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July 10th, 2010
09:22 AM ET

Letter to the President #537: 'How should a president fit into the campaign picture?'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/POLITICS/07/08/obama.campaign.trail/story.obama.th.gi.jpg caption="Helping your party, as much as any president does it, must always take a back seat to serving and answering to the population at large." width=300 height=169]

Reporter's Note: President Obama still has a long time until he’ll need to think about re-election in earnest, but some of his fellow Dems are already pounding the campaign pavement. Just how much should he help them along? Well, that’s what I’d walked over to the White House in my latest letter.

Dear Mr. President,

This heat is pretty much making me crazy, which is strange because usually I can endure long, broiling days with little or no complaint. I’ve been known to go for ten mile runs with potatoes in my pockets just so I can come home with them pre-cooked for dinner. Ha! But this year the soaring temps have me sleeping badly, barking at the dog, and staring into the air conditioner vents as if I’m waiting for Shackleton’s ghost to emerge and lead me through a frozen land.

I assume the heat wave may also account for your new found feistiness on the campaign trail on behalf of your Democratic pals, too. Oh yes, I saw you out there throwing jabs at the Republicans! I can’t blame you, of course, because they certainly toss their fair share of punches at you. And certainly getting some of your party’s faithful re-elected in this tough economy, and in these anti-incumbent days is going to take all the haymakers you can muster.

Still, I would suggest to you, as I would to any president, don’t forget in the midst of all this, that you are not just another politician. You are the President of the United States and that gives you certain advantages (lots of them!) and disadvantages as well.

Here’s an advantage: You talk, people listen. You get to make your case with less interruption, more free air time, and fewer impolite, in your face challenges than any other politician in America. That’s the bully pulpit Theodore Roosevelt loved so much. But remember that he meant “bully” as in “great!” Be careful you don’t let it become “bully” as in “taking cheap shots at others by exploiting your power.” That is the tactic of a Congressmen, Senator, or person running for a seat on the School Board. Presidents, even when they are attacking the opposition, have to remember that they are presidents for all of us and their primary job is filling that position with honor, dignity, hard work, and magnanimity. Helping your party, as much as any president does it, must always take a back seat to serving and answering to the population at large.

Here’s another advantage: Because people will listen so readily to what you say, you get to shape the battlefield. You can largely steer the debate toward subjects that you think might favor your team. It’s like winning the coin toss, only better. But this power is limited, and that’s the catch. Remember, if you try to sell something that people simply know is not true, like say the economy is fine, or bipartisanship is alive and well, or you’re happy that LeBron went to Miami, voters can sniff it out like last week’s fish. Do it, and they’ll resent it and mistrust you. So be careful.

And here’s one more advantage: You’re already in the winner’s circle. You and your party. All you have to do is show people that they were right to put you there. And as you can see, for any elected official that’s a disadvantage too.

So in these sizzling days, good luck with your brawling. I know it’s tough work. But remember when the fight is done, some Senators will come, and some Congressmen will go, but after the voting, you’ll still have more than two years that you have to be President.

Frankly, being President is such an honor and such grave business, I would like it to become the custom that no president…Democrat, Republican, or otherwise…wasted even a minute campaigning or fundraising for his party. Seems like that time would always be better served addressing the needs of the whole country, not just one group. But then it’s possible I’m insane.

So my advice is to make sure that what you do on the campaign trail will make you as effective as you can be in that job, no matter which party comes out with the big wins in November.

Call if you want. I’m with the family all day, but always happy to take your call.

Regards,
Tom

Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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