Everywhere I go, concerned citizens ask about the November elections and what they can do to make sure that whatever it is that they’re terrified is going to happen, doesn’t. Therefore, as a public service, I am prepared to answer questions:
Q. I am terrified that President Barack Obama is going to lose! What can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen?
A. If you’re living in a swing state, all you have to do is wave your hand and somebody will leap out of the bushes, beg you to put up a sign on your lawn, and ask you to become a volunteer. If you pick the sign option, be prepared for the possibility that somebody will steal it. We’re having that kind of election year.
If you choose to volunteer, your assignment will probably be less exciting than you had hoped, but I have definitely heard reports about people who met their future spouse while licking envelopes in the back room of a near-empty storefront in a half-abandoned shopping mall.
Q. I am terrified that President Barack Obama is going to win! What can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen?
A. Oh, for heavens sake! Just look at the first answer. I’m not going to say everything twice to prove my evenhanded impartiality. This is the opinion section.
Q. How do I know if I’m in a swing state?
A. If you live in a populous state and never see a presidential candidate who isn’t fundraising, that’s a clue. May I say, by the way, that I am pretty ticked off about Iowa and New Hampshire making the cut. We have to spend every primary season wringing our hands over Iowa and New Hampshire. You’d think that they’d let somebody else have a turn in the fall.
Q. What if I’m not from a swing state?
A. You can volunteer to staff a phone bank calling people in Iowa and New Hampshire. Or you could donate money to your candidate. Think about Congress, by the way. Rep. Steve Israel, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, claims that he had a lot of incumbents in 2010 who were totally confident that they’d be elected a week before the voting, then got wiped out by a sudden last-second infusion of money from Republican “super PACs.”
Even if that’s apocryphal, you can see how the Democrats would be terrified, what with all the Republican billionaires floating around this year.
Q. How come the Democrats are so short on billionaires? Whenever you hear about some guy tossing $20 million into a “super PAC,” it always seems to be a Republican.
A. I asked a top Obama operative that very question the other day. He sighed and said: “Our billionaires are principled. They all want to spend their money curing malaria.”
Q. Do you think that’s it?
A. To be fair, Republican rich people are also interested in curing terrible ailments. (Donald Trump once told me that he had been looking for a cause along that line but decided that all the best diseases were taken.) And the answer to the Democratic billionaire shortage is probably closer to what Alec MacGillis of The New Republic diagnosed as an “existential” problem, a rich-person contempt for the whole sordid mess that campaign fundraising has become. It would so be the Democrats’ luck to get stuck with billionaires cursed with existential angst.
Q. Couldn’t they give the money secretly? I heard rumors you could do that.
A. Yes, under the current system you can give a ton of money to, say, defeat Obama, and keep it a secret as long as you give it to a nonprofit organization dedicated to social welfare activities, like the one founded by Karl Rove.
Q. Wait a minute. How can an organization for secret billionaire donors, dedicated to the defeat of Obama and founded by Karl Rove, count as a nonprofit group dedicated to social welfare activities?
A. It’s all about the campaign finance laws and the IRS and the Federal Election Commission. Really, it’d be easier to explain what the physicists at the Large Hadron Collider discovered about the Higgs boson.
Q. I don’t remember being this worried about billionaires in 2008.
A. That’s because in 2010, the Supreme Court threw out campaign finance rules as we know them. That was before Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. became averse to overturning major acts of Congress whenever the mood strikes.
Q. About those needy congressional candidates. How do I pick a worthy one?
A. There ought to be a political version of those international children’s charities, a place that would send you a picture of a House or Senate candidate with big, sad eyes who would promise to write to you every month if you’d just promise to send them $100 a month until the election.
Failing that, I trust you to know how to do a computer search.Gail Collins is a New York Times columnist.