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Dear President Obama and Anyone Else Wanting to be President

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Obama (and any candidate who will listen):

Mr. President, I don’t mean to be impersonal in penmanship or in greeting. First, my handwriting isn’t going to win any awards and secondly, when I voted for you, you were still Mr. and Mrs. Obama, a couple who understands that family life takes work and that the American life also takes work.

I am writing to encourage you and for two additional reasons. First, you don’t need another critic. In fact, criticism is not what I learned from my community as a value in civic duty. Secondly, I want your help.  Let me set the context a bit. I too am from Illinois and I have a graduate degree in education from the University of Illinois. I have worked in faith based relief organizations for most of the past decade and took quite a bit of slack from fellow evangelicals for supporting you in 2008.  To me, the evangelical camp has become far too politicized in its efforts at social change and has sent its share of mixed messages recently in its political activity. In fairness, both parties have their sincere flaws. I don't think that that is news to anyone. My commitment is to follow God, conscience, and country in that order and I feel blessed to do so because our own Bill of Rights supports such convictions. I resonate with what you and Michelle highlighted in your recent speeches at the DNC, though I am white and yes, my real name is Bo. And yes, if you google my name pictures of your dog come up first. Thanks for that! But, let me explain why I am writing and why I am asking for your help.

Shot in the leg, Marvin Huizenga received a purple heart from his service in World War II, returning to the United States from his tour in Japan to work on the Chicago-Northwestern railroad. He died suddenly in 1994. He was my hero and my maternal grandfather.

Receiving an honorable discharge, after his tour in Vietnam, Donald White returned to life in the United States to work his entire life in telecommunications. He and my mom work very hard and his service in the Marine Corps is heroic stuff. He is my father.

In addition, my paternal grandfather served honorably with the U.S. Army in World War II, my maternal uncles served in the Army and Air Force respectively. Every single one of these men had an impact on me and every single one of them served their country well. And partly due to their service, I became the first person in my immediate family to get a college degree.

Growing up in Morrison, Illinois, we were an average, lower-middle income family in an agricultural working class community. Our town was less than five thousand people in population and relied heavily on two factories: one, a General Electric plant and the other an Ethan Allen furniture plant (until both factories closed in the past decade and nearly one quarter of all jobs in the town vanished). Running through the center of town is Main Street and while the town sits 100 miles west of Chicago, it is only 12 miles from the Mississippi River. It is in this town, a slice of Americana if there ever was one, where I learned that civic duty is a good thing and that communities can only thrive if the people are committed to it.

Mr. President, this election is not about mobilizing millions of dollars, it’s about mobilizing millions of people. And this is why I want your help. I am a father of a boy and a girl and their mother and I are not teaching them that money is the goal and that money solves our problems. We’re teaching them to treat others with respect and dignity, to help their fellow man and their fellow woman when they’re in need. We’re teaching them that violence isn’t the answer, that peace is possible, and that the Golden Rule is not only a good word from the Sermon on the Mount, but it’s indicative of a better way of life. And I want your help in reminding my children, who are 13 and 11 respectively, that this election is not about money or the economy, but it’s about families and communities putting down their fists and raising up open hands that help, open arms that embrace, and open minds that listen. Please don’t let this election be about money; please don’t let this election preach a message that more money equals a better life. You’re better than that. You and Michelle are better than that and you lead a country that, I pray, is better than that.

I have historically been an Independent and have voted for both Republicans and Democrats in my lifetime. I am a husband, a father, and someone who knows what it's like to struggle to make ends meet.  With that said, while we could use more cash in our bank account, money is only good for the good it can do. So, Mr. President and ‘Mom-in-Chief’, I am asking that you continue to remind people that while the economy is challenging, this election is bigger than banks and more important than checkbooks. This is about reminding us all that what makes the United States the envy of the world is not material wealth, but our ideas, our innovative spirit, opportunity, and our immigrant dreams.

Help me teach my children this amidst an election cycle that has been negative, challenging, and frankly, embarrassing at times. Being someone who is involved with international education, friends around the world have asked questions that have been difficult to answer about this year's campaigning. And I think that part of the root cause of the negativity is the perpetual focus on jumpstarting an economy instead of mobilizing a community. The ideas have taken a backseat to insults and the character of a leader has been reshaped in to a job 'fit'. If someone insults another person openly and without apology, forget President of the United States, just tell me, sincerely, what job, anywhere, is that a fit for?

Again, this is more than money or security. This is about the preservation of ideas first baked in to a Declaration and a Constitution. This is about interdependence and self-governance as much as freedom. This is about leadership that serves people as much as it is about pragmatism or getting things done.

And to be honest with you, I want my children to be faithful more than I want them to be successful. I want my children to be good stewards and to be responsible more than I want them to be rich. I want my children to internalize mercy and grace; I don’t want my children to idolize fortune or fame. And deep down, I think you want this too, not only for our children, but for our country. So, will you help us change the message of this election from money to maturity, from the power of the dollar, to the dynamic energy of a community?

I don't usually post things of the political stripe and it's taken a while to reflect on the recent convention messages. And yes, I know that you're not a candidate, but the President of the United States. Yet, you can certainly help with the messaging as two candidates seem to trade points and counterpoints. With that said, with all the talk about the direction of the country, I don't hear a lot of messages about the direction of our collective character or ideals or our own hearts. We are becoming a more violent people and the good book says that anger comes not from outside us, but from the heart. What has happened to the American heart?

As a dad, I want my children to be generous and not to give in to fear of corruption. I want my children to have healthcare, yes, but I want them to care about the health of their neighbor just as much. I don't think this is blind idealism. I believe that we can be a better nation because I believe, by God's grace, we can be a better people.

I pray God’s blessing on you and your family, I pray God grants you wisdom and peace, and I pray that this finds you well.


Bo White (U.S. citizen, Illinois resident, husband, dad, son of veterans, and voter)

Tags | Global | economy | faith | global
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As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.