Review: ‘To Obama’ by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Originally posted on Goodreads

This book defines the chasm between what politics can be, and what it shouldn’t be. It is beautiful and crucial reading. Regardless of your thoughts on Obama and his politics, ‘Dear Obama’ could be a manual for how an administration should operate: Empathy as a core tenet, and an open channel of communication between the person at the top and the people they serve to keep the leadership grounded and humble.

Because that’s what Presidents (and any leaders) should do: Use their platform and power to advocate for the people who have neither. Strive to understand the vastly varied challenges and concerns facing their constituents, and tailor policy to alleviate both within the context of the political beliefs that got them elected. They shouldn’t strongarm their way into office by playing on prejudices, then seek personal enrichment and aggrandisement while dictating to their subjects how they should live.

America and the world were privileged to have a leader as composed and gracious as Obama. I believe this is true whether you agree with his politics or not. Several letters featured in this book show that many lifelong Republicans share this belief, despite fundamentally disagreeing with him on the issues. Politicians should embody the best we can be, and should lead by example to encourage these traits in the people they serve. Because this lays the groundwork for healthy societies: Ones where people can express their beliefs, discuss disagreements, and move forwards together toward a future that isn’t perfect, but is better.

The ‘little’ voices who were able to cut through directly to the President express the country’s deepest concerns, in real terms. They lend unique perspective to policy, and humanise the data. The logistical operation required to sift through the tens-of-thousands of letters that arrived in the White House mailroom every day, and shortlist the ten that best captured the mood of the nation that day is astounding. The people involved are public servants of the highest order. The President’s dedication to the letters, and his commitment to make time to read them every day is indicative of the type of person and leader he is. All in all, this book is a powerful telling of an important story that taught important lessons. Lessons that I hope are carried forward in by politicians the world over, despite how things look currently.

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