President Obama, Get Back In the Game!


10157977Dear Mr. President,

Football is a violent sport. And as its players have always known, concussions can have serious, often heartbreaking long-term effects. The days of a player getting his “bell rung,” shaking it off and going back for the next play without a doctor’s clearance are a thing of the past. The games’ proponents are trying to find ways to make it less physically abusive, but football is inherently a physically demanding, brutal game. Americans love it.

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As you also know, Mr. President, politics, though less physical, is also a demanding, usually mean-spirited and sometimes equally brutal game. Americans love it less these days, perhaps because so much more is at stake. It’s hard to blame you for wanting to escape this bruising game for a while by riding off into the sunset on a golf cart. But whether it’s from Martha’s Vineyard or the White House, Mr. President, it’s time for you to get back in the game. And it’s time for you to demand that Congress join you back on the field of play and not let them go to the locker room before halftime.

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Mr. President, conventional wisdom says that two months before midterm elections, you’re supposed to let Congress go home and campaign for reelection. But conventional wisdom never imagined that Congress might be allowed to go home without doing hardly any of its jobs. Two critical jobs come to mind, but there are many more: our crumbling infrastructure and immigration reform. Mr. President, you’ve got the bully pulpit: you should set the agenda and the issues for the upcoming election. Don’t let negative advertisements and phony issues determine the makeup of the next Congress. How about beginning by insisting that Congress do the job they’ve been hired to do before asking for an extension of their contract?

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Sure, Mr. President, these are incredibly difficult times at home and certainly abroad. We’ve got really scary, very well-funded terrorists in the Middle East, Russians in the near East, the plague of Ebola in Africa, the European Union facing a triple-dip recession and Scotland wants out of the British Commonwealth — what next? Some of us remember and hopefully all of us have been schooled by the equally tough times of the 1960s and ’70s: the assassination of President Kennedy, the murders of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., the agonies of Vietnam, urban racial strife, Watergate, recession, inflation, unemployment and gas shortages. These issues pitted black against white, young against old, rich against poor and threatened to attack the very fabric of our nation. Back then, one might take issue with our leader’s performance. I certainly did. But our leaders played the game the best way they knew how.

If the situation around the world is a challenge, is it any more so than in 1942? Hitler’s armies were smashing at the gates of Moscow, Rommel was tearing across North Africa, and our allies in England were anticipating an invasion any day. Roosevelt’s critics were legion, but he used the power of his position and partnerships with our allies to finally defeat the Axis threat. The threat of the moment, and indeed a seemingly powerful one, is ISIL, or, as you call it, the “cancer of ISIS.” It’s not my intent here to get into the origin, ambitions or methods of ISIS — I’ll leave that to the legions of critics and Monday morning quarterbacks who would rather talk about why something should have happened earlier in Syria than propose solutions. But suffice it to say, it must be defeated. It constitutes a real threat to every democracy and civilized government in the Middle East, and why should it stop there? Remember Munich? To return to my sports analogy, a good quarterback knows that to lead his team to victory he must to call on each player on the field to do his part.

Mr. President, you need to huddle up the nations of the world against this common enemy instead of trying to win the game on your own.

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And Mr. President, this isn’t 1942: the American face has changed. But I believe we’re still the same strong people we were then. While Congress seems to care only about reelection, I believe the American public is truly concerned about the issues we face. I’m reminded of a line from the mid-’90s movie The American President:

People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone.

Mr. President, step up.

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Because, Mr. President, it seems everyone is stepping up to the microphone but you. Maybe that’s not fair, but even when you do step up, you seem to play prevent defense, not calling plays or driving your opponent crazy with pinpoint passing. The political conversation seems dominated by naysayers and the Koch brothers. You need to lead, to articulate the challenges we face now and in the future, at home and abroad. You should frame the issues for the midterm election by your words and actions. You should demand that Congress do its job or get out of the way. Our nation needs faith, hope and confidence. You can’t provide that leadership sitting on the sidelines or coaching from a tower.

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Mr. President, you once exuded a confidence that inspired a nation, so I know you have it in you. Button your chin strap, remember the early scores and get back in the game. It’s only the second quarter.