Hillary Clinton is known for sending birthday cards to friends, members of her staff, and normal folks that she has met through her political work. When more than 3,000 emails from Clinton's time as secretary of State were released last week, many of the messages involved the complex logistics of birthday party planning.
Now, Clinton's presidential campaign is harnessing that facet of her persona to rake in more online data (and hopefully donations) from her supporters.
On Tuesday, Robert Russo, the Clinton campaign's "director of correspondence and briefings," sent an email to people signed up for the campaign listserv with the subject, "There is literally no reason not to do this."
"This is your chance to get your own birthday email from Hillary. If you add your name right here, I'll make sure you're on the list for a birthday note from her," Russo wrote in the email. "A birthday email from Hillary can really make your day, so don't just sign up for your own—make sure you share the birthday love with your friends and family, too" followed by a blue button: "Send a card to a friend".
On Wednesday, Clinton sent a follow-up email to the listserv with the subject line, "Let me know when your birthday is." She continued: "I really value your support—and I never like to miss the birthday of someone important to me," she wrote. "Just let me know when your birthday is, and I'll make sure to send you a note on your big day!"
Sorry to break it to you, but Clinton and her campaign actually don't care about you that much to celebrate your birthday. It is very likely that you are not actually that important to her. Sure, it's a nice personal sentiment, but as with all gimmicks that every presidential campaign uses today, emails like this have a single purpose: to obtain as much data about you as possible.
This is why campaign websites sell goofy merchandise, and it's why they try so hard to stroke your ego. Eventually, you will cave. You will buy that "Chillary" beer koozie or that Rand Paul cornhole set or that Marco (Rubio) polo, or worse yet, you'll sell out your unassuming friend or family member's email address—and then you will be caught irrevocably in a campaign's digital web.
This sort of tactic is hardly limited to email communiqués. From direct mail, to website visits, to social media interactions, presidential campaigns—like debt collectors and bounty hunters—perform best when they can easily track you down.
By creating a trail of digital breadcrumbs—from impressions, to online petitions, to survey answers, to simply visiting a candidate's website—campaigns can more effectively target their message to what you want to hear. It's a field pioneered by President Obama's 2008 campaign, but one that has gained considerable traction on the right, too.
This is not to say that something nefarious is afoot, that your happy slice of birthday cake is laced with poison. This is simply how (successful) national campaigns work today. Just don't have the audacity to presume that the politician who you like actually likes you back.
Unlike Census takers or your mother, presidential campaigns don't have any practical or sentimental reason to care about your exact date of entry into this world. You are an amalgam of numbers that is hopefully linked to a credit card for quick cash transfers.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.