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Schultz: Our President, the writer

Published: Friday, Nov. 22, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

The longer Barack Obama is our president, the more grateful I am that I first met him as a fellow writer.

I may not always agree with him, but I never doubt that he’s thought it through. He is, by nature, a reflective man.

Learning back in 2006 that he processes life through the time-honored practice of putting pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – led to my trusting his character even when I disagree with his politics. It’s about mindset – or, perhaps more accurately, mindfulness.

As any serious journal-keeper knows, the habit of putting words to one’s experiences forges a life of reflection. I want a president who regularly contemplates the meaning of his life and his impact on the rest of us.

Our first exchange was surely a forgettable one for Obama. He had been a U.S. senator for less than two years but was already the darling of Democrats across the nation after his speech at the 2004 convention. I met him after he flew to Cincinnati in June 2006 to speak at a fundraiser for my husband, who was running for the Senate.

I had taken a leave of absence from my job as a columnist to avoid a conflict of interest and was working on my second book. Obama was working on his second book, too, and we shared the same publisher. The similarities end there, as his first book sold millions and mine was – oh, never mind.

Nevertheless, after we sat down at the table, our conversation quickly turned to writing.

He was like many serious writers I know: Cryptic in his descriptions about content, but eager to talk about method. He carved out time on long flights, he said, and stole a half-hour here and an hour there. We talked briefly about his first book and how the best writing, no matter the topic, is a journey in self-discovery.

I don’t remember his exact words, but I left that day thinking Obama was willing to do the hard work of excavating the twists and turns of his own life to make sense of where he was going. I’ve harkened back to that conversation many times as I’ve watched him as president.

The tumultuous rollout of the website for the Affordable Care Act is indefensible.

However, although I sometimes have questioned the president’s judgment, I never have doubted his character. I do not think he lied when he assured Americans that they could keep their insurance policies if they liked them. I think he miscalculated the full impact of this historic reform, which will ultimately bring affordable health care to millions of Americans who thought they’d never see that day.

I do, however, appreciate signs of his continued thoughtfulness.

This week, the White House released the president’s 272-word reflection on President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It is written in the president’s own hand, surprisingly legible.

The first 18 words reveal the loneliness of leadership.

“In the evening, when Michelle and the girls have gone to bed, I sometimes walk down the hall.”

Of Lincoln, he writes, “This quintessentially self-made man, fierce in his belief in honest work and the striving spirit at the heart of America, believed that it falls to each generation, collectively, to share in that toil and sacrifice.

“Through cold war and world war, through industrial revolution and technological transformation, through movements for civil rights and women’s rights and workers rights and gay rights, we have. At times, social and economic changes have strained our union. But Lincoln’s words give us confidence that whatever trials await us, this nation and the freedom we cherish can, and shall, prevail.”

It is worth a full read at www.whitehouse.gov/share/gettysburg-address.

Surely, others offered their suggestions for what the president should write, but I do not doubt that the essence of this message comes from the core of the man who penned it.

He is a writer, our president.

This is his habit, putting pen to paper to make sense of this crazy world.

• Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including “...and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. 

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