I was in grade school when I learned in History class about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “fireside chats” in the 30s and 40s. My initial image was of the president sitting beside a fireplace speaking to the country.  Having grown up with television I couldn’t conceive of a world without it. But I quickly learned that these were radio broadcasts, meant to help and embolden Americans in the Great Depression, and later to soothe them during World War II. 

 Roosevelt began his chats with “my friends” and spoke in personal ways to a frightened nation. It was Harry Butcher at CBS who dubbed the radio addresses “fireside chats,” because of the personal way the president spoke. He spoke of you and I when talking to the country, cementing the relationship between Americans and their leader and giving that relationship an intimacy and a bond.

We need fireside chats right now. In many ways, the war in Ukraine has mended some of our deep divisions – we now have a common enemy in Vladimir Putin – but it has united us in grief, anger, fear, and an overwhelming sense of helplessness. This is not World War II, this is the nuclear age, and Putin could quite conceivably end the world as we know it. Even if you manage to keep your thoughts from that terrifying edge, the images coming out of Ukraine shred the heart. There is no such thing anymore as a faraway war. The war in Ukraine is upending the world.  

I want to hear from President Biden that he lies awake at night haunted by the images of families gunned down while trying to flee, of a pregnant woman rushed out of a bombed maternity hospital, of thousands trying to board trains to escape. I want to know what his fear feels like, how he keeps his anger from taking him down dangerous paths. I want him to tell us that he too feels the press of tears in his eyes at surprising moments – walking through the carefully curated halls of the White House or petting his dog. Because that’s what’s happening to the rest of us. My eyes welled up the other day in the grocery store when I thought how grateful I was that I could do something so ordinary as buying food; then the knowledge of people crowded into bunkers and ruined buildings with no food or water crashed into me. 

 When my father began doing his Saturday radio broadcasts, some mocked him and said that Ronald Reagan was trying to emulate FDR, which seemed to me like an awfully thin criticism. But he understood the value of reaching out in a personal way to the country he was leading. His first instinct after the Challenger disaster was to speak to a nation in mourning, and even people who disliked his politics and policies have told me over the years how grateful they were for his words, his presence. 

 Joe Biden has the gift of being able to talk to people as if he’s sitting next to them on a barstool. Empathy is his strong suit. We need that now. Not just in the scheduled addresses and announcements of sanctions, but frequently, and personally. We need to know that we are not the only ones losing sleep and feeling torn apart. We need to know that leading a country in these perilous times is frightening, and that he reaches for strength and faith every day.

He has ability to make us feel a little less haunted, a little less alone in our grief and our anger at a ruthless dictator who cares nothing for human life. We need to hear from him that everything we’re feeling is understandable, and he feels all those emotions too. Leadership isn’t only about policy and actions. It’s also about revealing the soft underbelly of what it means to be a human being in these ragged, uncertain times.


  1. Bill Hayden says:

    Excellent idea

    Biden does have the gift of having people feel like he is a friend, understanding what they are going thru and making others feel like all will be ok

    It’s called HOPE. And it IS a good 4 Letter Word!

  2. Brad Berger says:

    Children deserve to be taught real Wisdom, my Tips in a fireside chat that Patti recommends. It is teaching children grades 5-12 Tips for equality, excellence and Peace. Patti I am sure you could persuade Dr. Biden that you should do the Tips on fireside chats. thanks aimhighteentips.com

  3. Gabby says:

    Great insight. Thanks for sharing, Patti. Last year, a relative of mine met a widow whose husband had died of Lewy Body Dementia at age 40 that same year. Too bad they didn’t share their phone numbers because I would have called her to buy your new book “Floating in the Deep End”.

  4. John Aaroe says:

    To often, we fail to learn from past history. History has proven the good that can come from having the right person, in the right role, at the right time. President Kennedy United a Nation when he challenged America to place a man on the Moon. President Johnson’s efforts with the Civil Rights Bill of 1965 might not have Been possible by a President from a Northern state. President Reagan and Challenging Gorbachev to bring down the wall is a perfect example. A man of decency, compassion, wisdom, experience occupies the WH tonight. In addition, President Biden has experienced a pain few have experienced. The death of a wife, and two children must shatter the heart and soul. History will show President Biden is the right man at the right time.Calm, steady, while feel ing the pain we only watch. We would benefit from Fireside Chats. And, we can learn a great deal from the people of Ukraine

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