By Robert Rivard
We’re a humble little startup here at The Rivard Report, so it’s nice to know people are reading. And as we learned with our recent story about Oklahoma City, not all our readers are local, even if our site is devoted to life and work in San Antonio. That brings me to Tuesday’s email from First Lady Michelle Obama.
I’ve pasted it below for any doubters. The First Lady’s email was a gracious, personal reminder that Tuesday was the last day to make a donation to President Obama’s re-election campaign if I held out any hope of joining her and Barack for an informal dinner in the coming weeks. Dinner guests are selected from the donor list. It’s like the Texas Lottery, but you don’t have to go to the corner store and stand behind guys buying a beer in a bag.
I’m sad to say this is probably the last dinner with supporters that Barack and I will be able to host together before the election.Today’s the last day you can chip in to be automatically entered for the chance to join us — and I hope you will. You can donate all the way up to midnight tonight, when the campaign will randomly select the winners:
Thanks for everything you’re doing. Every little bit makes a difference.
Hope to see you at dinner,
Obviously, I’m flattered The First Lady singled me out, and I’m impressed by her tenacity. It was inconsiderate of me to ignore an earlier email she sent on June 21. Come to think of it, I’ve put off a number of the First Couple’s friends who have been in touch. Taken all together, these messages make it pretty clear: the Obamas want to nail down a commitment from The Rivard Report. Could Texas possibly be in play?
Michelle’s first email was even more familiar than the second one. She wanted me to know that it hasn’t been all 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for her and Barack over the course of their marriage. They had their tight years, just like the rest of us, which made the thought of Monika and I flying out to join her and the President for supper–all expenses paid–all the more inviting.
I’m not making this up. Read for yourself, but please don’t forward.. I’m sharing these messages without actually asking for Michelle’s okay.
For the first 10 years of our marriage, Barack and I lived in an apartment in my hometown of Chicago.The winters there can be pretty harsh, but no matter how snowy or icy it got, Barack would head out into the cold — shovel in hand — to dig my car out before I went to work.In all our years of marriage, he’s always looked out for me. Now, I see that same commitment every day to you and to this country.The only way we’ll win this election is if we can rely on one another like that, all the way to November 6th. Barack is working hard, but he can’t do this alone — he needs your help.Make a donation today to build this campaign — when you do, you’ll be automatically entered to join Barack and me for a casual dinner:
Your flight, your meal, your accommodations–that’s all taken care of. Just bring yourself and a guest, and get ready to enjoy a good meal together.
A guy named Jim Messina also has been in touch. Wait a minute: Could it be that Jim Messina? You know, Buffalo Springfield, Poco, Loggins & Messina. Hey Jim, remember that music festival in Topeka? 1974, maybe? I was backstage, covering it for The Daily Planet, the underground weekly at the College of Emporia. Joan Baez stayed in her trailer, but otherwise it was a party back there. You and I, and Steve Martin, who was entertaining the crowd between acts with his banjo and stand-up riffs, and Dave Bromberg, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt band, and we all…well, never mind, that was a long time ago.
Jim has taken the stage with just about everyone over the years. He might be even more fun at dinner than the Obamas, but that can’t be him. The email is signed by Jim Messina, the Obama Campaign Manager. You don’t sell millions of albums with Kenny Loggins and then come out of retirement to run a guy’s re-election campaign. Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned that music festival and the backstage stuff.
Then there’s John L. from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Is he a player? The guy ought to use his full name if he’s going to brag about breaking bread with the President and First Lady. I’ve never even heard of the town, but John’s wife, Cathy, did manage a dinner invitation, which puts them well ahead of me in the presidential pecking order.
Technically, I didn’t win Dinner with Barack. My wife Cathy did, and she picked me as her guest.I still can’t believe our–OK, Cathy’s–luck. Not many people get to know the President and First Lady: Two incredibly warm, smart, down-to-earth people with their share of hilarious parenting stories. At the end of the night, the President even wrote a note to our babysitter thanking her for watching the boys. Really! Let’s just say I’m going to have a tough time topping this night. So enter today, then talk everyone you know into doing the same–and don’t forget to be extra nice in case they’re considering you as their guest:
If John and Kathy from Wauwatosa can win, so can I. I clicked on the handy “Meet Us For Dinner” link and saw that donors could choose from a range of options, starting with the $15 box, what I call the Common Man contribution, all the way up to $1,000, or the Corporate Fat Cat Club. Or, if you’re a fan of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, you could click on a big box called “More” and give like a Billionaire.
I spent a few minutes staring at my options. Monika and I had never made a political contribution before now. As someone who spent nearly 35 years working as a journalist, such contributions were prohibited by the various newsroom ethics codes that were part of the job and culture.
But I really want that dinner invitation. For a startup, a White House dinner invite would be major affirmation. Adriana Huffington might be there. The handful of bigwigs who gave “More” were sure to make the cut, maybe even get to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom if it’s back in play. The $1,000 givers likely would get special consideration, too.
Then reality set in. The Rivard Report doesn’t have a spare $1,000. Even if we did, there’s the boys to consider. Alex just graduated from college, moved to Boston for a new job, and still needs a little help. Nicolas has one more year of graduate school in Boston to complete, too. I’d feel guilty kicking back with the First Couple at a Camp David cookout while Alex was working weekends and Nicolas stayed home to pore over student loan applications.
But what if I gave only $15? Wouldn’t that probably eliminate me from the competition? Those donor records are public. Will all my Facebook friends find out that the best The Rivard Report could do was $15? I minimized the page, gave myself more time to think about it.
Not to get ahead of myself, but I’ve been thinking about supper table small talk. You don’t dine with the President and First Lady and not have some smart things to say. My worst fear would be meeting the Obamas some years after they leave office and having them say they don’t remember meeting me at supper. So it’s not too early to think about how I’ll add to the mix if I do win a seat at their table.
I imagine myself seated next to the President. It’s a light supper, but the conversation is heavy. The topic is the German bailout of Greece. Obama turns to his right, where I am seated, and asks for my view. I’m ready, but I pause before answering, pretend to give the question some thought. I’ll say something about the danger of European Central Bank incrementalism, maybe mention that Germany seems able to export everything but its Schwabian frugality, and finish by calling for a 21st century Marshall Plan.That’s the kind of brainy chit-chat that ought to catch the President’s attention. “That’s a thoughtful perspective, Bob. I’d like to talk more about that later.” The President turns to an aide, seated nearby taking notes, and whispers instructions to follow up the next day in the Oval Office.
If I’m seated next to Michelle, which would be great, we can talk wellness and nutrition and maybe how we both struggle to, you know, hit our fitness and weight goals. I’ll say something smart about the wine, probably a pinot noir from Oregon that nobody else can get. But I’ll leave most of it in the glass. This is not the time to overdo it. If the First Lady gets tired of talking about the White House vegetable gardens, I’ll be ready with a smooth transition, asking if she enjoyed getting to know Mayor Julián Castro at the State of the Union address in January. Did she meet Erica, the Mayor’s wife?
Mayor Castro, of course, is one of Obama’s national re-election campaign chairs. He could make a call to headquarters, maybe point out that it would be good for the Obamas to show they have a sense of humor and invite a local blogger to supper. I think about it some more, and smartly elect not to play that card. That’s really not the way Castro works. And If I email the mayor’s staff they might check out my level of contribution just out of curiosity. That could send a signal to City Hall that things aren’t going so well here at The Rivard Report. I decide to hold off, to do nothing.
I do want that invite, and unless I’m wrong, it seems like the Obamas want me. That does it: I decide to go low. The Obamas have to invite at least one Common Man to supper, I tell myself. I check the $15 box, charge it to my American Expresss, and tell myself that if others in the media somehow uncover my first-ever political contribution, the insignificant size of the donation will blunt any charges of ethical malfeasance. I’ll just have to hunker down.
What about Supper with the Romneys?
All these emails have me really excited about the race. Here we are, five months out from the November 6 election, and already I am being cultivated almost daily, counting the robo calls that keep coming from different area codes to my cell phone.
Strangely, Mitt and Ann have yet to be in touch, not even when he recently passed through San Antonio. I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit all the attention from the Obamas and nothing from the Romneys is influencing my thinking. I might be a liberal Democrat, but I’d have plenty to talk about with the Romneys, too. When I was 10 years old, my father took my brothers and me to a parade in Kalamazoo, where we lived in the ’60s, and I got to shake hands in a car dealership with Gov. George Romney. It would certainly be appropriate, were we to find ourselves at the same dinner table, for me to ask Mitt now how he feels about his home state going for Obama, and whether he regrets opposing the bailout of General Motors. I don’t know what I’d say to Ann.
It’s early in terms of the campaign, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating the importance of The Rivard Report when I say I’m confident there will be more emails and phone calls in the weeks ahead. If we do get invited to supper, you’ll be the first to know about it. If we don’t, I’ll be out $15 and I’ll have learned an important lesson: Startups should watch every penny.