Memos To The President

In recent weeks a theme has emerged in op-ed writing. Many have taken it upon themselves to give advice to President Obama on how to work with the new Congress once the House is under Republican leadership.

We asked some of our favorite writers, thinkers and political minds to write him a memo explaining what they think his next move should be.



Anna Deavere Smith

Anna Deavere Smith is an actress, playwright and professor at New York University.

Anna Deavere Smith
Mary Ellen Mark

Dear Mr. President,

Open up the windows in Washington. Get closer to the people.

Folks in Washington do tend to think they are the center.

Use new strategies or technologies to hear through the noise to know Americans as well as you need to and to have them know you.

After saving health care, float — as in, float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

And add more butterflies to your ranks.

Sincerely,

Anna Deavere Smith


Jerry Falwell Jr.

Jerry Falwell Jr. is the president of Liberty University.

Jerry Falwell Jr.
Becki Falwell

Dear Mr. President:

Recently, you quoted the Declaration of Independence to say that "all men are created equal and are endowed ... with certain inalienable rights."

You intentionally left out the words "by our Creator."

I hope that, in the remaining two years of your term, you will embrace American history and work toward the type of government that our founders envisioned.

Cut taxes and regulations so private businesses will thrive.

Don't pit the rich against the poor.

Americans have done more to help the poor than any nation in the history of mankind, but only because our system of limited government allowed so many to prosper.

Sincerely,

Jerry Falwell Jr.


Gary Shteyngart

Gary Shteyngart is a Russian-American novelist. His most recent novel is Super Sad True Love Story.

Gary Shteyngart
Lacombe

Dear Mr. President,

Forget Mahatma Gandhi for a while. Take a course in anger building!

Make a little less sense. Loosen the top three buttons of your oxford shirt, and ROAR.

And don't be afraid to throw a left hook when you have to, if you know what I mean.

P.S. I still like you.

Sincerely yours,

Gary Shteyngart


Kathryn Jean Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor-at-large of the National Review Online.

Kathryn Jean Lopez
Courtesy of Kathryn Jean Lopez

Dear Mr. President,

Please join John Boehner in making the Hyde Amendment permanent and universal.

No federal taxpayer funding of abortion, period.

You and I don't have to agree on the morality of abortion to keep my money out of it.

You would be getting us beyond the contentious appropriations debate we have every year, talking past one another.

It would show you respect the moral consciences of many Americans — and that you don't view us as enemies.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Kathryn Jean Lopez


Ron Chernow

Ron Chernow is the author of the books Washington, A Life and Alexander Hamilton.

Ron Chernow
Nina Subin

Dear President Obama,

The beauty of your candidacy was the fresh and imaginative way that you reshuffled the political deck, defending liberal policies with conservative values, and vice versa. You never allowed yourself to be pigeonholed by opponents. But as president, you have sometimes stumbled into the tax-and-spend stereotypes so gladly wielded by Republicans.

You should now recapture the element of surprise and challenge House Republicans with policies that transcend the stale dogmas of both left and right.

Sincerely,

Ron Chernow


Dee Dee Meyers

Dee Dee Meyers is former press secretary to President Bill Clinton.

Dee Dee Meyers
Courtesy Dee Dee Meyers

Dear Mr. President,

I worked for President Clinton when Democrats lost both houses of Congress; let's just say: I feel your pain.

To rebuild support, you need to reconnect your past to the American people's future.

Your mom and your grandparents sometimes struggled — but they taught you about hard work, discipline and sacrifice.

If you connect your story to your agenda — your life to your aspirations for every child— people will listen.

Godspeed, Mr. President.

Sincerely,

Dee Dee Meyers


Walter Mosley

Walter Mosley is the author of the forthcoming book The Last Days Of Ptolemy Grey.

Walter Mosley
David Burnett

Dear Mr. President,

A true politician's career and the interim fate of his constituency are inextricably intertwined. This means when a candidate flags or falters his supporters (the rank and file) must come forward to defend his stances where possible and to guide him with constructive and viable criticism where he is weak.

Mr. Obama, you do not need a magic bullet to fend off the hyenas but a solid group of on-the-ground supporters who understand the problems and are willing to extol the virtues of your vision.

You have to call on us as you did getting elected.

We have to heed that call.

Best wishes,

Walter Mosley


Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan's most recent book is Food Rules: An Eater's Manual. He teaches journalism at Berkeley.

Michael Pollan
Alia Malley

Dear Mr. President,

With campaign charges of "elitism" still ringing in your ears, your advisers will soon be advising you to eat a lot more junk food. It worked for Bill Clinton, after all — heart bypass notwithstanding.

As it is, your lunchtime jaunts to that burger joint in Arlington have helped to inoculate you against the arugula in the first lady's garden. But as important as "democratic food" has always been in American politics, there's a good way to do it and a bad way.

You can invite the Tea Partiers to the White House for a conciliatory Whole Hog Barbecue, but why not make that a pastured, antibiotic-free, sustainable hog? Not only will this advance your agenda for food system reform, but that pig will be so tasty, you just might win a few Republican converts to the cause.

Bon Appetit!

Michael Pollan


Charles Ferguson

Charles Ferguson is the director of the film Inside Job.

Charles Ferguson
Mariusz Cichon/Representational Pictures, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Dear Mr. President,

The election results reflect disillusionment with your failure to honor your campaign promises about change, fairness and curbing the excesses that led to the financial crisis and recession.

So, yes, do the best you can with the new Congress, but do the things that don't require Congress.

Change your economic team; hire people untainted by past corruption and ideological rigidity. Get tough on Wall Street: tighten regulation, appoint a special prosecutor, start an antitrust investigation, create a special investigative committee.

Speak out.

Sincerely yours,

Charles Ferguson


Susan Glasser

Susan Glasser is editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy.

Susan Glasser
Courtesy of Susan Glasser

Dear Obama,

Don't listen.

Really, I mean it. Don't listen to all the day-after commentary: If history is any guide, it is wrong, wrong, wrong. How exactly? I don't know. But remember: American elections are always misinterpreted, at home and abroad.

Your own victory two years ago was seen as a defining death blow to the modern Republican Party.

It wasn't.

So, too, those who are saying today: You're a failed president. America no longer supports government action. Or you lost because you either a) failed to work with Republicans or b) gave them too much of a chance.

Here's an idea: Why not take a big trip somewhere and pay attention to the rest of the world for a while and let the punditry go on — without you.

Bon Voyage,

Susan Glasser


James Kloppenberg

James Kloppenberg is professor of history at Harvard University and author of the book Reading Obama.

James Kloppenberg
Rose Lincoln/Harvard

Dear Mr. President,

Stick to your principles: Equality remains, as it was in 1776, an American value as fundamental as liberty. Experimentation remains, as it was in 1787, the most distinctive feature of American history.

Conciliation in American democracy remains, as it always has been, a two-way street. Use your bully pulpit!

Respectfully,

Jim Kloppenberg


Matt Continetti

Matt Continetti is an associate editor at The Weekly Standard.

Matt Continetti
Courtesy of The Weekly Standard

Mr. President,

More than anything, the elections of 2010 are about the Great Recession and your administration's response to it.

The results show that the public viscerally disagrees with your economic program. So why stick with it?

Start by firing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and acceding to Republican demands that current tax rates be extended for two years.

When the electorate repudiated George W. Bush's Iraq policy in 2006, President Bush fired Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and adopted the surge strategy. You should follow your predecessor's example.

Geithner must go.

Your friend on the right,

Matthew Continetti


Cord Jefferson

Cord Jefferson is a staff writer for The Root.

Cord Jefferson
Courtesy of Cord Jefferson

Dear President Obama,

With no party in control of both houses, and with the Democrats now several seats removed from a filibuster-proof Senate majority, the gridlock that's plagued our nation for the past 20-plus months could well be ramped up to sickening new heights.

You need to see this and nip it in the bud immediately, all while protecting the good legislation you've already put forth. You need to bridge the divides so that America works again. You need to be a leader, not a legislator.

Sincerely,

Cord Jefferson


David Swerdlick

David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root.

David Swerdlick
Courtesy of David Swerdlick

Mr. President,

From now on think "president," not "prime minister" — it's not always about notching legislative wins. Americans just want to be confident that you know where you're leading them.

Try to be a little sunnier when you're dishing out the cold hard facts. Golf a little less, go to church a little more, and you should be just fine.

Best,

David Swerdlick


David Rothkopf

David Rothkopf is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and president and CEO of Garten Rothkopf.

David Rothkopf
Photo Courtesy Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Dear Mr. President,

Wake up each morning and ask, 'How many jobs can I help create today.' Put a sign up in every Cabinet office measuring the jobs created in your administration.

That's the scoreboard.

That's how to tell who is really winning or losing. (Remember it doesn't matter whether politicians win or lose their jobs, only whether voters do.)

The caveat: Governments don't create jobs. Companies do. You create the environment for job creation. Including the mood. Inspire. Lead by serving. Be post-partisan. Work with anyone who will help. Spend more time on Main Street. Bring in new blood. Bring in voices who will challenge. Crush groupthink. Reject distractions. Work to help put Americans back to work.

Lead to help America lead again.

Respectfully,

David Rothkopf


Maz Jobrani

Maz Jobrani is an Iranian-born comedian. He is one of the founding members of the Axis of Evil group, a standup comedy tour featuring Middle Eastern comics.

Maz Jobrani
Courtesy Maz Jobrani

Dear Mr. President,

As kids we're nagged by our moms. "Eat your vegetables Barack!" Then we go to school and it's the teachers. Then we become president and it's the whole damn world! "If you don't fix the economy you can't have any pudding. How can you have any pudding if you don't fix the economy?" Some of us still have faith in you.

So go ahead, have the pudding.

We know you'll fix the economy.

Oh and don't forget to clean the the mess in the Middle East and the environment before you go to bed.

Maz Jobrani

Memos To The President was produced and edited by Ellen Silva with help from Rose Friedman.

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