[Memorial Day is not just for the dead. It’s also for the living, especially those whose intelligence, service and sacrifice have achieved much, and could achieve even more if we let them.
1. Foreign and military affairs
2. The economy
3. Energy and the environment
4. Our armed forces and strategy
6. Health and education
7. Race and racism
9. In general
Dear Mr. President,
You are now in what some describe as the “lame duck” phase of your presidency. I’m publishing this open letter to you now to let you know how deeply and enduringly grateful I and tens of millions of other Americans are for what you’ve done so far.
So President Obama, from the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, for all of this:
1. Foreign and military affairs.
Thank you for winding down the two gratuitous wars that your predecessor started in a spastic reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Thank you for turning those impulsive and catastrophically mismanaged invasions and occupations into something resembling friendly and wise international assistance.
Thank you for not starting a third unnecessary war with Iran.
Thank you for building coalitions and using diplomacy and economic power to bring Iran to the bargaining table, and for pursuing a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Thank you for using similar means, and not open war, to arrest Russia’s aggression and annexation of territory in Ukraine.
Thank you for using air power, intelligence, drones and ninjas—and not the massive overkill of ground invasions—to fight Al Qaeda and the so-called “Islamic State” and to resist Assad’s medieval cruelty and stupidity.
Thank you for cajoling an international coalition to rid Syria of chemical weapons, whose work should reach fruition next month.
Thank you for cooperating with China, which created the monster and has to live near it, in containing North Korea’s insane tyranny.
Thank you for ending torture, illegal imprisonment and “black ops” worthy of a medieval tyranny but perpetrated in our collective name.
Thank you for trying to close the “Consitution-free zone” in Guantánamo and for making substantial progress toward that end.
Thank you for restoring our nation’s international reputation for respecting others, devising intelligent solutions, and knowing at least how
Thank you—in Afghanistan, the Korean Peninsula, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and the South China Sea—for seeking ever to build coalitions and consensus and rejecting the impulsive unilateralism of a Texas cowboy.
2. The economy.
Thank you for knowing that our national economy is now part of a global economy, and that economic leaders must lead.
Thank you for spending your political capital, over treacherous opposition, to pass a stimulus and the Sequester, which together barely avoided economic collapse.
Thank you for your wise and steady hand in reducing the federal deficit by 66%
, and unemployment to 5.4%, which our expert Fed considers nearly “full employment.”
Thank you for saving our Yankee car companies, their reputations, and their employees, including their many talented engineers.
Thank you for your “cash from clunkers” program, which got obsolete and polluting machines off our streets and gave our car manufacturing a boost.
Thank you for promoting and signing the Dodd-Frank legislation, which seeks to prevent an early recurrence of bankers’ massive gambling and swindling that caused the Crash of 2008.
Thank you for recognizing that our nation must not follow the Soviet Union, or today’s Russia or Venezuela, in seeking to cure its economic ills by isolating itself.
Thank you for understanding that economic isolation is a penalty, not a strategy, and useful only as a deterrent
, for example, in pressuring Iran and Russia.
Thank you for appointing Janet Yellen as Fed Chief, who will preserve the Fed as an expert regulator and guardian of honest labor—the last line of defense against yet another gratuitous financial panic.
Thank you for refusing to lower taxes on the rich yet again, in the face of already historic economic inequality.
Thank you for recognizing that the only way to real
prosperity, let alone social peace, is sharing wealth.
Thank you for your effort to share prosperity by increasing minimum wages and continuing the social safety-net programs that barely got many of us through the Great Recession.
Thank you for doing your utmost to preserve the “American Dream,” which once led Japanese-Americans whose families were Interned and African-Americans under the thumb of Jim Crow to risk their lives to defend the very nation that oppressed them and their families.
3. Energy and the environment.
Thank you for understanding how grave a threat global warming is to our nation and our species, and how rapidly it is accelerating
Thank you for knowing that no effort to decelerate it can succeed unless the world’s largest economy leads.
Thank you for making an informal deal with China, the world’s biggest polluter, to address this threat to our species.
Thank you for phasing out coal—the world’s most climate changing, polluting and (if properly costed) expensive fuel
Thank you, as a one-time representative of a coal state (Illinois), for changing your mind and putting our species’ and our nation’s welfare above that of the state that gave you your start in politics.
Thank you for continuing subsidies for wind and solar energy, and for federal support for research on carbon-neutral fuels and other forms of renewable energy.
Thank you for doubling the future average fuel efficiency of American cars and light trucks, and for doing so by voluntary agreement with auto makers, rather than decades of litigation.
Thank you for continuing loan guarantees and federal backup insurance (aka “federal limitations of liability”) for new nuclear power plants, so that states and localities that wish to do so can take the risk of this workable, carbon-neutral energy source.
Thank you for allowing fracking for oil and gas to continue, with stronger environmental protection, so as to increase our energy independence, lower the prices of energy by half, and deprive petrostates of their power to blackmail us.
Thank you for opening up the Atlantic Seaboard for drilling, so that our nation’s rich elite, and not just relatively poor Gulf residents, can experience first-hand the “collateral damage” that often arises from extracting fossil fuels.
Thank you for allowing the north Alaskan drilling to proceed, as a final test whether the fossil-fuel industries can preserve an absolutely pristine environment, and whether the benefits of extracting a wasting resource
justify the costs.
Thank you, most of all, for basing your energy policies and initiatives on facts, science and both short- and long-term consequences, instead of ideology, wishful thinking and interested parties’ propaganda.
4. Our armed forces and strategy.
Thank you for keeping the extreme sacrifice of our isolated, all-voluntary military forces ever present in your mind.
Thank you for thinking hard about how to deploy our troops, and for using air power, drones and ninjas wherever possible to reduce their casualties and harm to innocent civilians, aka “collateral damage.”
Thank you for working hard to give our homecoming troops the health care and benefits they deserve.
Thank you for having the courage and respect, unlike your predecessor, to observe and salute the coffins of those who gave their all for us as they come home to Dover Air Force Base for the last time.
Thank you for dispatching bin Laden, and for retrieving a massive trove of intelligence, in what may have been one of the most strategic ninja strikes in human history.
Thank you for recently dispatching the financial guru of the so-called “Islamic State” with another bold ninja strike, which captured his complicit wife alive and brought home another treasure trove of intelligence.
Thank you, in general, for making all our war efforts smarter, more focused, more accurate
, and more cost-effective, especially as compared to invading and occupying two entire sovereign nations.
Thank you for never confusing the sacrifice of those who do their duty with the mistakes and blunders of those who directed them, especially before your term of office began.
Thank you for protecting gays from discrimination as they risk their lives and health to protect us.
Thank you for quietly killing the absurd “missile defense shield” in Poland and the Czech Republic, which would have protected virtually no one
against missiles from Iran but might have destroyed our 70-year-old Pax Atomica by making the Russians nervous.
Thank you for trying hard to redirect our bloated military-industrial complex
toward threats we are actually likely to face in the twenty-first century, including terrorism, asymmetrical warfare and cyberwarfare.
Thank you for seeking a proper balance of privacy and security, and for understanding that, if we ever suffer another 9/11-scale terrorist attack, let alone a nuclear one, we will have neither.
Thank you for appointing Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor to our Supreme Court.
Thank you, thank you, for appointing as superb a professional as Eric Holder as your first Attorney General.
Thank you for letting him, and perhaps directing him, to fight racism and injustice in places like Ferguson with incontrovertible evidence.
Thank you for changing your mind and doing your best to allow gays to marry.
Thank you, more broadly, for understanding that a country that intrudes into consenting adults’ bedrooms can never be free, no matter how often it claims to love “liberty.”
Thank you for speaking out against entrenched poverty and gross inequality, which will cause and reflect injustice as long as they exist.
Thank you for showing us, in your own comportment and the kind of people you appoint to high office, that justice is a matter of fact, wisdom, and hard work, not ideology.
6. Health and education.
Thank you, thank you, for getting health insurance for 12.5 million people (and counting) who didn’t have it before.
Thank you, thank you, for eliminating pre-existing-condition exclusions, thereby making health insurance real
insurance, instead of a game of lawyers re-interpreting medical records after the fact.
Thank you for eliminating several numerical caps on insurance that cut off people’s benefits just when they most needed them.
Thank you for arranging rudimentary national and state-by-state online insurance markets, which are beginning to subject fat and lazy health-insurance monopolies to something resembling the rigors of competition.
Thank you for beginning to question our “fee-for-service” health-care delivery system, one of the most economically inefficient pricing systems known to capitalism, which kills both empathy and personal responsibility.
Thank you for beginning to clean up the mess in our veterans’ health care and to give our wounded warriors the care and respect they deserve, not just patriotic lip service.
Thank you for supporting national standards for education, so that we truly leave no child behind and no longer suffer a few of our states to remain backwaters of human civilization.
Thank you for trying to impose national standards and educational improvements, insofar as possible, through voluntary and localized efforts, which promise to be quicker and more effective than coercion.
7. Race and racism.
Thank you for remaining, at all times, the adult in a roomful of jeering children.
Thank you for retaining the support of tens of millions of silent but sympathetic bystanders by acting always with dignity and restraint, despite the catcalls of racists and the legitimate cries of the aggrieved.
Thank you for patiently putting up with so much, in order that a generation (or two or three) down the road, no one will ever have to again.
Thank you for giving new hope and new confidence to a 12% minority of our people who have seen precious little of them in four centuries.
Thank you for showing tens of millions of whites like me how even an African-American whom we have come to know, respect and love—namely, you—takes daily hits from racism, and why we must all fight racism harder.
Thank you, in so doing, for reminding us of Another who once took big hits for our sins.
Thank you, in short, for keeping your eyes on the prize as only a grandmaster strategist blessed with empathy can.
Thank you for knowing that deporting honest kids (or their parents) who were raised here, and who speak American English like every Yank, gravely wounds innocent families and tarnishes our nation.
Thank you for doing something about it.
Thank you for forcing Republicans to choose between ethnic tolerance and exploiting cheap labor, on the one hand, and maintaing ethnic and cultural “purity” and excluding immigrants on the other.
Thank you for reminding us, gently but firmly and repeatedly, that those two approaches are fundamentally incompatible.
Thank you for pitting the Tea Party monster that the GOP spawned against its own business wing responsible for creating it.
Thank you for reminding us that we are a nation of immigrants, which has drawn strength from every once-despised group with gumption enough to run a gauntlet of suffering and danger to reach our shores.
Thank you for refusing to dishonor the French Lady with the Torch in our New York Harbor, who still welcomes ships from everywhere.
9. In general.
Thank you for your exemplary conduct and character, every day of your political career.
Thank you for having an exemplary family, for giving us the benefit of your wife’s many talents, and for showing us all what it means to protect innocent children no matter what.
Thank you for sparing us the kind of gratuitous scandal that turned Bill Clinton’s second term to dust.
Thank you for gathering facts and expert advice and thinking hard, as is your wont, before doing anything with serious consequences, despite others screaming for instant action and accusing you of “dithering.”
Thank you for having the wisdom, confidence and courage to change your mind when facts and circumstances change, or when new data emerge.
Thank you, in other words, for not “doubling down” on your own or others’ blunders
, as so many pols have done from Iraq, to Syria to Ukraine and Vietnam.
Thank you for your consistently superb political chess playing, of which your clear popular majority in two presidential elections was just the beginning.
* * *
The Iranians and Russians, and even our allies, have no idea with whom they’re dealing. But those of us who’ve seen you in action, in this still consummately racist nation, know well. As we mull the threats we face as a nation and a species, we take comfort from that knowledge, as we will for nearly two more years.
No doubt I’ve neglected some of your achievements or underestimated their significance. If so, I’m sorry. There have been so many.
I had hoped to wait to thank you until you left office, when there would be other cataloguers of your achievements and successes on whose work I could draw. But that would be too late.
If only more of us could reflect on all you have done for our nation already, against what opposition and at what cost, your administration might enjoy a small portion of the empathy it has so graciously bestowed on others. Then you might yet get the “honeymoon” you never got and deserve now more than ever.
You might, for the first time in your tenure as president, actually see the deference, respect and cooperation due any
president—let alone one as wise, careful and good as you. It is in that perhaps Quixotic hope that I publish this insufficient catalogue of your many achievements so far.
With the deepest respect and gratitude for what you have been and what you have done, and for the enormous potential for good that you still command,