Open Letter to President Obama

Letter to President Obama
The Record
February 1, 2009

Dear President Obama,

Congratulations! You have been sworn in to the highest office in the land after a hard fought campaign.  You victory has changed the face of American politics, literally and figuratively, forever. You and former President Bush showed the world how to achieve a dignified and smooth transition of power. Now comes the hard part: governing.

Mr. President, you are a bright and thoughtful person, you are facing a host of daunting problems, and by now you have realized just how great the differences are between being in the legislative branch of government and being the executive.  The American people want to be able to trust that politicians are being truthful on the campaign trail, but they also recognize that circumstances change. The nation will forgive slight changes in your approach, but only if you are clear and honest with the people.  You can’t do it on everything, but you will find times when you’ll want to – and should – explain that present realities demand a slightly different course than the one you called for in the heat of the campaign.

Please, take a deep breath. There are certain issues that demand your immediate action, as you well know, and others that are not on as critical a time line.  Do not allow the two-year time horizon of the Congress push you into hasty action that you will come to regret.

You have talked about taking bold action on climate change and I applaud your commitment to addressing this issue.  The reality that must color your timing, however, is the state of our economy.  As you set your goals, you have to consider the immediate economic impacts of new standards and balance those against the new jobs that can be created from a greener economy. You are also going to have to take a hard look at our energy needs in the context of both the economy and the environment.  That may mean facing down some of your supporters who say no to every form of base power and even to some of the renewable options that we have before us.

A more open form of government has also been the subject of some early action on your part, another campaign promise on the way to being fulfilled. I would only caution that, expanding the scope of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) can have unintended consequences.  Think of how much of our history has been gleaned from diaries kept by people in the position to know.  Today we are losing much of that because even personal diaries of executive branch members can be subject to FOIA.  FOIA requests also take the time and attention of those who are subject to them and they often slow the business of government, costing the taxpayers money. Don’t put yourself in a position where you can no longer get a free-flowing discussion because a “blue sky” idea looks very different when taken out of context and seen only on a piece of paper.  We need more openness in government and transparency is hugely important, but just as you have shown with the measured closing of Guantanamo Bay, you need to take your time to get the balance right.

In a world where many countries cannot conduct a campaign without violence and death, where free and fair elections are often honored in the breach and where even the outcome sporting events degenerate into mayhem, in this election the United States has lived up to its highest ideals. In the end, your inauguration sent a message to rest of the world that, though we may have our differences and we may fight hard for our points of view, in the end we are all Americans and we stand by our government.

And so, Mr. President, regardless of who people voted for in this election, whether they agree with your priorities or not, applaud your initiatives or are opposed to them, the American people overall desperately want your administration to succeed. We face perilous times in our nation today and regardless of the Party with which we are affiliated, we want to see people working, kids learning and America renewed.  We look forward to what you will do to achieve those goals.