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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Banking on Obama

Ever since the democratic primary season effectively ended last month, local news about the US presidential election has slowed to a trickle. The savory (and sometimes unsavory) spectacle of the Clinton-Obama fight was front page news all over Africa. Here in Tanzania, not a day went by without a Tanzanian – friend or stranger – asking me who I was supporting in the US election. And I must admit that conversations about why I was supporting Clinton over Obama were sometimes uncomfortable. I’m not sure that many people understood that the color of Clinton’s or Obama’s skin, or their sex, had nothing to do with my choice of who to support in the primary. I voted with my brain. I have no regrets. I think that Hilary was the better candidate. But she lost. And I am over that now.

As Dr. Stroll, my European History professor in Paris, used to say, “Kid, the “what ifs” of history – they just don’t count.”

The slow trickle of election news these past few weeks, for me, has left it somewhat out-of-sight/out-of-mind. But this past Saturday morning, as I was lounging in bed (the one blessed morning of the week when the kids and I don’t have to get up early and the housekeeper can watch the kids for a few hours), BBC radio played a great piece about Obama and Clinton’s appearance together in Unity, New Hampshire. The piece was totally inspiring… about how they chatted about both important and mundane things on the airplane ride up to New Hampshire, about how they were wearing matching clothes, about how he escorted her up the stairs of the plane by placing a gentle guiding hand on her lower back (and don’t gender bait me – I think that is sort of sweet), about how they both said favorable things about each other during their speeches, and finally about how recently both the formal rivals and their spouses pulled out their checkbooks and wrote the maximum contributions to each other’s campaigns. Barack and Michelle helped to retire Hillary’s debt. Hillary and Bill supported Barack’s general election campaign.

I was totally inspired.

I jumped out of bed and fired up my computer. Today was the day I was going to enter the presidential race. I just had to decide - how much was it worth to me to make sure McCain’s January 2009 visit to the White House would be in the role of Senate minority leader instead of President? $100? $200? $500?

I settled on $500. I could always donate more in a few months, I thought. $500 would be a nice donation from someone in my income bracket. It is a meaningful contribution, but not one that will break the bank.

But when the Obama for America website came up I was moved and inspired even more. There was a lovely photo of the Obama family and a great Kennedyesque Obama quote about his belief in the ability of individual Americans to change the country for the better. I was hooked. By the time I got to the donation page I couldn’t help myself. I felt the computer mouse moving away from the $500 box and click the $1000 box. Before I knew it I had filled in my check card information and pressed the contribute button.

It didn’t go through.

I pressed the back button and clicked the $1000 box again. I thought – what the fuck – my body clearly wants me to give this money to Obama. I’m gonna do it. Yeah… I’m gonna do it.

This time it went through. But my Obama frenzy wasn’t over – not yet.

How could I donate all that money but not own any Obama paraphernalia? So I went to the Shop for Obama page. There I found a variety of t-shirts and other items. I put two bumper stickers in my shopping cart, because, really, how cool will it be to have Obama bumper stickers on my car out here in Tanzania? Then I went to look at the t-shirts figuring I would buy some for the kids since these kinds of websites never have my size. Alas, there were no kid’s shirts for sale. But as lark I clicked on the Obama 08 t-shirts for women.
Lo and behold, they went all the way up to size 4X!

Now I was really enraptured. Obama loves fat people, too!!!!

Obama’s my man!

I bought two.

But I still wasn’t satisfied. I wouldn’t be able to begin my day without ensuring that Jaden and Rowan have their t-shirts, too. I Googled “kids Obama t-shirts” and came up with a site that carried 17,700 different designs!!! I spent another hour picking out the best of the best. By the time I was done I had identified 6 different designs I liked. Reason would have made me decrease the size of the shopping cart to two or maybe even four. But once again I thought – what the fuck – my body clearly wants me and my kids to wear nothing but Obama t-shirts for the next few months and so I pressed the “purchase items” button.

Realizing that I was out of control, I called my friends, Jane and Gunnar, to get them to talk me down from this manic shopping adventure. They thought my story was pretty funny, and in retelling it I pulled myself out of the frenzy. But just in case, they had me turn off my computer and step away from it, and go back into my bedroom - just in case.

The next day, Sunday, I sat back at my computer to pay my end-of-the-month bills. As I looked at my checking account balance I realized that something was off. I went to look at my recent transactions…

… I had donated $2000 to the Obama campaign.

Shit. I guess that that first time I pressed donate it actually did go though. But what a dilemma! I started to think about how much I dislike McCain. I thought about how the Supreme Court is going to hell in a hand-basket. I imagined what it would be like for my children to spend their earliest years of political consciousness in the era of McCain (possibly 8 years!) like I did under Reagan. I remember being 12 years old and afraid of nuclear war. I don’t want that for my kids. Definitely not.

On the other hand, $2000 is really more than I can afford right now.

I went back and forth and decided to call Jane and Gunnar again for advice. This time they weren’t laughing. They thought I was downright ridiculous for considering making a donation larger than that which I could easily afford. And then I thought, after all, would Barrack Obama want that for me? What would Obama do (WWOD)?

No. I decided that all the wonderful quotes on the website, and all the inspirational words at the event in Unity, New Hampshire were encouraging me to do my part, but not to overdo it.

I wanted until Monday afternoon Tanzanian time to call the Bank of America Customer Service Center. I got the most chipper, lovely lady. I’m venturing a guess to say that she was likely African-American. She had the most wonderful strong southern accent.

At this point it is important to note that really wonderful customer service throws me off these days. Customer service is really really really crappy here 99.99% of the time. So, I’m always ill at ease when I call a US helpline and get someone really – well – helpful.

But she was wonderful. I told her I was calling from Africa so we needed to make this conversation as short as possible. I told her my story about pressing donate the first time and since it didn’t go through I pressed it a second time. She told me that she could even tell (from her magic computer terminal that sees all) that the first transaction wasn’t completed properly. She asked me if I wanted to file a claim and I said that I did.

“OK, ma’am, can I just ask you to hold for one more minute while I process your claim? We will put the $1000 back into your account even before the dispute is resolved since you are a valued Bank of America customer. I know you are calling from Africa so please just bear with me….”

“Sure,” I said uneasily, wondering what the catch-22 would be for getting the money back before the dispute is actually resolved.

“And ma’am,” said the customer service rep. (I was ready to hear the catch.)

“Yes,” I said.

“Thank you so very much for your really generous donation to the Obama campaign. I think that is just really wonderful of you.”
I was thrown off…

“You’re welcome, I guess,” I responded. “I suppose I am just doing it for myself.”

“You are doing it for all of us,” she said. “We really need to change the direction in which America is going. And, ma’am, your claim is being processed. But meanwhile, you should try to call the Obama for America campaign to make the claim with them, too, since that will speed this whole process up. And thank you for calling Bank of America customer service.”

As I hung up I felt some regret. Perhaps I should have left my $2000 donation. Perhaps in a month or two I’ll donate that money again, intentionally. After all, by sending my money from my Bank of America account to Obama for America I’m banking on America being a place that I can be proud of again. A place where I want to store my most precious investments… Jaden and Rowan. And that is definitely worth more than $1000.


Anonymous Georgia said...

I only wish that there was a politician in the UK that I would be even willing to THINK about spending $2k on, and wear their face on my clothes. Where's our Obama??? (but I do think that $2k is a wee bit steep for any politician!)

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Grandma & papa will try to make it through the next two years with visits. I hope that Obama will win the election for many reasons, one being you will feel better about returning. We're glad you are thriving though

3:32 PM  
Blogger suburban dyke said...

Another Mama for Obama! Yahoo. Congradutations on the job and giving us more time to get there for a visit.

11:29 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

You're amazing Hal. you done good.

Now give us some updates, please! What's the African perspective on the election these days? Inquiring minds want to know.

3:54 PM  

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