William F. Buckley

"And one day," Grandma said, "when the phone rings, it will be for you."

Grandma was not talking about the telephone as an expediter of teen romance. She had herself just now put down the telephone, opened the drawer, pulled out her checkbook, and, after a discreet sigh, diminished her bank account. Many candidates have expressed their mortification at having to call constituents personally, asking for money. They do this so often, so urgently, that it becomes easy to suppose that they have become inured to the exercise, suffering no more than the diabetic after the 1,000th daily shot of insulin.

Well, that may be so, but what about Grandma? And the foredoomed grandson?

The great community of Americans who find themselves called to the telephone, where they will be solicited for cash contributions, fully understand that they (we) are submitting to institutional arrangements that have evolved from a conflict between social imperatives: (1) There are activities in the country that deserve support, and that (2) we wish to see succeed in their struggles to survive, but which (3) we don't want to turn over to government to subsidize.

The temptation to lean on government is persistent, and almost every year, the private sector yields a little bit. Sixty years ago, when it was first suggested that the federal government might contribute to alleviating the financial problems of major private universities, the prospective beneficiaries held up their hands in shock and dismay at the mere proposal. They knew that financial benefits lead inevitably to political subjugation, although they could not have foreseen how far this would go ("How many albinos do you have in your freshman class?"). We learned from that brief period of defiance (roughly 1949-1959) that it was indeed inevitable that the feds would make demands on colleges they patronized, but that it was not inevitable that college trustees would continue to reject federal money.

But the point here stressed is not the anguish of the person who calls out for money. Rather, it is a moment's thought for the discomfiture of the person who is called on to give the money.

Solicitations are done mostly in the mail. (Add up, in one month's mail, the calls for help to church, schools, hospitals, alumni bodies, veterans groups, missionaries and political candidates -- candidates building a war chest before the election, candidates repaying debts after the election.) Yet the enterprising and dogged solicitor nowadays is going to go beyond the mail, using the telephone. Rank can be useful in such situations. "A Mr. Jenkins is on the phone for you" is easier to ignore than "Congressman Jenkins is on the phone for you."

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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