AN OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA
Since you have quoted my father on a number of occasions, always strategically, always with a political goal in mind, I thought you might like to know something about him as a man. Let me quickly add that this new Republican Party, which hardly resembles the party he belonged to, has quoted him shamelessly; I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that they have taken his name in vain. But the reason I’m not writing to them is, they don’t hold the highest office in the land. You do.You’re the president. And if you are going to quote my father, you might want to learn from him.
We all remember your campaign tag of “no drama Obama.” Interesting that there has been one drama after another in your presidency, this last one really tipping the scales. My father would never have thought to announce he wasn’t about drama. He just wasn’t. It was how he lived, how he conducted himself. If you live it, you don’t need to talk about it. He believed with all his heart that he was given a destiny to fulfill, that whatever he did as president was for the good of all Americans. That’s why he talked to the American people in the heartfelt way that garnered him the title of the Great Communicator. Mr. President, when you talk to us — on the few occasions that you do — you seem annoyed, as if this job you campaigned for is keeping you from something else you’d rather be doing. It seems like you don’t like us very much, and whether people agreed with my father or disagreed with him, they always came away believing that he liked them.
I’m with the majority of people who blame the Republicans more than you for the government shutdown. But here’s the thing: If 80% is the fault of the Republicans, you could have dealt with your 20% a little better. Announcing that you won’t negotiate is not showing leadership, it’s showing a pouting face to the country and the world. My father understood leadership. He understood that it’s a mix of strength, gentleness, and humor. He would never have frozen out the opposing party; he’d have charmed them, poured them a drink, told them stories, and by the end of an evening, a deal would have been struck. When I was bullied by a boy on my school bus, so badly I faked being sick so I wouldn’t have to go to school, my father told me to stand in front of him, smile confidently and pretend I didn’t hear his taunts. “He won’t know what to do if you don’t play his game,” he told me. He was right. It worked.
You have talked often about reaching across the aisle.But do you extend your hand with kindness, with an understanding that the person you’re reaching toward believes as fervently as you do that he is right? Or are you just following a political map? Here’s a story about my father: When he was a college football player, he used to pray before each game that God would let his team win. One day he realized the other team might be praying the same thing. He changed his prayer, and simply asked that God help him accept whatever ended up happening. He still played hard and true, he still fought to win, but he had compassion for the opposing team. He knew they were just as important in God’s eyes as his team was. That’s why, decades later as president, he could negotiate successfully with those from the other side of the aisle. He saw their humanity even if he thought they were wrong. He would never have insulted them, or frozen them out. He understood that Americans elect a president because they want that person to behave in ways that they might not be capable of. They want someone who can handle things better than they do, not someone who complains and grumbles in the same ways they do.
Mr. President, you should know that my father didn’t see the presidency as a job. He saw it as a calling, as a vital part of his destiny. He was not a perfect president; he was not a perfect father. But he believed we were all put here by God for a purpose, and he tried hard to fulfill his purpose on this earth. He had humility, and in that humility was great strength. He had a kindness toward other human beings that transcended political boundaries. That’s what brought this country to a standstill when he died. Maybe people are born with those attributes, maybe they can learn them. I don’t know. I’m trying hard every day to learn from the man whose DNA runs through my veins. Maybe you could try a little harder to learn from him too.