|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
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.
(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.