Charlotte Hays

You’ve probably already seen it—but just in case you missed the most curious campaign fundraising pitch in the annals of American politics, here it is:

Got a birthday, anniversary, or wedding coming up?

Let your friends know how important this election is to you—register with Obama 2012, and ask for a donation in lieu of a gift. It’s a great way to support the president on your big day. Plus, it’s a gift we can all appreciate—and goes a lot further than a gravy bowl.

On a certain level, of course, this is a hoot and a half. He wants our gravy bowls? On another level, however, it is a not-so-funny reminder that the boundary between our private lives and what government and politics demand is eroding. Surely, this is the first time a president of the United States has asked you for your birthday presents.

Perhaps we should not be surprised by the sentiments enshrined in this Obama fundraising pitch. After all, First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled this view of the relationship of citizens to government while on the campaign trail in 2008. She said then:

Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.

There was a time, not so long ago, when this nation was dedicated to the ideal of having just enough government to ensure that ordinary citizens could live their lives as usual. One might even say that this was the nation of lives as usual.

Americans have always been willing to sacrifice in a national crisis, but, when the crisis has passed, Americans have traditionally gone back to lives as usual. This was part of the American DNA. Revolutionary soldiers hung up their arms and took hold of the plow when the fighting was over.

George Washington, one of history’s great generals, was known as the American Cincinnatus, after Cincinnatus, the Roman general. Cincinnatus was plowing in his fields when messengers arrived and informed him that Rome needed his services. Cincinnatus lay down his plow, took up arms, and defeated Rome’s enemy in a single day. Then he went back to life as usual, resuming his plowing. This model of civic virtue, not the strenuous model of perpetual sacrifice and striving on behalf of a government or political faction, set the tone for America.


Charlotte Hays

Director of Cultural Programs at the Independent Women's Forum.