I’d never before written to a president. Why would he read my letter? Why would he care? Though I’ve never actually written, I’ve always had something I wanted to say. During each of the last three administrations, I’ve had dreams I was speaking with the president, given an opportunity to share what was on my mind. It wasn’t until I listened to the recent 99PI episode titled “Ten Letters for the President” that I resolved I needed to send one myself. The episode didn’t necessarily make me think it was more likely that my letter would be read by the president himself. It was more that I was struck by the respect President Obama showed for the idea that a president should be accessible to the people he represents. I appreciated that with his decision to read ten letters each day from the American people he honored the connection between citizens and their government.
My letter wasn’t remarkable. It wouldn’t have stood out among the tens of thousands the Office of Presidential Correspondence receives each day. I thanked him for taking on the immense challenge of guiding our nation during troubling times. I thanked him for subjecting himself to scathing and unending criticism each and every day, only for doing his best at the toughest job in the world. I thanked him for believing in the American people and the American Dream and for staying positive throughout his time in the White House, when it would have been so easy to just get swallowed by the insidious bickering and evil games that characterize politics in Washington today.
I ended by encouraging him to team up with former rivals in order to help change the tone of political discourse in our nation. It’s not that I believe he contributed to an erosion of civil discourse during his presidency. In fact, I marveled at his incredible restraint and self-control during his administration. His speeches and writings repeatedly indicate his faith in the political process and his belief that people with different values and ideas can work together to find common ground. It’s just that he was unable to make progress on this front while president. I’m sure he still holds to these convictions. It just seems that those currently in power in Washington feel it is too risky to lose possible ground by expressing any level of agreement with the opposition party. My probably naive hope was that once President Obama becomes Former President Obama, he may be able to finally team up with others across the aisle who are no longer active stakeholders in the power games of Washington. Perhaps by coming together with former rivals and finding common ground where it does exist, this message might reach the hearts of citizens who have set themselves against anything uttered by someone not in their tribe.
I’m grateful to Barack Obama for his faith in the American people and for his service to our nation over the past eight years.
Note: For a great read about the work of the Office of Presidential Correspondence during Obama’s presidency, see this NYT Magazine article.
Image: The White House. Taken Aug 17, 2011 by me.