November 4th, 2010
05:00 PM ET

Letters to the President: #654 'The start of a beautiful finish?'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: President Obama says the results of the midterm election make it clear that the public is not happy with the performance of his administration. But is he finished? Well, that’s an interesting way to pose the question…

Dear Mr. President,

Your choice of the word “shellacking” to describe what your party was given in the midterm election was interesting, and I think it was more apt than many of us may have realized. I was intrigued by that choice of language because my dad used that word a lot and he, like you, was from Chicago.

So I decided to do a little research on the word and what I found was interesting. Shellac is a resinous substance used, among other things, for finishing woodwork or furniture. This I already knew, having used it while working with my father many years ago.

What I did not know is that it comes from the sacs of female lac beetles in India and Thailand (not to be confused with the Lack Beatles, who were an ill-considered, all-girl, pop-punk band from Boise). These beetles secrete this substance as they make…well, whatever it is that they are making - could be cocoons, could be pillows, could be tiny toaster ovens for all I know - and the substance is collected. I don’t precisely understand the collection process and I don’t suppose I need to; journalism is a shaky profession, but I’m pretty sure I’ll never become a lac beetle farmer.

Anyway, it takes a lot of lac beetles to produce even a jar of this flaky, dry stuff, but once you have enough of it, you can mix it with alcohol and produce this material for finishing wood, sealing out water, making phonograph records, all sorts of things. (Btw, this is one of those things that I marvel at because I can’t even begin to imagine who first looked at a beetle on a tree in Thailand and said, “Of course! We can use that shiny stuff to make Steve Winwood records one day!”)

No one seems to know for sure why “shellacking” started being used to describe someone getting a sound beating, although I found a theory online that sounded good; maybe it’s because shellac represents the last step in finishing something off. I’ll buy that.

So I’ll say again, your choice of “shellacking” to describe what happened was excellent, because the midterm results reflected the combined efforts of many, many, many millions of individuals doing their own little part by casting a vote. Tuesday’s vote also represented a “finishing off” of your previous agenda of sorts, as you yourself admitted. But this may be the part you have not considered yet: It also lays the groundwork for something wonderful. Shellac, well applied and polished, produces a lovely, brilliant surface able to withstand much abuse and hold up for many years. So now that you and your team have taken this shellacking, bend yourself to the brushes and buffers, smooth out the uneven spots, and start the hard work of turning it into something good.

Best of luck. Call when you can.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Robert

    The Republicans only got the Independent swing votes because they PROMISED AMERICAN JOBS in the last two weeks of the election, Ha! Just like the Democrats did with Obama’s election but Obama didn’t deliver any real results.

    Republicans just dont get it. Americans WANT THEIR JOBS, not more outsourcing and free trade agreements.
    They will find out about American anger over their policies and lies of promised job creations. I hope they are ready for the onslaught of anger!

    November 5, 2010 at 10:43 am |
  2. Jenetta McNabb

    DO THEY NOT GET IT, it was said that Seniors,
    for the last 2 years would not get a raise because
    the cost of living had not gone up. Where do they
    shop? I'm talking food, every item has has gone
    up at less 6 cents or more. I can provide a list.
    I voted for President Obama. I will not the next
    election. Thanks

    November 5, 2010 at 10:20 am |
  3. Loraine Antrim

    Precise language is critical to communication, and especially in politics and business. The President used a word that left most Americans scratching their heads: shellacking. Really????

    We can debate the origins and implications of the word (I really like your "bright finish" implication) but in the end, if we can't understand the language of our elected leaders, what good is the rhetoric? We should not have to run to the OED to understand our President. Loraine Antrim, Core Ideas Communication

    November 5, 2010 at 7:26 am |
  4. Kim

    Call the economic tow truck emergency road side service and let's see the 20% cuts to what and where. No results then guess what ? They'll all be fired again !Slurpie's on the house and cheers !

    November 4, 2010 at 11:54 pm |