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December 18th, 2012
10:21 PM ET

Letters to the President #1429: 'Overpromising'

Reporter's Note: I write to President Obama every day.

Dear Mr. President,

The debate over gun control following the Connecticut shootings seems to be growing hotter by the day. While I am often impressed by the passion that people bring to causes, especially when propelled by dramatic and terrible events, I have been hearing a phrase lately which always concerns me. Lawmakers, community leaders, and citizens alike keep saying something along the lines of, “We need to make a change, so that a tragedy like this never happens again.”

Understand that I wish, pray, and hope with all my soul that indeed we never see anything like a repeat of this horrible event. But my experience, my knowledge of history, and human nature tells me…sadly…we will, no matter what steps we take to prevent it.

Hear me out. I am not saying that people should not try to make the situation better. A cornerstone of our Democracy is certainly that people ought to engage the legislative process to try to effect change. And real change is possible. I am sure that certain changes to the right laws in the right ways could indeed reduce the likelihood of a similar event happening. And if that were accomplished, who could fault the people who brought such a change to pass? But notice that I said “reduce” not “eliminate.”

That is an important distinction.

I find it distressing that advocates for causes, whether left, right or middle, often oversell. They promise what is unlikely to be delivered, and when that proves out, it promotes the cynicism that makes people feel as if nothing ever really can be done about our problems. By promising too much, they undercut their own arguments; making them look like the fantasies of pie-in-the-sky idealists.

What I wish people would say, no matter what position they espouse, is: “We need to take this step so that we will be moving in the right direction; so that we might make our world a bit safer, a bit better, a bit more as most of us would have it. It will still not be perfect. We will still face awful calamities from time to time. But if we can act together now for our common good, even in a small way, perhaps we will become better at doing such things…and over time our small gains will truly produce the big changes we crave, and these horrid events will grow less and less frequent.”

Hope all is well. Call if you can.

Regards,
Tom

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