Reporter's Note: President Obama, in a poll late this week, has found more Americans disapproving than approving of how he is handling health care reform. I’m writing a letter each day to the White House, whether anyone approves or not.
Tom Foreman | Bio
Dear Mr. President,
This is gut check time. Time to back yourself into a corner, rally your team around you, and prepare to defend the castle. This letter is not about whether your health care reform plan is good, bad, wise or silly. That’s for you and others to decide. Polls are running against you now on this issue; people who voted for you are raising questions about your abilities. So this letter is about tenacity.
When I was a kid, we moved from South Dakota to Illinois and I tried to settle into a new neighborhood over the summer. Champaign was much bigger than the town I’d known, and I was more than a little nervous. One day my brother and I were throwing a football in a field across from our house. An errant throw landed near a kid on a passing bicycle. He hopped off, and punted it as far as he could for me to chase.
“Now, go get it!” I ordered, with all the toughness of a third grader with something to prove. (Bear in mind, back then transferring schools was like going to a new prison; you had to establish your credentials up front.) He walked right up, stared me in the eye, and said, “Are you going to make me?”
The fight was fast and decisive. He took a swing, I pounced, and with the luck of the Irish and a weight advantage I took him down, grinding him into the dirt and pinning his arms beneath us.
“Give up,” I commanded, in the timeless tradition of back yard fights.
“No,” he responded.
“Give up!” I urged.
“Punch him,” my brother said.
“No,” we both responded.
That’s how it went until my mother pulled us apart. I later found out, the kid was named Ken and was renowned for never, ever, under any circumstances surrendering. His insistence on fighting out to the very end any dispute was not the model of diplomacy to be sure. But it made him a force to be reckoned with. Even in defeat, he commanded a strange respect because he showed no fear, and you knew he would fight you the next day, the next, and the next.
Being President, of course, is not like being a schoolyard tough, but sometimes some of the same rules apply. This is something I can tell you about this town with certainty: Presidents can lose fights, but if they appear weak, indecisive, or beaten they effectively lose their presidencies. So I’ll give you the same advice I’d give to any President in such a situation.
One: Don’t let anyone tell you the fight is lost. That is a decision only you can make. Hillary Clinton won many admirers, even among Republicans, for her toughness in the campaign; for fighting on, and making you prove your stuff, even when the math said she could not win.
Two: Win, lose or draw, stand up and face the music with a steely eye. When I was coaching one of my daughter’s soccer teams, I always said, “We don’t have to win every game, but we have to play hard every time, no matter the score. Losing is not the end of the world. But losing your self-respect comes pretty close.”
And three: Keep your perspective. No matter what happens in this fight, it is only one battle. The victory does not go to the faint heart or the easily dissuaded. Often it goes to the person who just hangs in and keeps swinging.
Call if you need more encouragement. Like I said, this is not about health care; this is about the kind of character we expect in our leaders, no matter what policies they pursue.
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