Reporter's Note: I write to President Obama every day, but at this moment it seems as if a lot of people would like to get his attention.
Dear Mr. President,
Whenever a mass shooting plagues our nation, as has happened in Connecticut, the response in D.C. is predictable. Lawmakers appear before microphones making grand declarations about how we can’t tolerate the status quo anymore. They call for special committees to look into gun laws, violent TV shows, drugs, and mental health. They offer their condolences and declare that this time something will change.
And nothing substantial ever does. A week passes and the fury wanes. A month passes and the blanket of bureaucracy settles. And a year or two later another heartbreaking tragedy unfolds to restart the whole cycle.
As much as it may not be popular to say so, I see good and bad in that.
If our government responded instantly to every outrage we would probably wind up with a slew of ill-considered laws formed in reactionary times. Like a reckless driver swerving down the road, we would change course unpredictably which could be bad for business, bad for society, and bad for justice. Laws should reflect the will of the people, but not the whims. Indeed, it is possible, if not probable, that’d we would be more unhappy with an overly active government than we are with one that remains locked in a stalemate much of the time.
Conversely, however, many reasonable voters are rightly concerned that politicians too often take the easy way out of addressing serious matters. Too many of our officials praise citizens who risk their lives for others, but those same leaders won’t even risk their jobs. They buy too quickly into the idea that more study is needed for any problem, because that is hard to argue with, even when it is just a delaying tactic. And in the end, elected leaders call for commissions because that is politically a lot safer than calling for a vote.
So where should we be at a time like this? I won’t offer any opinion on what ought or ought not happen in terms of the law in the wake of this horrible event in Connecticut. But I will say this: Amid all the calls for something to be done, I suspect that somewhere between acting rashly or not at all is where leadership lives. It is not wrong for elected officials to use a galvanizing event to engage a difficult issue, but then they must stick with it through the hard, politically dangerous months and years ahead. When the studies are done, the commissioners have issued their reports, and importantly…the voters have grown bored and are no longer clamoring for action…that is when true leaders must continue going about the work of true leadership. They must go where the facts lead them, and then press for real, thoughtful, considered action, even if doing so risks failure in the next election.
Hope all is well.
Reporter's Note: I have written to President Obama every day since he took office.
Dear Mr. President,
I noted with some interest that you decided this weekend to put Sen. John Kerry up as your new Secretary of State. Seems like a solid choice. He’s a mature player. His credentials are pretty impressive. He has some controversies in his past, but they certainly don’t seem major. Well, I suppose whether they are major or minor depends on your political point of view, but none of them seems to have ever risen to the level of being a full blown scandal. There is the matter of him being a fabulously wealthy guy from Massachusetts, and judging from the campaign, you have no faith that such people can be trusted…but maybe that’s just a matter of context, hey? Ha!
That said, in some ways I’ve never understood this whole changing of the guard that happens whenever a president wins a new term. I would be inclined to think that when a leader is re-elected, in a sense people feel as if they are re-electing his team as well, so to suddenly start switching everyone out is peculiar.
After all, if a pro football coach gets a new contract, he doesn’t immediately start dumping all of his established players and trying to pick up new ones, does he?
On the other hand, I know that having anything to do with White House politics is exhausting. Asking any person to serve in one of these positions for four years is probably more than enough. After all those relentless hours, the pressure, and the strain families, I can understand how they might want a break. I can understand also how you might wonder if any given member of your team is really at his or her best after four years of such effort.
I guess what I think doesn’t matter anyway. This just seems to be the way it is done.
So I wish you the very best with the process. I know you were probably disappointed about that flameout with Susan Rice, but it appears you’ve moved on in positive direction and in short order. One can’t ask for much more than that.
Hope your weekend is going well enough, especially under the circumstances of late.
Reporter's Note: I write to President Obama every day. Even on terribly sad days like this one.
Dear Mr. President,
As you may well imagine, like millions of other Americans I am spending a good portion of this weekend contemplating the horrors that were visited upon that school in Connecticut. Through more than 30 years of news reporting, I have always been amazed that one person can so quickly bring such suffering and sorrow to so many families. I suppose amazed is not the right word. Appalled is better.
Yesterday, when all of our coverage quieted down for the evening, I went onto Sandy Hook Elementary’s website and looked at what that school was like just a few days ago. There were pictures of kids and teachers in bright classrooms, some sort of celebration in the hallway, a concert with the gym packed full of children, and smiling participants in what looked like a science project. There were notices about special activities and holidays; inspirational notes about building character.
Simply put, it looked like the kind of place any parents would we happy for their children to attend. And now, of course, it is something quite different.
Having lived within a few miles of Columbine when those horrible shootings occurred, I know firsthand that an event like this can ripple for years. Some of the children in that school will move past these events as well as one could ever hope, but others will suffer lifetimes of fear and bad memories. Some families will rally to help each other struggle through the pain, but others may be wracked by depression, anger, and inexplicable disagreements that may drive them to split up. Some good teachers may want to be back on the job at the soonest possible date, while others may never step into a classroom again. And even some people who simply live near the event…who were not directly affected at all…may wrestle for a very long time with anxiety and grief.
There is so much sadness in an event like this; the terror and loss on the day itself, the crushing heartbreak of the immediate days that follow, and then the awful reverberations that may be with some people for the rest of their lives.
All we can do as a nation, I suppose, is offer our support, prayers, and hopes for better times. But I wish what we could do is turn back the clock just a few of days, and somehow avert this calamity that will affect so many for so very long.
Reporter's Note: President Obama spoke this afternoon about the shootings at an elementary school in Connecticut.
Dear Mr. President,
When I was a child, gunmen did not shoot up schools. We’ve always had sociopaths, sadists, and simply cruel people among us; and yes, they’ve visited their horrors upon the rest of the population, including children, since the dawn of humankind. But I repeat there was a time in quite recent memory when gunmen did not descend upon hapless children in a place where they ought to be safe.
Now these shootings, while not common, happen with such regularity that their newsworthiness is judged more by the number of fatalities than by the shocking nature of the crime. Because, to be honest, unless the shootings are big, I’m not sure they shock us anymore.
I can think of almost nothing more tragic.
What has become of us that this is a part of the fabric of our society? How does any society reach a point where normal parents, on normal days, think twice about dropping their kids off at school for fear of the unimaginable happening?
I ask those questions sincerely, because I don’t have the answers. Some will blame the availability of guns, or our violent media, or our culture that grows outraged at each incident, then grows bored with trying to figure out why it happened, and then grows complacent that it won’t happen again. Others will say these events are just something that occurs, like a human storm. “When a population is as large as ours,” they say, “the odds dictate that now and then someone will do something terrible.”
I don’t know who is right. I wish I did. All I know is that there was a time when it didn’t happen this way. There were assassins among us. There were mass murderers. There was even the odd shooter who appeared on a college campus. But the idea that every year or so, a gunman would wade into school children was unthinkable precisely because it did not happen. And though I don’t spend my days pining for the past, in that regard I wish our country was the way it used to be.
You were kind and good to express your condolences to the community in Connecticut today. As I have grown older I don’t pray enough and I’m never sure if God is listening. But I will tonight and I hope he is, for the sake of all those families whose hearts were forever broken by today’s tragedy.
Reporter's Note: President Obama is assembling his new team for his second term. I don’t believe I am being chosen. Especially after all these letters. Oh well.
Dear Mr. President,
I’m sure you were none too happy about Susan Rice withdrawing her name from consideration as a possible new Secretary of State. Heaven knows what kind of back door wrangling was involved in all that, and I doubt you were surprised, but it is never comfortable for an administration to see one of its possible picks for a job being instead picked off by the critics.
That said, I am struck by something that one of those critics said weeks ago; in essence it was, “Yes, Rice is a highly qualified candidate for the job. But there are plenty of those in D.C. There is no reason for the president to stick with her when clearly she has become a lightning rod over the Benghazi incident.”
That, I suspect, sounded pretty harsh to many of her fans. But there is a ring of practical politics in it, that you and I both know can’t be ignored in this town.
I’m sure you realized within a few weeks of taking the job that your effectiveness depends in large part on how much faith voters have in your leadership. So while many may find it admirable that you defended Rice in the early weeks after the attack, just as many may appreciate your decision to move on now.
The anger at her statements following the attack has not abated. Republican critics, who are looking for any weakness in your armor, would have surely used her confirmation to rehash the painful events over and over again. Beyond that, they would have suggested none too subtly that your judgment was unsound in even considering her after what happened in Benghazi. And even if Rice survived the process, she would have been a target; someone whose every move would be scrutinized and every misstep assailed. That may well have weakened her effectiveness, no matter how good she was at the job.
Now, would she have been good at the job? No one really knows, nor now will they ever. But it is virtually certain that there are indeed many other strong candidates for the post, and the sooner you can move on to them, the sooner your administration can put these troubles behind you.
Hope all is well.
Reporter's Note: President Obama is monitoring the news about North Korea’s rocket launch. I assume he is also monitoring my latest letter to the White House…
Dear Mr. President,
Is it just me, or do you sometimes feel like you just can’t turn your back on the North Koreans for five minutes? Considering all the build up to their missile launch earlier this year that ended in a colossal failure, I was really caught a bit off guard to realize that they were so quietly and quickly to take another shot at it; and to see them apparently pull it off, putting a satellite into orbit, is pretty impressive.
I mean that, of course, in an “it’s impressive that a seemingly unstable, scary regime can get this close to having an ICBM” kind of way.
Seriously. What they accomplished is no small feat. Sure, they likely had some help from the Iranians and maybe the Russians as well. And yes, maybe it was a bit of a fluke. Perhaps they can’t repeat such a launch again, or at least not for quite some time. But certainly they have to be encouraged by what they’ve seen and, one way or another, you can bet they’ll be back on the launch pad soon enough.
See, I believe that once something unimaginable becomes imaginable, it is much, much closer to become a simple reality. The North Koreans appear to have long desired to be a great nuclear power, capable of threatening their enemies…supposed and real…from afar. Once, they could not have even hoped for such a thing. Now, they have imagined it for a long time. And tomorrow? Well, I think the more they progress down this road the more the rest of world will have to start imagining something too: What, if anything, can we do about it?
I’d love to chat this over if you have some time, so feel free to give me a call. I’m around. Busy, but around.
Reporter's Note: President Obama and the Republicans continue to spar over a plan to avoid the fiscal cliff. I continue to write a letter every single day to the White House.
Dear Mr. President,
I am pleased to see that you, your fellow Democrats, and the Republicans continue to work your way toward a deal on this whole financial mess we’re in. I won’t believe the cliff is safely past until…well, until it is safely past, of course, but I am feeling guardedly optimistic that you all will come up with some kind of a deal.
To that end, and with no opinion about what sort of deal would be best, I think the most promising sign is that folks on both sides are talking about compromise. Now, I’ll grant you that plenty of people on the left and right hate that word like poison. Compromise. Sounds nice enough, but it certainly sets some folks off.
In some ways, I can’t blame them. Pretty much everyone wants to think his or her opinion is right. That’s why we have opinions, because we think they’re right. Accordingly, about the last thing most of us want to admit is that maybe our opinions need tempering; that maybe, even if we’re generally right, rarely are we absolutely right.
We have to bend. At least a little, and sometimes a lot. That’s how deals are done.
So continued luck as you try to work out this deal; luck not only with the deal itself, but also with getting people on both sides to accept that compromise is not always a capitulation. Sometimes it is the only way to get most of what you want…instead of nothing at all.
Call if you get a moment.
Reporter's Note: President Obama and I attended a Christmas concert together in Washington last night. Well…he was with his wife and family, and I was with mine, but we were in the same room.
Dear Mr. President,
You looked like you were having a wonderful time last night at Christmas In Washington. I’m there every year, so I’ve seen you before and I must say I don’t think you’ve ever before looked so relaxed and happy. When Diana Ross came out, I thought you and the First Lady might actually get up and start dancing. It was a good show, and it was nice to see everyone so content.
That said, I’ve also rarely seen a room light up so fast and furiously as it did when Psy came on! The way he transitioned from The Christmas Song into Gangnam Style was hilarious, and it seemed like everyone had to start moving when he and his dancers started tearing it up onstage.
I am aware that there has been some measure of controversy over his appearance; that he made some pretty strident, anti-American statements in years past…at least in terms of his performances. I also know that he apologized for them, and that you seemed most gracious in greeting him (just like all the other performers) after the show. I noticed that your daughters seemed delighted to meet him and your wife gave him a big hug as well.
Good for all of you.
Whether a South Korea performer who does an excellent horsey dance likes or dislikes America is beside the point. I always tell my daughters, “You can’t keep someone from saying mean things about you. You can only determine how you will react, and that reaction will tell people much more about the strength of your character than any slander any enemy can utter.” That’s true of nations as well, I think.
Our country always has, and always will have its critics. But your reaction last night; your obvious willingness to accept the apology, to understand that young people often say rash and foolish things that they may later regret; showed the greatness of country’s character. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it was appreciated where I sat.
That said, Biden just seemed confused by the whole Gangnam Style thing, didn’t he?
Call if you can.
Reporter's Note: President Obama has not yet invited me to a holiday party at the White House. But, you never know…
Dear Mr. President,
I certainly look forward to seeing you at the big concert tonight. I know that you don’t always make it, so if you can’t, I will certainly understand, but it is always a good time so I hope you are there. Speaking of good times, are you planning any big holiday parties this year?
I can’t really imagine how you would fit them in, mind you. My wife and I have hosted a few holiday parties over the years, but not many and the fundamental reason has always been simple: It is hard to find the time.
This is not a great excuse, I realize, because certainly our friends who have hosted parties have had no more time for the task than we, but you take my point.
How our holidays became this crowded with events I can’t really say. When we were a young couple, we seemed to have no end of time for parties, movies, shopping, decorating, baking…you name it. I suppose children are a big part of the equation. As soon as our girls came along we shifted our interests almost entirely to making the holidays memorable for them, and to that end we were much more willing to load up the calendar with events they might enjoy.
Also, as I have noted before, I think our whole society has just gone a little crazy with activities. And on top of all that, we didn’t live in Washington when we were younger, so maybe the communities we knew then were just less busy…or perhaps easier in which to get around so we wasted less time in transit.
Anyway, I don’t see much chance that we will decide to throw a party all of a sudden this year, so if you don’t receive an invitation, please don’t be offended. You won’t be the only one not invited. Ha!
Call if you can.
Reporter's Note: President Obama is presumably preparing for Christmas in some fashion. I mean, even if you live in the White House, you must hang a little garland or drape some tinsel, don’t you think?
Dear Mr. President,
What a lovely day. The sunshine, the moderate temperature, and everything else since the sun rose has simply been excellent. If I had not been here to enjoy it, I would be jealous of myself. Ha!
Once again we are attempting to complete some of our Christmas decorations this weekend, and I must say my hopes are not terribly high. Though I started off all fire and sparks a couple of weeks ago, the setbacks we’ve encountered have tempered my optimism. Oh, I’m sure by the time we are done the house will be suitably draped in lights and greenery. The tree will be glorious, I will somehow get all the lighted figurines that adorn our yard to stand up straight and not tip wildly in the wind, and we will (at least briefly) force the dog into a ridiculous Santa suit.
Still, like I said a few days ago, even if we somehow fall short in our preparations, I am already so happily steeped in the spirit of the season I don’t suppose I will mind.
We have returned, by the way, to the idea of ordering a Turducken for our Christmas dinner. We have never enjoyed one of these delicacies before, so I realize we will be taking a risk if we go down that road. We might pop this Franken-turkey into the oven for four hours, yank it out, and find ourselves running from the table screaming at the hideousness. But I doubt it.
See, even though we are quite dedicated to our traditions, this year we are trying to update a good many things. We’ve changed some decorations around. We’re altering our calendar of when we do certain things. (For example, my green, red, and graham cracker dessert may appear as early as next week instead of on Christmas Eve. Can you imagine?) And we’re rewriting the menu of our meals.
We’re not changing everything, of course, but we are moving enough things around and making enough adjustments to account for some of the delays in implementation that I have mentioned. Bottom line: If you drive by and notice that a strand of bulbs is a tad out of place or that we have wreaths in only half the windows, please be patient. This Christmas is a work in progress. And at least we are enjoying the heck out of it.