October 16th, 2011
10:01 AM ET

Letters to the President: #1000 'The 1000th letter'

Reporter's Note: President Obama once asked the public for advice on how to run the country. I have answered that call every since day since he took the oath of office with a letter to the White House.

Dear Mr. President,

Wow! Look at this: 1000 letters! One for every single day since you were inaugurated. This milestone slipped up on me a bit, I must admit, although my wife was reminding me of it for some weeks.

It went something like, “You know, you’ve written almost 1000 letters to the president, and he’s never responded. Don’t you think it is time you saw a therapist or something?”

What a kidder.

I’m not sure how the experience has been on your end of the correspondence (although the word “creepy” comes to mind) but on my end it has been surprisingly rewarding despite your steadfast silence. I feel as if it has kept me attached to the news in a unique way, it has improved my self-discipline, and despite some evidence to the contrary, it has also made me into a better writer.

The process has also taught me a few things. For example, the mere act of contemplating the challenges you face each day convinced me that I truly would make a terrible president. I wish that were not the case, but it is.

Like a lot of folks, I have occasionally fancied that I might be some sort of great national leader if I somehow stumbled into the position. (Not sure how that would happen, but Hollywood movies have implied that once in a while a comedy of errors can put a novice into the Oval Office, so you never know.) But as you have learned, being President in the abstract is very different than filling those shoes in actuality, where unexpected events collide with the best laid plans, and international calamity is always waiting just outside the door.

Beyond that, and please do not take this as an insult because it is not meant that way; I would never want to be as disconnected from my family as any president must be. The time I had with my daughters when they were young simply meant too much to me, and watching your schedule closely over a thousand days has convinced me that your family time is far too limited for my taste. Granted, your kids have had some extraordinary chances to stand in the shadow of history, but frankly those experiences are too costly as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve also learned something that I think a lot of us learn as we grow older. I’m not nearly as clever as I once imagined. Oh sure, the first few hundred letters were easy. I tossed out simple, obvious advice on how to deal with issues, shape policy, and confront…uh confrontations…but as the letters stacked up, I found my font of wisdom running dry. And that’s the real challenge of being President, isn’t it? Even when you reach the limits of your expertise, you still have to do the job.

That’s when I think a truly smart person starts listening more to the smart people around him or her, and realizing that collective intelligence, properly channeled, almost always trumps individual genius.

As an aside, I seriously considered giving up on this whole campaign when I reached 1000 letters. After all, you’ve never called. You’ve never written. I know you’re busy, but…

Still, here is an ironic twist. I mentioned the idea of quitting to my ever-amusing wife a few days ago, and after considering it for a moment she said, “Well, it would be something of a relief. You would not be tapping away at the computer at all hours or considering new ideas for the next day, and God knows the White House people would be thrilled to have you out of their hair. On the other hand, you know you’re only some 400 letters short of the next Inauguration Day…”

So, I guess I’ll see you here again tomorrow. And, as always, call if you have a moment.


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Filed under: Letters to the President • Opinion • President Barack Obama • T1 • Tom Foreman