Dear President Obama:

I doubt you’ll see this letter – it’s hard for me to believe that anything I write would actually make it to the president of the United States – but I’ve been wanting to express my gratitude to you for the job you’ve done, so here goes.

Thank you. The things you’ve achieved – providing health care, keeping us out of more war, recognizing more people’s civil rights – have been monumental. But a movie I saw last week reminded me that it’s not just what you do and don’t stand for that I appreciate. It’s the way you do the things you do.

In “Arrival,” aliens invade, people get scared, the fear gets ugly and conflict grows close. In steps a linguist – someone who appreciates words and is not inclined to wield them as weapons. She approaches them – another species, complete strangers – and says let’s talk.

It recalled what I think of as classic you, a signature move at the center of what has been the Obama doctrine since before you became president: the audacity of sitting people down to talk.

The moment arrived after some white policemen and a black professor from Harvard got into a skirmish. It seemed to suggest racial profiling, things got ugly and you stepped in: What say we have a beer – at the White House – and let’s talk. It was audacious, sending a message in a model tailor-made for mockery in our hypermacho cyberworld. But that didn’t stop you. I admire that.


Audacity: It’s the name of your book and the story of your life. Think big, fail spectacularly. I was not a fan of Michael Jordan – I’m from Detroit – but he won me over when he tried to transform himself into a baseball player, daring to fail so spectacularly in the process.

I think you tried to be like Mike, with similar results: Transformative? When a sitting member of Congress is given license to shout “Liar!” in the middle of your State of the Union? When the Senate president makes it his stated mission to frustrate your aim to unite and transform? When the spoiled and sour rich kid who would unfrickingbelievably become your successor racially profiles you into producing your birth certificate? Not so fast, they said. Sit your transformative butt down.

But you’re still standing. They tried to break you, make you fight like an Angry Black Man, but you kept an uncommon cool, the kind most of us only dream of displaying after we don’t.

I remember the first time I saw it, the moment I fell for you: You were debating Hillary Clinton, in 2008, and she made the mistake of pressing her point after you denounced something Louis Farrakhan had done. She had once denounced such a man, she said, but rejected him as well, and wondered why you wouldn’t do so, too.

I YouTubed it this week, and it was good to re-see. She did not know how nimble you were. We got to watch as you waited for her to finish, a smile spreading as you said, “I’m happy to concede the point: I reject AND I denounce.” It displayed presence, a debater’s low-key flourish, and the in-house audience cheered.

My dad, still alive then, was skeptical that the country would nominate (let alone elect) a black man. I called to see if he was watching, and ask what he thought now. He was impressed indeed, but, using a favorite expression, said I was still full of it. You proved him wrong, of course, but credit his timing: He stuck around long enough to savor your election, but not so long to have to stomach November’s.


There’ve been volumes’ worth of greatest hits since: How cool you kept during a correspondents’ dinner while plotting revenge on bin Laden; the too many times you satisfied the demands of a consoler-in-chief, including the slightly off-key but on-target way you comforted the people of Charleston and the entire country with “Amazing Grace”; lesser moments, such as when someone sneezed during the Freedom Awards last month and you looked up and interrupted yourself to say, “God bless you.” And painful as it was to witness, the way you seemed to dignify Donald Trump by welcoming him to the White House after his win. But you did not, could not. As ever, without fail, you dignified yourself.

You have made us proud to call you our president, Barack Obama. Thank you, and please: Don’t be a stranger.


Jeff Blake


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