October 24th, 2009
08:21 AM ET

Dear President Obama #278: The unexpected answer...

Reporter's Note: President Obama has been taking a lot of political punches lately, and dishing some out too. Hopefully he still has time to towel off and read my daily letters to the White House.

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Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

Some years ago, I was playing tennis against a guy who fancied himself quite a good player. The mere fact that he “fancied” himself anything, should have been his first clue that he was not as hot as he imagined, but I digress. He bragged about hustling tennis games for money in college, and all the grand victories he had racked up. I did not claim to be much of a player; I wore running shoes instead of proper tennis footwear; and I played with my wife’s borrowed racquet.

And I almost always beat him.

It was kind of strange in a way, because he certainly seemed to have some of the chops he needed to win. But time and again, he came to the court full of bluster about his latest round of lessons, and then I’d blister so many balls past him he’d leave scowling, and cursing, and clearly heading off to the sporting goods store to complain about the latest stringing job they’d done on his racquet.

Truth be told, I really think he beat himself. He was just so aware of the competition and so caught up in this image of what he thought he was. So the more I acted casual and relaxed and good humored about it, the more it infuriated him and threw him off-balance.

Recalling it makes me think of a legendary chess match I once read about, in which the great master was beaten by a lesser player, and erupted from the table screaming, “How could I lose to such an idiot?”

I mention all of this by way of advice: Sometimes even very powerful opponents can be pulled off-balance by the unexpected; by responses that are either much less or much more forceful than they anticipate.

Not much of a letter today, I suppose. But hey, it’s Saturday. Call if you feel inclined, we’ll be caught up in a college visit most of the day (University of Maryland) but I always have my cell. And btw, I saw the official portrait of you and the fam…nice!



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Find more of the Foreman Letters here.