June 23rd, 2009
10:45 AM ET

Dear President Obama #155: Tragedy on the tracks

Reporter's Note: President Obama continues to enjoy great popularity despite eroding public confidence in his economic stimulus plan. Well, you can’t have everything, can you? Nonetheless, my campaign to produce a letter each day for the White House continues unabated…like a bad rash in summer.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/06/23/washington.metro.crash/art.metro.night.scene.gi.jpg caption="Lights illuminate the wreckage as rescuers continue to work at the Metro crash site."]

Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

I’ve been following the news of that DC Metro train crash all afternoon and evening, and it has turned out far worse than I thought it would. The last I heard, six people were killed and a good many more hurt. By the time you read this, I suppose the numbers may have changed, but the count really does not matter much. For each person who died, some family has been left in stunned, utterly unexpected mourning. I have covered enough of this type of tragedy to see how hard it hits, and to feel a great deal of sympathy for them.

But I must say I also feel some anger.

I get frustrated when government at any level…local, state, or national…makes promises about what it will do with enormously complex things like the economy, foreign affairs, health care, and infrastructure; and then fails at a basic, simple task. Trains run on tracks. We know where they are going and when. Certainly it should not be that hard to keep them from running into each other. People make mistakes? Sure. I understand that. But a mistake should be a train slamming on the brakes rather violently. Or commuters being held up an extra half-hour because of a maintenance issue. In our modern world of high-speed communications, computers, and the like, mistakes on a city subway line should not involve a catastrophic collision.

The same can be said, to a lesser degree, of other government systems: We know people need licenses to drive, for example, millions of them; so the Department of Motor Vehicles should work like a charm; fast, efficient, friendly. But it doesn’t.

We know we all have to pay taxes each year; so we should be able to read the tax code easily, fill out the forms with confidence, and pay with certainty that the matter is closed. But we can’t.

My point is, when government fails at simple things, I think it undermines our confidence in government’s ability to handle bigger things. If a friend blew his assignment getting beer and pizza after bowling, would you trust him with organizing your re-election campaign? I suspect not. (And yes, I realize that the minute I brought up bowling that you kind of checked out of the conversation, but try to stick with me here.)

You’ve asked for advice, here’s mine for today: While you take on the big tasks… rebuilding the financial systems and the like, try to make the small things work properly…or at least better. Every time government handles a small task well, and a member of the public feels as if he or she has been treated properly, you build confidence for your larger plans. And the opposite is true too.

It was good of you to say some kind words of condolence to the families of the train victims. I know they’re not even your trains in a governmental sense. But while you are fulfilling your promise of change, remember how frustrating and troubling failures like this can be…even to folks who want to believe in the power of government for good.

Call if you can.



Find more of the Foreman Letters, here.

soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Rachel / Texas

    I re-read this letter again to see why so many were upset, and I came to same conclusion, you were not placing blame on anybody, just simply stating that in working on so many huge and needed projects, don't forget the smaller, but very necessary ones that make our people safe in their everyday lives...I think President Obama understood this, keep writing your daily letters, I enjoy them

    June 24, 2009 at 11:46 am |
  2. WiseGeorgian

    Shame on you for using these people that died for your ploy of trying to use your partisan ways. Just how many of those people on the train was using it as their only use of transportation, some use it for convenience. Every time someone use different types of transportations ...... cars, planes, trains, buses, etc., I am sure they are aware of their chances of an accident. Nothing is safe these days. When the good Lord decides its your time there is nothing you can do.

    You are suppose to be a reporter and at this time including CNN .... no one knows exactly what the cause of this accident. Do you have a crystal ball??? This is like me blaming you and CNN cause you promised to report the facts, with NO mistakes in reporting ........ failing at a basic simple task ......... but it is the 21st century and you should know better.

    No chance for Tom in this WH!!! Maybe Jack Cafferty

    June 23, 2009 at 5:34 pm |
  3. Wise Saying

    Any time the government gets involved, it turns into a HUGE process whose primary purpose is to create paperwork/documentation that the process is being followed so they can say, "See? Look.... We're doing something and we have all this paperwork to prove it!!" Only in the government, they call them regulations. Then there's the documentation showing the regulations are being followed, audits, training programs on the new regulations, and a new billion dollar industry is created to prevent a $100 mistake.

    June 23, 2009 at 3:56 pm |
  4. Donna Wood, Lil' Tennessee

    This is for
    'What", Hey, that's o.k. I'll be happy to read it for you. No problem!

    Donna Wood
    Lil' Tennessee

    June 23, 2009 at 2:57 pm |
  5. Donna Wood, Lil' Tennessee

    Here, here Mr. Foreman! Very well put! I agree 100%. As always a great article. Hope to see and hear more soon.

    Donna Wood
    Lil' Tennessee

    June 23, 2009 at 2:54 pm |
  6. SMH

    This letter is ridiculous. Why even address it to the president? What occured was a tragic accident and every tragedy doesn't fall on the shoulders of the president. People scream that government is getting too big and too far reaching but whenever something happens they ask they government what are they going to do about it. There are agencies in existance that are responsible for the safety of passengers on public transportation. Shouldn't your comments be directed towards them? What does the White House have to do with the day to day running of the DC transit system? I'm sick and tired of people calling out to Obama to micro-manage everything. Let the agencies responsible be responsible. Our entire countries infrastructure is perilously close to collapse from decades of neglect. Obama isn't going to be a miracle worker and replace or fix it all in. There's no money for it. So when the next major bridge collapses, water lines bursts or levee fails, thank all of the watch dog agencies that were supposed to be warning us or keeping us safe. Thank all the prior administrations both local and national that didn't bother to use funds allocated for repairs to keep the infrastructure up to date.

    June 23, 2009 at 2:47 pm |
  7. Jim M


    You have expressed your frustration with governmental operations at all levels. Have you ever taken the time to become active in government – sat on a school board, been a member of a municipal governing body, – even as a volunteer at those levels?

    Expressing frustration is one thing. Looking at the operation of a governmental unit from the inside is another. Join in and learn, then provide the solutions that you think can correct the problems!

    June 23, 2009 at 2:19 pm |
  8. Vanessa/Los Angeles

    I completely get what you are saying and agree. It reminds me of something I heard...somewhere 🙂 (I'm paraphrasing here) "If you are faithful in the little things you will be faithful in the big things." This idea goes back much further than our Government for the simple fact that it is true and it will work.

    Tom, I read your letters every M-F and I always enjoy them, but todays said something great. Thanks for being honest.

    June 23, 2009 at 1:35 pm |
  9. L.C.

    You cannot expect everything to be perfect about our President Obama. Why anyone would blame Obama on a train collision when he has other things to deal with ,like health care and keeping the economy from crashing I haven't an idea. Our former President left us in a recession before Obama was even elected. Obama is doing a fine job trying to clean up the mess. If not for signing the Stimulus Plan we would all be on the streets fighting for chicken bones.

    June 23, 2009 at 1:14 pm |
  10. Kelly

    Oh My God..now Obama is blamed for THIS?! Please give me strength. This really has to be the most ridiculous letter I've read. Are you serious? I'm still laughing my head off.

    June 23, 2009 at 12:58 pm |
  11. Mari

    Tom........ think you need to rethink your stance. 'Fraid to tell you this buddy, but Obama did not build the railway system, and considering how many years it has been running without an incident, you are wrong to place blame on the Feds.

    June 23, 2009 at 12:49 pm |
  12. Rachel Rountree / Texas

    Dear What, patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time is a skill you haven't aquired, it's called MULTI-TASKING, some can do with ease, and then there are some who can only focus on one thing at a time, stupid is a word you should not use very often, try replacing it with Grace, Integrity, Higher Learning, use your listening skills, that's why we have 2 ears, and 1 mouth, and why your foot is bigger than your mouth, unless yours would stay in that position..have a great day!

    June 23, 2009 at 12:28 pm |
  13. Jean Rhodes

    I think both opinions are right!! I just feel that folks who put so much high hopes on one man are really defeating themselves!! We all have the responsiblity to be our brothers keepers.
    . And now that we've been told, we can be involved in making our world better, the tasks are at hand for all of us to make that change.

    June 23, 2009 at 12:05 pm |
  14. concerned

    Tom, I believe you should have reconsidered posting this letter. The world has been modern for centuries and accidents happened then as they happen now. We are all sad when lives are cut off by accidents or by some mishap, but NO MAN is perfect(except Jesus). Whom made these modern things you speak of that is suppose to detect faulty mechanics? MAN. The last part of your letter where you ramble on about President Obama taking on the big task and not making the small things work well or better is utterly ridiculous.

    June 23, 2009 at 11:56 am |
  15. sule

    We are deeply depended on technology and there stems the root of our problems now and in future. Computers are running our lives and even though we don't realize how depended we are We truly become worthless in progress. Laziness took over and we just want to push buttons. We will have more crashs and dams falling and nuclear platforms blowing. It will be the end of humanity one day.

    June 23, 2009 at 11:05 am |
  16. What

    This is the stupidest thing I've read in a while. How can you attribute blame in a train collision to someone who is focused on macro-level, national and world issues? This is petty and, frankly, idiotic. Good luck with the rest of your letters, I won't be reading them.

    June 23, 2009 at 10:28 am |
  17. SLM

    Tom – You hit the nail on the head, government isn't capable of running anything and the sooner we all realize this the better off we will all be. Do we really want the government taking over health care? That is way too important of an issue to just throw caution to the wind and go for it!! Medicare is a fine example of the governments attempts and look at it. Poor quality coverage and expenses out of control.

    June 23, 2009 at 10:16 am |
  18. Rachel / Texas

    Amen Tom!!!!! when you build a structure, you start from the bottom, a strong foundation, that will take big hits and keep going, an earthquake, a storm (Pun) you get on the elevator and go up to the 50th floor because your confident it will make it safely, Mr President, I think Tom needs to be a part of your White House team, so give him a call..God bless you both

    June 23, 2009 at 10:11 am |