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November 13th, 2011
10:58 AM ET

Letters to the President #1028: 'The advice of enemies'

Reporter's Note: Presidents become somewhat isolated in their offices, no matter how hard they try to avoid that. Oh sure, my daily letters help break the bubble, but I think other measures are needed, too.

Dear Mr. President,

I read with great interest this newly released account of President Nixon, at the height of anger against the Vietnam war, making an unscheduled and unreported visit to the Lincoln Memorial late at night where he talked with some young protestors. It is, of course, one of those crazy things that seems more like it belongs in a Hollywood screenplay. Kind of like that picture of him with Elvis.

Nonetheless, it illustrates a practice that I think we need a lot more of in Washington, and one that I think might benefit you immensely. Our leaders should be meeting much more often, and away from all cameras and reporters, with Americans who oppose them. That’s it, in a nutshell.

I don’t mean that you should descend into a screaming mob which will never, never, never even listen to what you say. But I think you, and the nation, would be very well served if once a month or so you secretly met with a dozen or so regular citizens who disagree with where you are leading the country. (Btw, based on the polls, they shouldn’t be hard to find. Ha! Just kidding…)

President Clinton famously said that we should be grateful for our enemies because they tell us the things we don’t want to hear; they help us see the weaknesses in our own plans so that we can improve them. (Or something like that.) And he is right.

I saw you having dinner on TV a few weeks back with some normal folks who won some kind of contest among your supporters, or donated to your campaign, or something like that. I thought, “That’s nice. But what is he learning?”

The problem with people who like you, or agree with you, is that they are very unlikely to bring up those inconvenient truths that we all need to hear from time to time. So here is what I suggest. Have someone whom you trust get together a group of reasonable, thoughtful, caring folks one late night here in DC, who fundamentally think you’re doing a bad job. You can meet them in a private home so no one knows. Heck, you can use my house if you want. (Uh, but make sure you let me know ahead of time. My wife will want us to do some extra heavy duty vacuuming, I’m sure…) Then listen to what they have to say. Really listen.

Because if you can understand their concerns, and address them in a satisfactory way, you will not merely please those who already trust you, but also start winning over some of those who don’t.

Regards,
Tom

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Filed under: Letters to the President • Opinion • President Barack Obama • T1 • Tom Foreman