Ya Gotta Have an Enemy
Thursday December 19, 2013
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Organizations that depend on fundraising (as opposed to selling a product or a service) have got to have an enemy to survive.
When I was very young my brother - four years my senior - was stricken with polio which was the scourge of the nation back in the early 50s.
He recovered but the cost of his treatment were covered by an organization known - as least colloquially as "The March of Dimes" because a major method of raising money was sending people out with containers that look like Pringles cans do today, with a slit in the top into which people, answering their doors or walking into their local A&P, would drop a dime.
According to a source quoted by Wikipedia:
Beginning in 1938 the foundation spent $233 million on polio patient care, which led to more than 80 percent of U.S. polio patients' receiving significant foundation aid.
The "Mothers' March on Polio" was an annual event until 1955 when a vaccine developed under the control of Dr. Jonas Salk was found to protect against the polio virus and the disease was brought to a relatively quick halt.
The March of Dimes was in a quandary. It was founded to find a vaccine to prevent polio and it had succeeded.
It had no further reason to raise money.
So, the foundation pivoted to help with another worthy cause: The prevention of birth defects and infant mortality.
I started with the March of Dimes because I wanted to make sure you recognized that even organizations with the highest callings need an enemy: Polio. Poverty. The Devil. Whatever.
It is no different for political groups whose missions may be a bit less lofty like those organizations that argue for the election or defeat of candidates for public office.
They, too, need an enemy and the enemy is anyone who doesn't agree with them - either to their left or their right.
The other day Speaker of the House John Boehner spoke out forcefully against the outside groups who had announced - with digital bullhorns a-blarin' - their opposition to the budget deal that had been negotiated between Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wa) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis).
Why would these groups jump so quickly? Because the last thing they want is political peace.
No group has ever raised money with a letter that begins:
We are very pleased with the latest actions of the U.S. Congress and we need more money from you RIGHT NOW to help us make certain the Republicans and Democrats continue to play nicely with one another.
Yeah. Right. Where's that authorization code on my credit card again?
The press corps needs enemies, too. No one ever led a piece with:
"Sources (who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation) have told the Upper Iguana Daily News that Rich Galen came to a full stop at each and every intersection on his way to work this morning."
Although this budget deal does not portend another "Era of Good Feelings" it appears there was a real sense of unease among those in the media whose job it is - in this digital age - to get retweeted at least once every hour.
"People familiar with the budget negotiations have made it clear the two sides will come out of their respective corners after the new year and take up the legislative battles where they left off prior to the budget vote."
In 140-character Twitter-language that would be:
"Congressional Insiders: The 2 sides will take up the legislative battles where they left off prior to the budget vote." #NoHeadlinesNoPeace
I made those up, but you get the idea.
I like a good fight as much as the next TV pundit, but sometimes it makes sense to take a knee and head for the locker room for a halftime rest.
Your enemy will be there when you come back out.
On Saturday I will be 67 years old. I thought I was already 67 but an article by semi-retired New York Times reporter Adam Clymer caused a Times' fact-checker to do the math and inform me that I was only 66.
You know the saying: 67 is no longer old. It's the new 66 and nine months.
On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the March of Dimes and to the Era of Good Feelings.
Also one of those Mullfotos that make my entire weekend worthwhile.
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