During his presidency, Barack Obama read 10 letters from members of the public every day. He reveals what they meant to him
It was October 2016. Hurricane Matthew had just rolled out to sea, Samsung phones were catching fire, Hillary Clinton was up by double digits in the national polls and the unthinkable was still unthinkable. Shailagh Murray had spent two terms in the White House helping to lead the administration’s communications strategy and it appeared to have taken its toll. With Obama just a few months away from leaving office, journalists wanted exit interviews; they wanted to be first, biggest, loudest. She was sick of the egos, the same old questions.
The letters, she said, served as a respite from all that, and she offered to show some to me. She chose a navy blue binder, pulled it off the shelf, and opened it, fanning through page after page of letters, some handwritten in cursive on personal letterheads, others block printed on notebook paper and decorated with stickers; there were business letters, emails, faxes and random photographs of families, soldiers and pets. “You know, it’s this dialogue he’s been having with the country that people aren’t even aware of,” she said, referring to Obama’s eight-year habit of corresponding with the American public. “Collectively, you get this kind of American tableau.”