Politics and the art of panhandling

This column first appeared in the Joplin Globe on Sept. 24, 2009

I don’t get many letters anymore, what with that whole e-mail thing. So I was surprised the other day to get a letter from some guy named Jack Goodman.

The envelope was addressed to me and appeared to have been produced by an old-fashioned typewriter. At least it had that typewriter look; of course, it’s also possible that the computer people have somehow managed to make a font style that looks like it was written by typewriters but really wasn’t.

But that’s not my point. My point is, that in this day of all e-mail all the time, some guy named Jack Goodman wrote me a letter. Sure, in the return address corner of the envelope I did notice that Jack was associated with something called Jack Goodman for Congress, but I figured that was OK. I mean, if a guy wants to run for Congress that’s his business. I was just happy that Jack wrote me a letter.

“Hey,” I thought to myself. “Maybe Jack knows that I’m a big-time (OK, small-time) newspaper columnist. Maybe Jack wants to pick my brain about what he should do if he were to get elected to Congress. Maybe, like me, Jack likes to watch ‘The Daily Show.’”

Then I opened the letter. I decided Jack probably doesn’t like “The Daily Show.” The letter started off OK. There was a quote from William F. Buckley Jr. at the top of the letter. I liked William F .Buckley Jr. I didn’t agree with him most of the time, but I liked him. Then Jack told me that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid called a bunch of people “un-American” and “evil-mongers.” I understood the “un-American” part but I was a little unclear how someone goes about mongering evil. But, again, it was nice that Jack thought I should know what Nancy and Harry said.

Jack went on to tell me how Nancy, Harry and Barack Obama were trying “… to dismantle America to usher in the new age of American Socialism.”

I wasn’t so sure that was true, but what the heck do I know? Besides, if Jack thinks it’s true, it’s OK with me. Again, I was just glad he took the time to write and share his thoughts with me. It was nice, is what it was.

Later in the letter, Jack mentioned that he was running for Congress, which, I suppose, explained the Jack Goodman for Congress logo on the front of the envelope. Jack said he needed my help to run for Congress. Again, I thought that was nice but I wondered what a big-time (OK, small-time) newspaper columnist could do to help Jack run for Congress. Then I read the next paragraph.

“Oh,” I said.

Here’s what Jack said in the next paragraph:

“I need you to be one of 200 people to join in the Goodman Brigade this month by contributing $100 before Sept. 30, to our campaign.”

My first reaction after reading Jack’s request was: “Cool! A brigade. Do we get uniforms?” My second reaction after reading Jack’s request was: “One-hundred bucks? Are you crazy? I don’t even know you.”

I don’t mean to pick on Jack here — but, hey, he’s the one hitting me up for 100 smackers — but do I understand that it takes money to run for public office. And I understand that folks running for public office sometimes need to ask people for money, but the whole thing seems sort of rude. Asking folks you’ve never met for money seems like … well, it seems like panhandling.

I also don’t mean to pick on Republicans running for office because Democrats are just as bad about panhandling as Republicans are. But so far I’ve only been hit up for money from Republicans. The funny part about the whole getting-hit-up-for-money thing is that I — to use an economic term — don’t have any money.

See, I work for a newspaper and my wife and I have an 11-year-old daughter.

Several years ago, the guy who was the Missouri Speaker of the House before Ron Richard became the speaker used to ask me for money. I didn’t have any money and I didn’t know the guy, so I didn’t give him any money. But he kept asking.

Ron, on the other hand, knows me. That’s why Ron has never asked me for money. That’s why I think Ron is smart. I’m not saying Jack isn’t smart. I’m just saying next time he’s looking for 100 bucks he ought to get to know who he’s asking for money from. Even real panhandlers size up the mark before they hit them up for cash.

Toward the end of his letter, Jack said he will “work to make sure American families get to keep more of their hard-earned money …”

I’m with you on that one, Jack.