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March 15th, 2012
07:49 PM ET

Letters to the President #1151: 'Expecting the unexpected'

Reporter's Note: Each day, President Obama arises and tells his staff to bring my latest dispatch to the White House. At least I like to think so…

Dear Mr. President,

One of my favorite movie lines of all time, and not surprisingly one of my credos, is spoken by Mickey Rourke’s character in Body Heat. He plays a small time criminal who is being asked for some advice by his attorney, William Hurt. It becomes clear that the lawyer is contemplating a hard core crime, to wit: murder and arson to wants to make it all look like an accident.

Rourke’s character thinks it over with obvious skepticism and asks, “What are you doing? Any time you try a decent crime, you got fifty ways you're gonna mess up. If you think of twenty-five of them, then you're a genius.” Actually the language is more colorful and the line a bit longer, but out of respect to the Oval Office and your time, I’ve tamed it and cut it back a tad. Still, you get the point.

Even the most smart, calculating, clever, quick, intellectual, educated, cunning person can run into unexpected problems. Random events, accidents, chance encounters, forces of nature, planetary alignments; all sorts of things can change the paths that we lay out for ourselves. Most of us like to believe that we are masters of our own fate, and…here comes a caution, we are most likely to believe that when things are going well.

Part of the reason is that we are constantly reverse engineering “cause and effect” sequences in our minds. For example: a) Bill Gates is the guy in charge of Microsoft, and b) Microsoft is a huge success, therefore c) Bill Gates is a genius who saw the path to greatness.

Truth be told, there have probably been legions of people over the past few decades with similar or even better ideas who encountered circumstances that, for one reason or another, kept them from becoming the Bill Gates of our time. Maybe they obtained funding from a bank that was less generous or forgiving with the loan. Maybe they were targeted by a competitor at a critical time in a way that Microsoft was not. Maybe they relied on a supplier that looked completely solid, but ran into some strange trouble that interrupted the inventory chain. In any event, the forces that kept them from dominating the field may have been utterly beyond their control.

I mention all of this, because as this election season plays out, you must make every effort to run your best race for re-election, just as your challengers must make their best run at unseating you. And I suspect the winner may well encounter some unexpected obstacles along the way, most of which we can not even imagine now.

A terrible storm may strike a critical state. A distant war may erupt. Gas prices could run wild. A close ally might become embroiled in scandal.

There is really no way to be ready for such things, but still…it is good to be at least mentally ready. Remember, there is only one way for things to go right for anyone who wants the presidency, and that is to win. And there are many, many, many ways for a presidential dream to go wrong.

Call if you have a moment. Would love to chat for a while.

Regards,
Tom

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