spotlight shining on the essential source of societal corruption—namely money. What is conveyed to a concerned citizen is that the quest for money even in miniscule amounts is so overwhelmingly what politics has become as to destroy the trust of those who truly wish for some sort of interactive process that would induce a presidential leader to take serious account of the views of ordinary citizens, rather than do the bidding of special interests who have earned the right of presidential access and responsiveness solely by as a result of their sizable donations. For instance, most Americans favor a more balanced approach to relations between Israelis and Palestinians instead of as agenda set by AIPAC, or less military spending and a host of other issues that Biden would certainly rather not hear about from disgruntled citizens, and if he did receive this sort of angry response, it would surely replace the Joe’s supposedly big smile with an angry smirk. Whether it is Wall Street or defense contractors, it is no secret that the public wants less inequality and more social protection, but it will be forthcoming no matter which party controls Congress and how DINOS are allowed to represent the Democratic Party.
It is, at best, a perilous time to champion a politics of planetary liberation. Yet without such a politics, the country and the world will continue to experience intensifying human insecurity that push open more widely the portals of political extremism. At least Nero made music while Rome burned. I prefer a leader who fiddles to the Biden hucksterism of the soft sell. We need to ask ourselves with a sense of urgency, ‘where is the outrage?’ and ‘why are the streets empty?’ Bob Dylan’s message of the sixties rings truer than ever: ‘The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind.”
Richard Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, Chair of Global law, Queen Mary University London, and Research Associate, Orfalea Center of Global Studies, UCSB.