January 18th, 2010
07:25 AM ET

Dear President Obama #364: King's legacy of consensus

Reporter's Note: President Obama has paid tribute to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., and I do the same today in my letter to the White House.

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

I was thinking about this being Martin Luther King day and, as I am prone to do, I searched up some quotes. He said a lot of great things, of course, and they are wonderfully inspirational to read all these years later. But thinking of this, my daily letter to you, one in particular stood out.

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”

Many times in the course of the first year of your presidency, I have wondered if that is an idea you should be keeping a little more in the forefront of your thoughts. You are, no doubt, aware that even many of your strongest fans have been puzzled and frustrated by a little too much of the “no drama Obama” routine. They have wanted you to be less professorial, and more dynamic in many ways. And who can blame them? On the campaign trail you were soaring, explosive, a hurricane of new ideas and promises of change. And yet, in office, suddenly you seem more like the eye of the storm; quiet, and little inclined to use your power.

That said, I can understand your reticence to do so. First, beyond campaigning, it doesn’t seem to be your style. Second, if you are trying to build consensus among all those hyper-inflated egos that populate Washington, giving them time to sound off, and voice their opinions, and at least appear to be leading the parade is a good way to get started. But there is a point at which that must also change.

On the toughest issues, where agreement is very difficult to come by, simply waiting for the involved parties to somehow work it out is a formula for failure. Senators can afford to do that, because the blame will never land squarely, or solely on their shoulders. But presidents are a different matter.

Martin Luther King is remembered, I would wager, more for the things he accomplished while risking everything, than for the goals he met while playing it safe. He knew that building a consensus required great risks with his career, his reputation, and his life. While he was brilliantly calm and composed in his most memorable public appearances, his life was full of the drama of a passionate soul who would rather lose everything than sacrifice his ideals.

Molding consensus, whether in our lives, our jobs, or in the Oval Office, does not consist of simply watching which way the wind blows and then setting your sail. It means being the wind; sometimes gently, sometimes forcefully, nudging all the boats in the same direction; convincing them that this is the proper course, and then rewarding them with a safe harbor upon arrival.

I hope you enjoy the holiday, and like all of us, when we honor the great souls who have guided our nation to where we are now, that you will take a moment or two to reflect on the lessons those individuals taught us.

Call if you can to say hello. I think we have reached a consensus that we really ought to talk, yes?



Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Ize

    True, sad, but beautiful. Thanks. That was a great tribute to Martin Luther King.

    January 18, 2010 at 10:51 am |
  2. Pam


    So well said. Thank you!

    January 18, 2010 at 10:09 am |
  3. Joseph Jules

    I think the President is looking for participation from to many fronts I believe it is time to be bold and decisive in words and actions and let the pieces fall werehever .

    January 18, 2010 at 10:04 am |
  4. salma

    God bless MLK's soul.........i watched his peech like a million times & still, i'm gonna watch over & over again.......hello from Egypt

    January 18, 2010 at 8:29 am |
  5. Clay Wodham

    we have many peering over the bow of this ship hollaring as to what they see, and where we should go,

    but hells bells, is there anybody with a sense of conviction and integrity, steering this ship?

    January 18, 2010 at 8:04 am |
  6. katyuska Rojas

    wow what a great way to start the day on this day of Martin Luther King JR.

    January 18, 2010 at 7:38 am |