Dear President Obama:
Here's a small piece of advice. But whatever you do, please don't cite this letter in your next speech.
In fact, Mister President, please don't mention any more letters. Ever. You're a powerful, articulate orator. I love listening to your speeches. But the "I've received a letter from..." thing just isn't working.
In your recent speech about the budget mess, you said, "The other day I received a letter from a man in Florida. He started off by telling me he didn't vote for me and he hasn't always agreed with me." And then this unnamed guy went on to say it's a great country, and we're "lost in a quagmire of petty bickering," and blah, blah.
We know you receive hundreds if not thousands of letters each day. We know that you review a random sample of these each evening, which is good. And we assume that the letters reflect the sharp divisions in the country - which is to say you've probably got a letter handy to argue just about any point you're interested in advancing.
On a recent Friday evening you spoke to the nation about the last-minute deal to avoid a government shutdown. You said, "A few days ago, I received a letter from a mother in Longmont, Colorado. Over the year, her son's eighth grade class saved up money and worked on projects so that next week they could take a class trip to Washington, D.C." This person urged you to get beyond "petty grievances and make things right." Sounds like a really solid citizen.
The problem with these letters is that they carry no weight and have modest credibility, especially nowadays when everyone uses e-mail to vent, fuss and opine. Your critics might suspect a trick, and people like Donald Trump will start ranting that the letters are fakes.
You probably recall the story told by William Safire, the renowned columnist who served as a speechwriter for one of your trickiest predecessors, Richard Nixon. Before important speeches, Safire would pop into the Oval Office and say, "Mr. President, I suggest you take the easy way out." Then, Nixon went on TV and read the speech Safire had written with the line, "Some in my administration have suggested I take the easy way out, but that would be wrong."
I don't think you're quoting phony communications; you're just using currency that has no value. Do we really care that a guy in Florida and a woman in Colorado advocate goodness?
In a recent radio speech you said, "A few months ago, I received a letter from a woman named Brenda Breece." This woman, who lives in Missouri, wrote, "I watch the food budget . We combine trips into town [and] use coupons . and we trim each other's hair when we need a haircut."
You used the letter to underscore the fact that government needs to manage its money, just like Mrs. Breece and her family. Well, sure, we get it.
I recently received a letter that I sent to myself the other day that recalled how Gilda Radner made marvelous use of letters when playing Roseanne Roseannadanna on "Saturday Night Live." For example: "A Mr. Richard Feder from Fort Lee, New Jersey writes in and says: 'Dear Roseanne Roseannadanna, Last Thursday, I quit smokin'. Now, I'm depressed, I gained weight, my face broke out, I'm nauseous, I'm constipated, my feet swelled, my gums are bleedin', my sinuses are clogged, I got heartburn, I'm cranky and I have gas. What should I do?' ... Mr. Feder, you sound like a real attractive guy! ... You belong in New Jersey!"
If, Mister President, you do insist on quoting from my letter in your next speech, I'd like to close by saying, don't abandon your beliefs in what America stands for, don't give in to those who want only to help the rich get richer, stay the course, and, above all, don't raise the price of a First Class stamp.
©2011 Peter Funt. This column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Cari Dawson Bartley at 800 696 7561 or e-mail [email protected]
Peter Funt is a writer and public speaker; he may be reached at www.CandidCamera.com he's also the long-time host of "Candid Camera." A collection of his DVDs is available at www.candidcamera.com.