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January 23rd, 2010
08:02 AM ET

Dear President Obama #369: Haiti and the homefront

Reporter's Note: President Obama has been challenged to a basketball match by that new Senator Elect from Massachusetts. I have the feeling he may take him up on it, but only for double or nothing on the seat. Ha! My game? Writing a letter to the president’s home court every day.

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

The continuing problems in Haiti must be heavy on your mind as you, I presume, are working on your State of the Union speech over this weekend. I’ve often thought that one of the unique burdens of being President of the United States is that you are automatically a major figure on the world stage too. And what is best for the world, while often admirable, necessary, humanitarian, and decent, is unfortunately not always what is best for the home front.

Plenty of presidents before you have grappled with this issue. A horrid thing happens on the other side of the globe, and naturally that leader wants to help, but soon enough the pull of domestic concerns start shifting the tide. I have already heard grumblings about that on-line, on the radio, and elsewhere, as some people have either started growing weary with the problems of Haiti, or they want to dismiss them as merely another tragedy for a country with a long, troubled history.

I don’t feel that way. I look at the suffering of people who have suffered so much already, and I wonder why it is so very hard for wealthy nations like ours to be more helpful. But at the same time, I do not disparage our fellow citizens who may not feel the same. When I was a child I remember saying to my mother, “It bothers me that children in Africa are going hungry, but it does not make me like cooked carrots.” The person whose toe has just been broken is not immune to pain simply because another person was run down by a car.

So I understand why plenty of Americans who are worried about losing their jobs, their houses, and their hopes may be less interested in what we can do for Haiti, than what we need to do at home. I think it is important not to dismiss them (as some people are prone to do) as uncaring or callous; they just have other concerns. When I hear people ripping away at their fellow citizens as greedy, or cruel, just because they do not jump onboard the same charitable cause, I often think, “Yes, but what if that American is also struggling to make his or her own life work, a lot harder than you are? What if his family’s bills are crushing his bank account, and stealing the hopes he spent a lifetime building up?”

What I hope you can do as you continue to address the concerns to the south, is thread the needle. The needs of our own people…for a vibrant economy, a safe homeland, and hope for better days, do not have to take a backseat to the urgent needs in Haiti. In truth, I think this is a case where they can exist alongside each other. We are a wealthy nation, even in these trying times. And I suspect we can find enough for our own house…and our neighbor’s too.

Call if you can. Go Saints.

Regards,

Tom

Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Marie Chery

    Thank you Anderson Cooper for everything that you are doing in haiti. I was watching you last night speaking French and Creole, and I felt that you are truly a beautiful human being with a beautiful soul. The way you carried that injured (bleeding) little boy to safety melted my heart, and I cannot thank you enough for being so caring and so selfless. I will continue to pray for your safe return to the United States, and may God continue to pour his blessings on you.

    January 23, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  2. MARGARET

    Yes Tom, The President has yet another complex issue to lose sleep over.....I do not think there was ever a President, after only 1 year in office has had to face so much.

    My thoughts are with him and our family is wishing him truth and foresight, in his quest to bring America forward........

    January 23, 2010 at 10:57 am |
  3. Kim Crouch

    Powerful words. It is easy to dismiss others as selfish who may not feel the same way we do about Haiti. After all, my own thoughts are that even though some of us are struggling our struggles aren't really worst than those in Haiti and that's a blessing we should be reminded of. However, it is all relative and I think you're right that it's not our place to scold, judge or criticize. We are after all just trying to make it in this world. I only hope that those who can give do give and those who can't give in other ways even if it's just prayers.

    January 23, 2010 at 10:03 am |
  4. Kathy Robison

    I agree with you Tom. As an economists who has been working on economic dev in Haiti in the past 4 months and who helps companies with their global strategies, I will tell you that the lines are no longer so bright between problems at home and those abroad. In an increasing interconnected world, and one where populations are decreasing in many developed nations, our connection to the underdeveloped world and creation of new markets is the key to our own success at home.

    January 23, 2010 at 8:30 am |
  5. Lori

    Tom, thanks for a great letter. Life circumstances are all relative. Have a wonderful weekend. We will try to do the same in California. We got a little rain and wind this week and it felt like the sky was coming down. Take care.

    January 23, 2010 at 8:21 am |
  6. Tammy, Houma, LA

    I don't get it. Sorry. I just don't. The people of Haiti are part of our world family. When family is in trouble, we help. It's just the right thing to do. Period. And we can't put humanity under the bed and pretend suffering won't exist for a long time at a magnitude we cannot fathom.

    January 23, 2010 at 8:18 am |
  7. Tim Gibson

    I listened to Obama speak yesterday and to me he just seemed angry. Angry and pointing that finger of blame at everyone but himself for to much attention being focused on health care reform instead of immediate concerns on the homefront, much less addressing the issue with Haiti. The failures in our own recovery point a finger at the failings in Haiti regarding aide and the disorganized effort that falls well short of the hoop. I do not think Obama gets it, it is not about him, it is about nation building, it is about recovery and most importatly, it is about the people.

    January 23, 2010 at 8:13 am |