To Obama, with Love, Joy, Anger and Hope

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When President Barack Obama was first elected, the transition team had no idea how to set up an Office of Presidential Correspondence, even though one had existed since President William McKinley.  Before they even had stationery, the letters came pouring in—250,000 a week.  Soon, the office became a well-run machine, consisting of staff, interns and volunteers who were each expected to read 300 letters a day.

To Obama, With love, joy, anger and hope
“To Obama, With love, joy, anger and hope” By Jeanne Marie Laskas.

President Obama is the only president to ask to see 10 letters each day.  “It was a small gesture, I thought at least to resist the bubble,” he said. “It was a way for me to, every day, remember that what I was doing, was not about me.”

Half of the book consists of the letters; the other half explores the backstories of the people who wrote them. They are powerful letters, both handwritten and emailed. 

They are letters of hope and despair.  Of huge challenges people face in their daily lives. Letters from inmates and soul mates, from families who were bankrupted by expensive medical bills and those impacted by mass shootings.

From Ted, with a masters degree from an Ivy League college who had not had full-time work in five years and had student loan debt in six figures: “I will likely never own a home… I will likely never have a retirement pension.” And then there’s Kenny who asked the President to check his homework, which he did, and replied that he only found two misspellings.

As the title indicates, these were not all love letters to the president. They represented a microcosm of the American people. Together, they illustrate a nation of resilient patriotic people.

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Paula Walker
Paula Walker has worked at the Tigard Library for more than 25 years. She has been the press secretary and speechwriter for former Montana Governor Ted Schwinden. Walker was a researcher for Congressional Quarterly and wrote for National Business Woman magazine. She currently hosts a show on KMHD, Portland’s jazz radio station, called Cinejazz, which features jazz from film and television.