Moral Low Ground

Economy

President Obama Writes Personal Checks to Struggling Americans

He doesn’t like to talk about it much, but according to a new book by Washington Post reporter Eli Saslow, President Barack Obama sometimes writes personal checks to struggling Americans.

The book, Ten Letters: The Stories Americans Tell Their President, is about what Saslow calls one of the President’s “signature routines in the White Houe”: every evening before he lays his weary head down to sleep, Obama dutifully reads 10 of the 20,000 letters sent to him each day from his constituents. Saslow says the President calls these letters “his most intimate link” to the American people.

They’re not always easy reading. Far from it. He’s been called everything from a “jackass” to a “moron” to the ever-popular “socialist.” As the number of Americans suffering through dire economic times has ballooned, so have the malevolent missives.

But sometimes the President is able to reach out and help those who write to him with their woes. Sometimes help means forwarding letters to government agencies or cabinet secretaries asking them to intervene. Other times it is a personal phone call or, occasionally, a personal check.

“It’s not something I should advertise, but it has happened,” Obama told Saslow.

The White House has refused all inquiries regarding the nature of these checks. But the fact that they’re being sent is an encouraging sign that despite his seeming disconnect from the American people and his frustrating inability (much of it no fault of his own: just Google ‘Republicans block Obama’s jobs bill’) to deliver upon the change he promised, the President really does care.

“Some of these letters you read and you say, ‘Gosh, I really want to help this person, and I may not have the tools to help them right now,’ ” Obama told Saslow. “And then you start thinking about the fact that for every one person that wrote describing their story, there might be another hundred thousand going through the same thing. So there are times when I’m reading the letters and I feel pained that I can’t do more, faster, to make a difference in their lives.”

The President expressed his personal frustration about the limitations his office place on his ability to effectively redress many of the problems facing the people who elected him to lead them to better days. In fact, he told Saslow that reading people’s tales of woe made him long for his days as a community organizer when, ironically, helping folks was a much less daunting task, a much more hands-on affair. Writes Saslow:

He was making $10,000 a year and working on the South Side of Chicago. He had just graduated from college, and he bought a used car for $2,000 and spent his days driving around to the city’s housing projects to speak with residents about their lives. He became familiar with many of the same issues that would flood his mail 25 years later: housing calamities, chronic unemployment and struggling schools.

Obama’s fellow organizers in Chicago considered him a master of hands-on, granular problem-solving. He was skinny and boyish, a good listener, if still a bit naive; and some of the older women in the housing projects made a habit of inviting him into their homes and cooking for him. He looked around their apartments, keeping a log of maintenance issues, and then delivered that list to the landlords. He helped arrange meetings with city housing officials to talk about asbestos problems. He established a tenants rights organization, founded a job-training program and led a tutoring group that prepared students for college.

Now he is the most powerful man in the world. But with that power comes a great degree of impotence as well.

“The people were right there in front of me, and I could say, ‘Let’s go to the alderman’s office,’ or, ‘Let me be an advocate in some fashion,’ ” the President told Saslow. “And here, just because of the nature of the office and the scope of the issues, you are removed in ways that are frustrating.

“Sometimes, what you want to do is just pick up the phone and say, ‘Tell me more about what’s going on, and let me see if I can be your social worker, be your advocate, be your mortgage adviser, be your employment counselor.’ So what I have to constantly reconcile in my mind is that I have a very specific role to play in this office, and I’ve got to make a bunch of big decisions that you hope in the aggregate will end up having a positive effect over this many lives. But you can’t always be certain.”

Still, he keeps reading and responding to those letters. He assures people that things will get better. It’s the least he can do.

“It lets them know I am listening,” he told Saslow.

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3 Comments

  1. Ayesha KhanOctober 30, 2011 at 7:39 amReply

    Well after reading this i feel that President Obama is trying his best to control the situation but if he is facing so many obstructions by the Congress, and the Republicans then he is not to be blamed 100%. I have personally observed that recently President Obama tried his level best to get the bill passed of the jobs creation and in tax cut. He kept making headlines each day calling upon the people to support him in any way possible. I personally contributed to promote his message on the Face Book by clicking the Like Options and also posting comments that this is a prudent approach support the President, support him as much as you can, but the end result was that after such a hue and cry and so many great efforts the Congress simply rejected the bill. Now at this point how can any one expect from him to bring a change in the system when he has no powers on his own as the President and is still dependent on the approval of the Congress and the Republicans. I don’t understand if he is to be blamed or not. But people still are screaming that he is responsible for the disaster. Now what can one do, this is a very perplexing situation.

    • Brett WilkinsOctober 30, 2011 at 10:49 amReplyAuthor

      You would think that voters would punish Republicans at the polls next November for so obviously and callously blocking any of Obama’s attempts to alleviate the suffering of unemployed Americans. There is no excuse for what they’re doing, which is to do anything and everything to stop him from getting reelected, even at the expense of the American people. We’ll see… in any case, I will not be voting for him (again). There is no way I will vote for any “Republicrat” candidate, as they are all imperialists and have been hijacked by the corporatists and the Zionists.

  2. Jovany MoisesNovember 21, 2011 at 10:22 amReply

    It is so easy to blame the top of the ladder when something goes wrong, such as it is, which is that person’s liability. However in many months as President you would see that Obama is the most hardest working president we have ever had which makes me ask, where does he gain so much energy to continue the struggle with so much opposition. The only answer would be from his family values, his wife Michelle.
    Obama tried to give us better insurance for all, they said it was not constitutional. Makes me ask “are my needs unconstitutional”? He made a Job bill to save us all, again “Don’t I need a job”? The economy was wrecked and every nation on planet tittered on the ledge of collapse and he fixed it.He fixed it. It will take much time to strengthen the world economy, but so what. No nation will go completely hungry, that’s important. I blame the President of Greece because the market soared up 300points with the offered bailout. Out of fear Greece President, Karolos Papoulias, put the bailout to a vote which sank the market. He left office, the bailout was accepted but because of him Italy then spiraled into collapse as well, but was saved. No one is perfect. I feel he did his best, such as making The Congressional Super Committee. They failed today and there will be automatic cuts,but did not the rest fail as well. We are in a time that has never happened before. Everyone on this planet is broke but the Obama administration made it so that we could live, while even as a paupers, not all would be homeless. That’s right he gave homeowners a bailout as well. That is what I have to say about that.
    Michelle Obama, while I don’t know all issues she has presented, has been a great co-president these past years with all that she has done. One thing I can think of at the top of my head was better food for schools and personal fitness values in he Lets Move campaign. Other issues that don’t come to mind, but can be Googled.
    I’m just a common man as you can tell by my poor essay skills, but now the man is writing out personal checks. What more loving a president can people want. Name him I dare you, cuz you will find no other, to say which past president has done that. I respect him and admire, through my eyes, the job he is doing. So there i said it. I would vote Obama again.

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