Dear Mr. President:
It's been almost 36 hours since the announcement that Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election, and that come January, he and his family will be moving into your old home on what we now call Pennsylvania Avenue.
Amidst all the joyful tears, bear-hugs and "high-fives" of the past day-and-a-half, the thought came to me: that no one had taken the time to inform you of -- let alone thank you for -- this incredible, epochal event. ("What in the name of Poor Richard's Almanac is a high five?" I can hear you asking. Just ask to be introduced to a fellow named Walter Payton, and he'll be able to clue you in . . .)
So why am I writing you, instead of Abraham Lincoln? Well, to be perfectly honest, I had given it some thought, but Tom Friedman got there first, which is just as well, because I've always felt a lot closer to you than to Mr. Lincoln. Precisely why this is I cannot say with anything approaching pinpoint accuracy. However, I can tell you that for as long as I can remember, there's been a foot-high marble bust of you sitting on the corner of my desk, and that over the years I've started out almost every writing session staring at your likeness. I don't know, I just have an affinity for people of keen intellect who have the capacity to teach, to inspire and to uplift.
Which brings us to President Elect Barack Obama. Mr. President, you would be so impressed with him. Like you, he is a highly-educated man of ideas and ideals. Like you, he expresses those ideals with both clarity and eloquence, although he is a far, far better speaker than you ever were. Like you Mr. President, Barack Obama is a man of great passion. Like you, he has been mercilessly attacked on the so-called "issue of religion. In your case, it was Mr. Adams who repeatedly accused you of being "a howling atheist," and threatened that should you be elected, that you would "confiscate and burn all the Bibles in America, tear down all the churches and put an end to the institution of marriage." In Senator Obama's case, a group we call the "Right-wing Punditocracy" has continually charged him with being both a foreign-born Muslim, of "palling around with terrorists," and of being "part of an extremist liberal fringe," all of which are really bad accusations in our day and age. I am happy to report that he responded in much the same way as you; with both eloquence and passion. I well remember how you categorized these attacks: "They neither pick my pocket nor break my leg!" To a great extent, that has been Senator Obama's response -- though not in the same words. (By the way, if you wish to find out what the "Right-wing Punditocracy" is all about, ask to meet Tim Russert. He moved into your neighborhood four months ago.)
Oh yes, as you will find out -- if you do not already know -- Barack Obama is what today we call an "African American."
Does this shock or depress you?
I rather doubt it.
Oh, I can already hear the words of disapprobation that will come my way from having written you, and not President Lincoln. "It was Lincoln who freed the slaves!" they'll protest, "Not Jefferson. He was a slave-owner!" "And besides," they'll no doubt add, "Jefferson's a Virginian; both Lincoln and Obama are from Illinois!"
OK, I'll freely admit that there's a wondrous bit of historic irony in the fact that he who signed the Emancipation Proclamation and he who would eventually become both the symbol and fact of its ultimate fulfillment, came from the same state. History certainly does work in mysterious ways; like both you and President Adams dying on July 4, 1826 -- fifty years to the day of your greatest joint triumph. And I certainly do know that you were a slave owner. But I also know that it was never something you relished, that you made provision to free them all before you died, and that it is ridiculous to expect an 18th century southern aristocrat to live, think or behave like an enlightened 20th-21st century liberal.
Mr. President, you should be so proud of "We the People." You see, prior to this historic election, our leaders had spent the better part of a decade appealing to that which was greediest and most bigoted in the American psyche. Throughout this prolonged and stormy night, much of our polity became privatized; citizenship morphed into consumerism; our leaders addressed our fears far more often than our hopes or dreams. We saw basic civil liberties eviscerated; privacy, we were told, was a stumbling block in the path of national security; habeas corpus as just some dusty old Latin phrase devoid of meaning.(By the way, if you don't understand what "morphed" means, ask to speak to Michael Crichton; he just arrived in the afterlife yesterday.)
Then along came Barack Obama; a man with an utterly unique background, a finely-honed presidential mien and that most American of all messages: "If we work together, there is nothing we cannot accomplish." Unlike any politician of the past half-century, Mr. President, Senator Obama actually appealed to our higher angels, not our basest fears. He did not claim to have all the solutions -- a quick fix for every crisis or challenge. Unlike his recent predecessors, he did not ask us to just go shopping and leave the rest to him and his advisors. He actually acknowledged and paid heed to the awesome power of We the People. And for that, Mr. President, he has you to thank. For you -- above all your founding colleagues -- were the one who most firmly grasped and then articulated the concept of an enlightened citizenry. Most blessedly -- some would say amazingly -- we understood both the passion of the man and the power of his message. And we elected him, by what today passes for an overwhelming majority.
I have to believe that as President, Barack Obama will show the world an American face that is at once startlingly new and comfortably old. For he is the United States of America; a unique, fortuitous blending of color and culture, of intellect and ideal. Unlike our outgoing president, he is a man who is obviously comfortable in his own skin. For him, there is no need pretending to be that which he is not. And while he may not be the man others would choose to have a beer with, I for one would be honored to discuss theology or shoot a few hoops with him.
In short Mr. President, you should be so proud of the America you created and of the people your creation spawned. We have finally shown ourselves to be worthy of the efforts and struggles, the dreams and visions of people like yourself, James Madison, and Abraham Lincoln, to name but a three.
In closing, could you do both of us a favor? When you get a chance, could you please, please share the joyous news with a handful of my favorite people? For they, like you, deserve to bask in the warm glow of this supreme accomplishment, of this new beginning.
Please, if you can, deliver the news to:
Frederick Douglas, W.E.B. Debois, Eleanor Roosevelt, Dr. Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Kivie Kaplan, John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Jacob Javits and Paul Wellstone.
Just tell them that there is a new/old American cheer going round that proclaims,
"Yes we can!"
"Si se puede!"
"Oui, nous pouvons le reparér!"
"!ohkufh ubjbt if"
Many thanks to you Mr. President. And please give my warm regards to Mrs. J. and Patsy.
Your most ardent and thankful admirer,
©2008 Kurt F. Stone