Foreman: My last letter to the president
When President Obama raises his hand, I will put down my pen. Or rather, I will step away from my computer keyboard.
Inauguration Day will signal the culmination of an effort I launched on January 20, 2009, to write a letter to the White House every single day of Barack Obama's first term.
And I do mean every day. Weekends, holidays, when he was on vacation, and when I was on vacation. I wrote in my office, at home, in moving airplanes, cars, trains and even while running through the woods. I wrote early in the morning, in the middle of the day and late at night.
I wrote about things that were important, like unemployment, Afghanistan and women's rights. I also wrote about things that were trivial, like sports, favorite foods and my yearly battle with Christmas lights.
The tally: 1,460 letters, well over a half-million words, or enough to fill about seven novels. Laid out as one line of text, these letters would stretch almost 3½ miles or considerably longer than the inaugural parade route.
I did not intend to get in this deep.
The first letter, written on that cold Inauguration Day four years ago, was a bit of a lark. Some weeks earlier, Barack Obama had suggested he wanted to hear from citizens about how to run the country. I thought it would be funny to post a series of letters for his first 10 days on the AC360 blog. People liked it, I decided to go for a month, and Bob's-your-uncle here we are.
The first year was easy. We all have ideas about what we would do if we were in charge. Bad ideas usually, but ideas nonetheless. I prattled on about the economy, security, bipartisanship, foreign affairs and his bowling technique.
The second year grew a bit harder. By thinking every day about the presidency, I became more aware of how many intractable, repetitive issues press down upon any person who takes that job.
In the third year, I surged ahead. Having accepted that my fountain of easy ideas had run dry, I dedicated more serious thought to what I would say. To be sure, the letters became less entertaining, but I liked to imagine that they had more substance, although in retrospect I was probably wrong.
And in this fourth year, I struggled. It seemed many days as if I'd already said everything I had to say and then some. At one point I had considered writing letters to the White House for the rest of my life. The fourth year convinced me that this would be a bad idea. I found myself counting the days to January.
Along the way it occurred to me that being president is probably much harder than most of us suppose. After all, if it is this exhausting just thinking about the job, imagine what it is like actually punching the Oval Office clock. Truthfully, I offered very little advice. More often I presented general notions about how one approaches problems; the same notions I would pass on to anyone in any position who faces daily challenges.
Which, I guess, is pretty much all of us.
I don't know if he ever read a single line. All I know is that in almost every missive, I invited the president to give me a call. He never did. And I don't blame him.
Whether a Democrat or Republican fills that office, answering to the needs of 311 million people is a magnificent and daunting challenge, let alone answering their letters. So I will close my series with the same letter that started it all, by far the shortest of the bunch.
Dear Mr. President,
Congratulations! Watching you on that podium today, surrounded by so many hundreds of thousands of Americans, I could not help but feel inspired by the miracle of democracy and the greatness of our nation. I also have a question: Do you have any idea what you've gotten yourself into?
I know you are busy today, but call when you can.
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