PORTLAND, ORE. — Are the campaign techniques of a new millennium causing you to feel confused and alienated? Join the crowd, and don't be surprised if the system becomes even more disorienting. Politics, business, and globalism are all overlapping these days. Based on recent campaign calls from disinterested people reading scripts, I fully expect to receive the following unsolicited phone message sometime in the near future. Be prepared, because you may be on the calling list, too.
Caller: Hola! Les tengo noticias importantes acerca de los candidatas para la presidencia!
Me: What was that? Something about presidential candidates?
Caller: Oops, you're speaking English! Sorry, I've got my calling sheets all mixed up here. Let's see, are you in the district where Fred Foon is running for state Senate?
Me: Yes, Fred was just in my neighborhood over the weekend.
Caller: Well, let me tell you why Fred Foon is far and away the best person for the job.
Me: Wait a second. I'm already voting for him, so you don't need to give me the whole pitch. What was that stuff you were saying in Spanish?
Caller: That was a promotional announcement for one of the men who's running for president of Mexico. My company has been hired by a wide variety of candidates.
Me: Wow! So after you're done with the Fred Foon calls, you'll be talking to voters south of the border?
Caller: No, my list only includes Mexican nationals living in Los Angeles. The PAN and PRI are both really trying to win support with the expatriate communities around the US.
Me: That's amazing. So where are you calling from, some boiler room in West Covina?
Caller: No. Actually it's a brand new office tower in Colombo.
Me: What?! You're trying to influence my vote from Sri Lanka? That seems utterly preposterous.
Caller: Why? All the big advertising firms have overseas offices now. Because of satellites and wireless technology, it's easy to subcontract this kind of work to third-world countries. You have to pay people in America minimum wage to work the phones. Here we can make 10 times as many calls for the same price.
Me: I hadn't thought of that. But isn't it hard to find multilingual employees?
Caller: Don't need 'em. Most of our staff just read the messages phonetically from cue cards. I happen to have a talent for languages, and I'll be returning to the drama program at NYU after I get some visa problems straightened out.
Me: Are you planning to be an actor?
Caller: Frankly, I wanted to be an agent. But with everything I'm learning here, I may become a campaign consultant.
Me: I bet you could have clients all over the world.
Caller: No kidding. Running for office is mostly show biz, anyway. One of my friends in the next cubicle is making calls for a candidate in So Paulo, Brazil, who claims his opponent is a space alien who wants to legalize the abduction of earthlings. And in Japan, I've heard there are two guys who plan to televise their whole campaign in weekly episodes, like "Survivor." And at the end, the audience will cast their votes by e-mail. I think that format could be a huge hit with American audiences. Uh, I mean voters.
Me: Gosh, whatever happened to the old saying that "all politics is local"?
Caller: It's been superseded by a more popular slogan.
Caller: "That was then. This is now."
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