September 9th, 2009
08:35 AM ET

Dear President Obama #233: The power of a whisper

Reporter's Note: President Obama will speak tonight in what many are labeling a last-ditch effort to reverse eroding support for health care reform. Presidential speeches can make a big difference sometimes. Just as, perhaps, a letter to the White House might…

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Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

My elder daughter had a teacher who knew the value of soft words. Mrs. Davis’s kindergarten class was full of energy, giggles, and excitement. But unlike teachers who greet such circumstances with a loud voice and go steadily uphill, Mrs. Davis was a master of whispering.

She would sit up front eyeing the stirring sea of children. She would give them a moment to settle, and then she would begin her lesson; speaking so softly that a rustling paper could drown her out. The kids were not perfect. Occasionally they would burst out in excited babble. And she would stop speaking and wait until they saw her eyes and the hidden promise of genuine, calm consequences. She was always fair, and always firm. As a result, she was respected, admired, loved, and highly effective.

I mention all that as food for thought as you prepare for your health care reform speech tonight. You have proven gifted at giving big speeches full of grand ideas and soaring sentences that lead from one crescendo to the next, but tonight it will be the quiet messages, I think, that will make or break your plans.

You must convince your Democratic pals from moderate districts that you are not asking them to vote for something that will get them slaughtered in elections next fall. Remember, they’ve been yelled at by angry voters all summer. They need quiet assurance. You must calmly tell Republicans, (if you are interested in their help at this point) what you want from them and what you will give in return. And you must assuage the fear of voters that this is going to end badly. I suspect they don’t need to hear again how dire the circumstances are, or how you believe the economy can’t recover without these reforms. What they need, I think, are the soothing, confident words of someone who has thought out his plan, considered the objections and pitfalls, and adjusted to reach a workable solution.

It’s not up to me to say if your plans are good or bad. What I can tell you, however, is what I would tell any president facing a defining moment like this: A raised voice is a meaningless as a caged lion’s roar, and a whisper is a powerful as the snap of a twig, when the lion is prowling freely. Call if you are inclined. In the spirit of things, my phone is in silent mode.



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soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Annie Kate

    I was thinking of Teddy Roosevelt's saying too – Speak softly and carry a big stick – I tink he was one of the first of the Presidents to push universal health care although the history of the movement goes back to the early 1800s. After TR failed, Harry Truman tried, then LBJ, then Nixon (imagine that!), Bush 1, Bill Clinton, and finally Obama. Ted Kennedy had health care as his long term goal and he had to settle for pieces of it for over 40 years – he never got the whole ting but he did recognize that you could do it a piece at a time when you could not get your whole packages passed. Its too bad TK died before he finished.

    September 9, 2009 at 7:22 pm |
  2. Kim

    "Speak softly and carry a big stick." Roosevelt in 1901 was pushing for Universial Health Care and it's an old fight that's been around a long time. Wonder what Roosevelt's townhalls were like as he spoke out on Universial Health Care ?

    September 9, 2009 at 5:32 pm |
  3. ashlee

    To Conserve' for USA,

    Why didn't GW listen to the taxpayers last year, when we all called the White House and told him NO BAILOUTS to the banks?

    And please don't call Tom stupid. I'd like to see a letter you would compose to the President everyday.

    It's not as easy as it looks.
    Great letters, Tom.

    September 9, 2009 at 4:59 pm |
  4. Better Yet

    Get the federal government out of everything. Go to a flat tax rate at the federal level and let the states compete. Let the states raise taxes for social programs. Let the states decide policies for doing business there such as employer obligations. Let the states raise money for schools and set up the programs. The state level is approapriate for far more than the federal government. When states are run poorly, they'll lose residents and revenue. They'll suffer the economic consequences. When they are well managed, they will prosper as they attract money and talent. When people disagree with all the handouts, they can move and not be shackled with the cost of the "all or nothing" reach of the federal government. As it stands we are trying to force a one size fits all solution and that's just not realistic. With the approach comes the exceptions, loopholes, and corruption as we've seen in every other aspect of government where a pool of money is created and everyone tries to figure out how to get their hands in it. Just as was the case in many states with casinos. "The revenue will go towards education". What they don't mention is the money will in fact go towards education, BUT they money education was receiving will go towards something else. The neat trick is the government has mastered how to raise taxes without calling it a tax increase. It's suddenly a deductible, increase in the premium, processing fee, or some other way of saying, "We're taking more of your money", but it's not a tax.....however....you're just as broke and someone is counting the money thinking, "Idiots".

    September 9, 2009 at 4:36 pm |
  5. George Kahacho

    Well said Tom. At this point of this explosive debate, what we need is a calm and reassuring Leader who can confidently tell us where he intend to take us with this huge plan of reforming health care in our country.

    Much have been said by others, now this is his moment to spell it out in simple few words on what needs to be done. If something is too complex to be explained to the common Americans, then they won't buy into it because most folks still don't trust the Feds.

    Keep it simple and to the point Mr.President and common folks will hear you loud and clear and they will be with you in this.
    Good Luck Sir – you need it tonight.

    September 9, 2009 at 3:20 pm |
  6. Barbara Mattos

    I agree with your comment , Tom. Reminds me of a past-President who said "Speak softly and carry a big stick".. I'll be right beside President Obama with the big stick if he wants me to....Keep up the great work President Obama and God bless you.

    September 9, 2009 at 2:35 pm |
  7. Paul

    We are all adults here, and as adults we know there are consequences for are actions, so if you do not agree with his views on healthcare, you can a) do nothing, b) vote for him, c) not vote for him, d) protest and picket, its your choice, live the dream!

    It all comes down to what you believe, either you are your brother’s keeper or are not. The healthcare system is broken, even when you play by the rules, because even when you are working and come down with something serious the insurance company can deny your claim and you are stuck using you own funds and filing for bankruptcy when these same insurance companies are paying out bonuses to those employees that deny claims and on top of that the same companies show record profits. We are already paying for emergency room care anyway for those without healthcare, it makes sense to me to cover everyone and not pay 10-20 times more for emergency room care.

    It’s funny we hear Republicans say that they do not want “faceless bureaucrats” making medical decisions but they have no problem with “private sector” “faceless bureaucrats” daily declining medical coverage and financially ruining good hard working people (honestly where can they go with a pre-condition). And who says that the “private sector” is always right, do we forget failures like Long-Term Capital, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Enron, Tyco, AIG and Lehman Brothers. Of course the federal government will destroy heathcare by getting involved, Oh but wait, Medicare and Medicaid and our military men and women and the Senate and Congress get the best heathcare in the world, and oh, that’s right, its run by our federal government. I can understand why some may think that the federal government will fail, if you look at the past eight years as a current history, with failures like the financial meltdown and Katrina but the facts is they can and if we support them they will succeed.

    How does shouting down to stop the conversation of the healthcare debate at town hall meetings, endears them to anyone. Especially when the organizations that are telling them where to go and what to do and say are Republicans political operatives, not real grassroots. How does shouting someone down or chasing them out like a “lynch mob” advanced the debate, it does not. So I think the American people will see through all of this and know, like the teabagger, the birthers, these lynch mobs types AKA “screamers” are just the same, people who have to resort to these tactics because they have no leadership to articulate what they real want. It’s easy to pickup a bus load of people who hate, and that’s all I been seeing, they hate and can’t debate. Too bad.

    September 9, 2009 at 2:15 pm |
  8. Julie


    I don't know where you are getting this idea that voters are against healthcare reform. Those "angry voters" you are referring to were likely bought and paid for by the insurance industry.

    You're in the press, surely you know that it gets good press to zoom the camera in on a few angry, misguided people. That's not a good picture of America.

    If you turn off your t.v. set and go out and talk to normal people they will tell you they are tired of insurance companies playing doctor by determinging their care and tired of them raising premiums while denying coverage. You won't find these opionions in an angry photo op.

    We voted for CHANGE in 2008 and Americans want change in healthcare. The President doesn't have to sell it to us. He has to sell it to Congress and the media.

    September 9, 2009 at 12:24 pm |
  9. Boomer in Mo

    I won't matter what he says. The medical community has already spent $1.5 million a day to be sure any health care reform is dead on arrival. When the system collapses is when reform will occur.

    September 9, 2009 at 12:23 pm |
  10. Damie Pierce

    As a citizen, who lived abroad for many years, and experienced Universal health care, first hand, I can confidently assure those, honest skeptics (not those fueled by biase groups, fanning flames of confusion, for their own means) that Universal health care is nothing to be afraid of. It works, it is there when you need it,and you have the power within you to change or challenge anything that is not working for you! I urge all to look outside the box, and think of their fellow Americans, who awake every morning hoping and praying they or their children do not get sick, because they have no health insurance to count on. It is far time we start thinking of the WE not just the ME in this country! This is the "Heart" of Health Care reform.

    Godspeed Mr. President!

    September 9, 2009 at 12:13 pm |
  11. Jaclyn Palau

    I enjoy your letters everyday. I have faith that this country will prevail. Affordable health care is a right every human should have access to.

    September 9, 2009 at 11:42 am |
  12. Different Approach

    Having done years of problem analysis and resolution, one thing I have learned. You have to assemble all of the data/symptoms of the problem, sort each one out, and address it. The approach is horrible. It's too narrow in focus and doesn't reform enough. I don't mean to say we need more government involvement and oversight. Industry leaders need to sit down at the table and explain what's driving their costs up. Odds are it will look like a bunch of boxes with lines going in every direction, but the view of each industry is limited in scope. Take real cases from real patients, hospitals, insurance companies, etc and trace them through the system. Account for every step and why it's necessary. See where the costs come in, and how to eliminate them. Every large corporation is focused on controlling costs and eliminating them. I guarantee there are antiquated systems, flows, and methods in place today that drain funds and drive costs. Where greed is encountered and inflated profits are identified, then hammer them. Eliminate the inefficiencies and let each group provide representation to establish a new business model that's more efficient and cost effective.

    September 9, 2009 at 11:18 am |
  13. Michael

    The economy most certainly CAN recover without the proposed health care reform. To say otherwise is disingenuous and politicizing the issue.

    It would be more accurate to say that economic recovery would be much easier if health care costs were reduced.

    The current proposed health care reform is "budget neutral" for the first 10 years, at which point it begins to increase in cost. How can something that is projected to be "budget neutral" for 10 years prevent economic recovery?

    September 9, 2009 at 11:17 am |
  14. Conserve' for USA

    You just don't get it do you? The majority does not want the health care reform bill the way it is written. Are you that stupid to think the President can continue shoving these garbage bills down the throats of the majority, who don't want it, and not be a backlash? He can suger coat it all he wants and it will still be garbage! He had better start listening to the majority, because that's his job!

    September 9, 2009 at 10:23 am |
  15. Daniela

    I think that this makes a lot of scence because you make a good argument Tom when you say that a caged lions roar is as pointless as yelling. But a single wisper can go a long way. I think that people need to here comments like that more often because for "me" I think that one of Obamas biggest problems is that he makes these great speaches but is he really saying anything inportant to the people? I constanly find myself asking that same question over and over again. Clearly I now know that I'm not the only one. I think that if he worked on his public speaking and Ideas a litle more his actions would go smoother. But for the most part I have to agree with you.

    September 9, 2009 at 9:52 am |
  16. Rochester Hills, MI

    From a mother of three kids..........I am so impressed with Obama speaking to every kid in America about the importance of their education! This is such an important topic and who better to emphasize this to our kids? What an excellent idea! I'm so tired of Republicans trying to find fault with Obama. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Get a life!

    September 9, 2009 at 9:14 am |