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Sat Aug 18, 2018, 06:01 AM

Dear Mr President: Obama on how letters from the American people shaped his time in office

Obama had committed to reading 10 letters a day when he first took office, becoming the first president to put such a deliberate focus on constituent correspon­dence. Late each afternoon, around five o’clock, a selection would be sent up from the post room to the Oval Office. The “10 LADs”, as they came to be known – for “10 letters a day” – would circulate among senior staff and the stack would be added to the back of the briefing book the president took with him to the resi­dence each night. He answered some by hand and wrote notes on others for the writing team to answer, and on some he scribbled “save”.

Starting in 2010, all physical mail was scanned and preserved. From 2011, every word of every email fac­tored into the creation of a daily word cloud, dis­tri­buted around the White House so policy makers and staff members alike could get a glimpse of the issues and ideas constituents had on their minds.

In 2009, Natoma Canfield, a cancer survivor from Medina, Ohio, wrote in, detailing her staggering health insurance premiums in a letter Obama framed and had hung in a corridor between his private study and the Oval Office: “I need your health reform bill to help me!!! I simply can no longer afford to pay for my health care costs!!” It stood in for the tens of thousands of similar letters he got on the healthcare issue alone. They saw spikes in volume after major events such as the mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, and Charleston, South Carolina; the Paris terrorist attacks; the government shutdown; Benghazi. You could see these spikes in the word clouds. “Jobs” might grow for a time, or “Syria”, or “Trayvon”, or a cluster such as “family-children-fear” or “work-loans-student” or “Isis-money-war” surrounding a giant “help” – the most common word of all.
...
“I think I understood that if somebody writes a letter and they get any kind of response, that there’s a sense of ... being heard,” he said. “And so often, espe­ci­ally back in 2009, 2010, 2011, a lot of people were going through a lot of hardship. And a lot of them felt alone in that hardship. They were losing their homes, or they’re dealing with somebody at the bank and the bank say­ing: ‘There’s nothing we can do. You’re going to lose your house.’ Or they’ve got a pink slip, and they’ve lost their job, and they’re going to interview after interview after interview. Over time, I think it’s easy for folks to feel a little invisible, as if nobody’s paying attention. And so I did, I think, understand that if I could at least let them know that I saw them and I heard them, maybe they’d feel a little bit less lonely in those struggles.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/ng-interactive/2018/aug/18/barack-obama-reveals-how-letters-from-the-american-people-shaped-his-presidency-interview

• This is an edited extract from To Obama: With Love, Joy, Hate and Despair by Jeanne Marie Laskas, published by Bloomsbury on 18 September.

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Reply Dear Mr President: Obama on how letters from the American people shaped his time in office (Original post)
muriel_volestrangler Aug 2018 OP
Skidmore Aug 2018 #1
sinkingfeeling Aug 2018 #2
yallerdawg Aug 2018 #3
pazzyanne Aug 2018 #4

Response to muriel_volestrangler (Original post)

Sat Aug 18, 2018, 06:23 AM

1. I miss this good man with a kind heart and discerning mind.

I miss my President.

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Response to Skidmore (Reply #1)

Sat Aug 18, 2018, 07:51 AM

2. I miss a president with a brain and some manners.

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Response to muriel_volestrangler (Original post)

Sat Aug 18, 2018, 08:28 AM

3. I have one of his replies...

hanging on the wall just to my left.

It's already a treasured family heirloom.

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Response to muriel_volestrangler (Original post)

Sat Aug 18, 2018, 09:05 AM

4. Again with the tears.

I have never missed a non-family member so much. I'm glad he has become a little more visible recently. We need his compassionate sanity more than ever after the last year and a half.

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