January 25th, 2011
03:40 PM ET

Letters to the President # 736 'Knowing when to quit'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: President Obama has a great talent for speaking, which as I note in today's letter, brings a certain pitfall with it.

Dear Mr. President,

I made a dreadful mistake on my way up to New York for your State of the Union address. (I'm not talking about the fact that I left my office which is just a hefty stone's throw from the Capitol where you will speak to travel several hours north; frankly the explanation for that is too convoluted for either of us to waste any time on.) The mistake I made was choosing a seat on the train directly across from a woman who spent the entire trip chattering on her cell phone. Loudly. I kept thinking that certainly at some point her battery would have to grow weak and she would give up her filibuster, but boy was I wrong.

Mile after mile, hour after hour, she prattled away so that everyone within at least a twelve foot radius knew her business. It would be one thing if she did hits for the mob or worked in the phone sex trade, but she seemed to be some sort of mid-level functionary in either a department of the federal government or in a company that does almost all of its work for the government. She spent a lot of time yammering about regulations, and contracts, and asbestos, and Los Alamos.

You can imagine how scintillating that was. She could have been reading a report on historic humidity levels in the Azores and it would have been more interesting.

I really don't mind people taking care of their business in transit. In this day and time I guess a lot of us do that to one degree or another. But she just didn't seem to know when to quit.

The great comedian Flip Wilson did a bit about being onstage one night and everything was going so great that he forgot himself and "stayed on too long". The message in a nutshell was: No matter how good you are, there is a limit to how long people will listen before they start grumbling.

I had an art teacher in school who made sort of the same point. "The secret to a good painting," he said, "is knowing when to stop".

So take this letter as a note of caution. No matter how talented you are, no matter how important your message, people will listen only so long before it becomes noise. Pick a good spot to end, head for it, and when you get there, stop talking.

You may or may not convince people to support your positions, but at least you won't annoy the other passengers.

Good luck up there tonight. I'll be watching. And call afterward if you can.


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Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

Filed under: Letters to the President • Opinion • Tom Foreman
soundoff (One Response)
  1. jimmie emery

    I believe in President Obama and his works. People dont understand what he was doing by spending money and having plans that fall. Understanding that you have to spend money to make money is the key. The other part is that we may believe his plan has fall because everybody spends so much time fight against him rather than helping him. This nation was head in this direction long before he came in office. We are spending to much time dealing with health care and although its important but there are for more things to worry about than just health care pick your feet up and move on.. If anyone in office dont agree to change then they should be removed.... 2 parties working under the President cant come together thats stupid and childish. STOP waisting the peoples time and move on.

    January 26, 2011 at 11:53 am |