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How to Disarm the Rich and Powerful: Vote.

Well, then. I suppose it is safe to say that Dartmouth alumni governance has become intensely politicized in recent months. The small group which has dominated it for years—that is, those who control the debate, make the decisions, and listen (or fail to listen) to the alumni—have driven a wedge through Dartmouth’s alumni body. That wedge is branded the Proposed New Constitution for Dartmouth Alumni Governance. The substance of that beset document—the actual legal writing itself—provoked widespread anger and disappointment when it was released, since so many provisions were clearly intended to install merely token democracy at Dartmouth, and since the overhauling of the petition trustee process would clearly result in a lower chance of victory for petitioners, who have won all three of the most recent open seats on Dartmouth’s board.

It will be a close referendum, but I think the constitution will probably fail. (A Dartmouth Student Assembly poll, which has correctly predicted trustee elections in the past, says as much.) It will fail on the merits, or lackthereof. Or it will fail because of the incredibly crass professional electioneering that has been purchased by the constitution’s proponents.

Just who are the proponents is a common question. They are the drafters of the constitution, the undemocratic Alumni Council, whose influence the proposal increases, and the several dozen members of Dartmouth Alumni for Common Sense, who believe with grave solemnity that they are more intelligent than you.

The electioneering? It began with a series of three robo-calls. This is when a computer dials a phone number from a list and, when a voice answers (or when an answering machine beeps) a pre-recorded message is played back. Susan Denzter ‘77, whose brainchild was the Student Life Initiative (An effort to end Dartmouth’s fraternities. It was shredded by students and alumni who took great offense at such elitist nannyism.) voices one of these calls. Her message: You must vote ‘yes’ on the constitution, because it is common sense.

The recipients of that phone call respond to that message with a question: How did you get my phone number? It is a salient query. Phone numbers, after all, are not included in the Dartmouth Alumni Directory.

After the robo-calls came a round of push-polling and voter identification. A woman in a call center would dial you. You’d answer, and she’d tell you that she’s doing a survey on “Dart-mouth”. She, being hired and altogether unfamiliar with our school, pronounced it like some kind of oral ailment. She would ask three things. First, do you think things at Dartmouth are going in the right direction? Of course, most people will say yes. Second, do you plan to vote on the constitution? And if you answered yes to that question, you finally would be asked how you plan to vote.

This phone call accomplishes two things. First, each dialed phone number exists in a database. And next to the ‘phone number’ field is a ‘name’ field. Your response provides voter identification. That is, this phone call blitz was an attempt to search out “the base” that will support the constitution without considering the arguments. But this is Dartmouth. That base is tiny.

Second, the poll pushed respondents. Using a tested psychological trick, the poll created dissonance between questions one and three. In the very likely event that you answered that Dartmouth is doing well, you are less likely to provide a negative response on the constitution question. You are therefore moe likely to vote for the constitution when you receive your ballot. (Which, of course, in screaming bold letters has the recommendation “ACCEPT” right above the place where you vote on the constitution.)

The pollster didn’t ask anything else. Unless you asked her something. If you asked, for example, to speak with the call center supervisor, you’d have learned that the company executing the push poll was The Clinton Group, a very old and very expensive Washington, D.C. political black-ops company. Their expertise is in telephone electioneering. Recently, they began offering a “grassroots” service, whereby they manufacture the impression that there is a grassroots campaign behind some candidate or issue.

Go ahead and look at the methodology page for The Clinton Group. You’ll see that step one is a sensitizing phone call—that was Ms. Denzter’s. The next call is an identification call. That’s that slimy push poll. The next call? Persuasion. And Dartmouth alumni are now getting that call. It consists of a pre-recorded message from a single alum urging a ‘yes’ vote on the constitution. She fails to offer any concrete reasons why, but she sounds nice enough.

The final call, according to The Clinton Group’s strategic process, is Get Out the Vote. The Dartmouth Office of Alumni Relations has this covered. In fact, it is paying students to make the calls. Take a look at the flyer they created and e-mailed to all Dartmouth students with the subject line, “Need $500?”

Oh, and then there are the paper mailings. Many of them. Some came stright from Dartmouth, such as Rick Routhier’s letter early on in the debate. This was paid for by Dartmouth and probably cost somewhere in the arena of $60,000. Then came a series of letters and flyers sent by Dartmouth Alumni for Common Sense, the principal group advocating for the constitution. Each of these originated from the same Concord, New Hampshire address: 43 North Main Street. That’s the location of Hinckley, Allen & Snyder LLP, a law firm. What do these attorneys have to do with Dartmouth Alumni for Common Sense? Do they know their address is being used? Are they aware that their resources are being used in a campaign to pass a distinctly illiberal document?

As if the law firm’s involvement wasn’t curious enough, how about the fact that, when someone (I know not who) mentioned this connection on the official blog of the Dartmouth Alumni Association, the moderators erased the comment?

Gosh, have I forgotten the mass e-mails demanding a ‘yes’ vote on the constitution? A half dozen of them, including one from a man called Peter Fahey. Dartblog readers, who have been sending me outraged e-mails for weeks, are already well aware of these. But to those who are not: Peter Fahey has declared that it is “incumbent” on all alumni to approve the constitution. He tells; he does not ask. And he tells without offering a single argument for the constitution itself. In fact, he says that it will hurt Dartmouth to vote no; that it will lead Dartmouth into a “downward death spiral.” (The other members of Dartmouth Alumni for Common Sense, whose tagline is “Keep Dartmouth Strong — Vote Yes on the Constitution,” support the same fearmongering message.)

In sum, this is what’s called “going negative.”

A terrible (and belittling) way to treat Dartmouth alumni who are, I think, far more intelligent than the D.C. flaks coming up with this material.

Those mass e-mails? Sent by a company called Constant Contact, which is owned by the large public relations company Publicis. There’s another connection there, but I’ll leave it to you to make.

Oh, and one more note about the mass e-mails. They were sent in violation of Constant Contacts’s numerous privacy contracts. E-mail abuse@constantcontact.com if you don’t like that.

As I say, it seems to me unlikely that the proposed constitution will pass. There is simply too much information floating around about the constitution, and too many motivated people (especially students and young alumni, who love Dartmouth dearly but hate this damn constitution) who are getting in touch with their friends. What a coup it will be for the great middle to defeat an unfair, elitist document that’s been backed by such an incredible amount of money and such tremendous professional advertising. What a coup when a rich and powerful few are disarmed by the power of a voting ballot.

UPDATE: In response to those who have asked, to vote ‘no’ on the constitution, which is Amendment 1 on your ballot, first call (603) 646-2258 and get your PIN number. Then go to this website and use that PIN number to cast your vote rejecting Amendment 1, the constitution, and accepting the four following reform amendments.

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