An Open Letter to Michelle Obama

November 2, 2008 | 49 comments
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Dear Michelle,

First, let me say how much I’ve enjoyed getting to know you over the last couple of months. I still remember the first time that you called. I was in the kitchen washing up after dinner. (Where were you?) You introduced yourself, and at first I assumed that you had heard about how Barack and I lived in the same apartment in law school. I figured you wanted to check up on all of his stories about his crazy experiences is Winter Hill. But, instead you started talking to me about hope and change and the need to make America work for everyone. That first night I just appreciated the call, and I was content to listen. Since then, I’ve come to look forward to our little chats. I’ll be putting the kids down or reading a book, and the phone will ring. My wife will call from downstairs, “Nate! The phone’s for you. It’s Michelle again.” At first, I think that I she was a little jealous of our relationship, but then I explained how you were just calling to chat about hope and change and the need to make America work for everyone. She says that she understands.

I first began to feel that there were problems with our relationship, however, when I tried to talk to you about Barack. Needless to say, I am a whole hearted supporter of hope and change and the need to make America work for everyone. On the other hand, I was more than a little concerned by Barack’s vote on the Colombian free trade deal. I like Colombians, and frankly our war on drugs has been turning much of their country into a violent and lawless shooting gallery. I figure making it easier for them to sell stuff other than cocaine to the American consumer was the least that we could do. And look you, Barack, and I all know that — despite what Barack says to the UAW — blocking trade with small Latin American countries isn’t going to return Michigan to an Eden of highly paid, low-skill union jobs. Of course, I tried to be diplomatic about my concerns, and I understand that he is your husband, so I didn’t take it personally when you just kept on talking as though I hadn’t said anything. I realize that it was an awkward moment for you as well.

I am saddened to say, however, that our chat over Colombian trade has come to set a pattern in our relationship. You’ll call to tell me about Barack and hope and change and the need to make America work for everyone. I’ll try to share with you my ideas about health care, Iran, or the future regulation of credit derivatives. Thinking back now on our friendship, I can’t think of a single time that you paused to listen. You just keep talking on about Barack. What about me? When are we going to talk about my ideas for hope and change and how to make America work for everyone?

Then came your call tonight. I brightened up at the sound of your familiar voice, only to be reminded that Virginians go to the polls on Tuesday and it was important for me to get out to vote for Barack. Is that all this has been for you? All of our talks about change and hope and making an America that works for everyone? Was it all just some play to get me to vote for your husband? Is that all I am to you, just another nameless swing-state voter? Frankly, Michelle, I thought that we had more than that. I thought that there was a real bond between us after all of these evening chats. Now I see, however, that I was mistaken. Much as it pains me to say this, I think that it would probably be best if you were to stop calling me.

Sincerely,

Nate

49 Responses to An Open Letter to Michelle Obama

  1. Mathew on November 2, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    Nate,

    I have a confession to make here. I do a mean Michelle Obama immitation. Sorry.

    Mat

  2. Matt Evans on November 2, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Great work, Nate!

  3. Keri Brooks on November 2, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    Thanks. This was funny. I only use my land line telephone for my DSL access (and for emergencies), so during election season, I just turn my ringer off. My cell phone manages not to get too many automated calls, for which I’m grateful.

  4. Naismith on November 2, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    I find this interesting to see that they use different strategies in different states. I never got a call from Michelle, just lots of emails from various people in the campaign, always asking for more money.

  5. Julie M. Smith on November 2, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    The alternative, of course, is to live in a deeply red or deeply blue state, where no one ever calls you.

    Where if you didn’t consume national news, you would not be aware that there was a presidential election going on.

    Where if you go to the website of either candidate and type in your zip code to “get involved locally,” they ask if you can go to Colorado or New Mexico for a few days to get out the vote. (No joke.)

  6. Shelah on November 2, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    No fair. We don’t get any love in Texas.

  7. Sue on November 2, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    You should start blogging at your wife\’s blog! Totally reminded me of her style!

  8. queuno on November 2, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    There are a lot of incredible election possibilities right now in Texas. Of course, they tend to be local and not national…

  9. queuno on November 2, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    As we’ve had beaten into our head over and over, Obama’s more of a “Barry”.

  10. American Yak on November 2, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    Barack with a q, as in, don’t fix it.

  11. Geoff B on November 2, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    Nate, the Colombian free trade agreement is really something that doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves. I spend a lot of time in Colombia on business (the telecom business, not any other type of business) and Colombians are truly perplexed as to why the United States Congress doesn’t approve this trade deal unanimously. I am too, and I hope once he gets in office Barack will take your advice to Michelle seriously.

  12. Kevin Barney on November 2, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    Life is much easier here in Illinois.

  13. Nate Oman on November 2, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    The Obama vote on Colombia was reprehensible, but then I think that I am the only person in America who gets teary-eyed and table thumping mad in favor of free trade…

  14. Maren on November 2, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    Here in Vermont, we get calls from Independents who are for Obama. The marketers do know their audience. Actually, I’m a little surprised to have gotten any calls at all here in a 3-electoral-college-votes state, and I’ve had calls from both campaigns.

  15. Timer on November 2, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    If you’re looking, as you say, for a “real bond”, you might consider calling Sarah Palin instead. From what I hear, she is both extremely friendly and relatively easy to get through to by telephone.

  16. Timer on November 2, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    At least if you can do plausible French (or, dare I suggest, Colombian?) accent…

  17. Dan on November 2, 2008 at 10:42 pm

    Hey, at least she didn’t call you to tell you how John McCain fathered a black kid, or his friendship with domestic terrorist Gordon Liddy. At least she was nice to you and talked about nice things.

  18. Mark D. on November 2, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    You’re not alone, Nate. I don’t know about teary eyed, but I definitely get table thumping mad in favor of free trade.

    Protectionists might well ask: “why shouldn’t we enact a ten percent tariff on all trade that crosses state lines?” And why stop there? How about a 2% tariff at county boundaries, another 2% at city boundaries, and 1% at major intersections?

  19. Justmeherenow on November 2, 2008 at 10:50 pm

    You totally rock! Nate — rrack. (Uh — a nickname you have earned by once having the same Ivy League basement cubby hole as that — um other One.) Hey! but didn\’t they explain to the Canadians that the protectionism was all just pretend?

  20. Jack on November 2, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    “…and I hope once he gets in office Barack will take your advice…”

    Geoff! Do I detect resignation in that statement?

  21. Jeremy on November 2, 2008 at 11:59 pm

    I got a call from Rudy Giuliani saying Obama had fathered a black kid.

  22. Hellmut on November 3, 2008 at 12:59 am

    Rewarding a regime that fails to prosecute its bosom buddies for assassinating labor activists would really be reprehensible.

    Over 400 labor leaders have been killed since Uribe has become president in 2002. In those cases where the murderers are known, they are members of paramilitary groups, the military, or the police.

    Clearly, the Uribe regime is involved in the lynchings.

  23. Seth R. on November 3, 2008 at 1:16 am

    Hellmut, that is the same sort of logic that has given us a half-a-century stalemate with Cuba.

    Quit taking the world so personally.

  24. mmiles on November 3, 2008 at 1:17 am

    Awesome!

  25. Mark D. on November 3, 2008 at 1:33 am

    Hellmut, the murder rate for members of labor unions in Colombia is now eight times lower than for the population at large. Violence of all sorts is down dramatically over the past six years. That is a remarkable success story, not something one should want to punish.

  26. Kent Larsen on November 3, 2008 at 6:47 am

    Obama gets my vote because of a whole host of positions and his record in many areas. It is indeed unfortunate and perhaps ironic that his position on Colombia is based on criteria that are, as I agree with Nate, too narrow. I have hope that this will change when he is in the White House and is presented with a larger view.

    Like others who have commented here, I am strongly in favor of free trade — and perhaps more than most, because the ideal, I believe, should be that of the EU: Free movement not only of goods, but also of services, capital, and, most controversially, people.

  27. Hellmut on November 3, 2008 at 8:47 am

    “Quit taking the world so personally.”
    Gee, there is a sophisticated argument. Do you know what a paradox is, Seth?

    Mark, relating the murder count of leaders and activists to the general union membership is statistical malpractice. The proper ratio would be the number of murdered labor activists divided by the number of total labor activists, not the general membership.

    I am afraid that the Cato Institute is not exactly a credible source when it comes to violence against labor. After all, they are famous for their disdain of unions. It is telling that they have to manipulate statistics to make their point.

    I would not be surprised though if the violence against labor leaders decreased last year. That’s what happens when you confront dictators who want something from you. Give Uribe the trade accord, by all means, but only after his administration brings credible prosecutions that result in convictions (some of the time).

    Once the trade accord has been signed, there is no more leverage. Therefore, the rule of law must be institutionalized before the treaty.

    Adam Smith would turn over in his grave if he knew that murder was supposed to become a competitive advantage. That kind of trade undermines the very foundations of market economies.

  28. Frank McIntyre on November 3, 2008 at 9:20 am

    Hellmut,

    According to the linked article: “Beefed-up government action has reduced the killings of trade union members by almost 90 percent. ” Also :”Since 2002, homicides have declined by 40 percent, kidnappings by 82 percent, and terrorist attacks by 77 percent.” Are you saying these numbers are wrong or simply not enough to sign a free trade agreement?

    How many labor leaders were dying before 2002? Has the number declined along with the rest of the above numbers? If so, would that make you willing to have us sign an agreement? As for Obama, I think it is probably naive to think his not signing the deal was about labor leaders. It had more to do with the deal coming to a vote in the Spring of 2008.

  29. Tony on November 3, 2008 at 10:03 am

    I live in New Hampshire and have received nary a call despite our swing state status. Ah, the beauty of having a new phone number (except for the weekly calls from the confused Hispanic guy asking for “Ramon?” …)

  30. Timer on November 3, 2008 at 10:17 am

    Both candidates have plenty of instances where they say “I voted against bill X not because of fundamental opposition to X but because I felt it strategically useful to make my vote on X contingent on the inclusion of provision Y, which was defeated in an amendment vote earlier in the session…”

    I always find these responses confusing. Is a free trade vote with extra built in protections for union leaders whose lives are in danger better than a free trade vote without such protections? (The answer is certainly yes if your primary victory depends on winning the union vote, but it could be arguably yes regradless…) In light of the back room dealings and strategic complexities, how does one from a distance work out whether a voting strategy had a net effect for evil or good? Is the fact that a voting strategy takes into account political considerations (as part of a larger strategy) always a bad thing?

    And what does this tell us about what Obama will do when he is actually having face to face conversations with the leaders of Colombia and he no longer faces an upcoming primary election? Will he try to prevent free trade entirely, or will he work out a deal, with perhaps a few minor concessions? Personality wise, Obama seems more like a diplomatic, “Let’s talk reasonably with foreign leaders and work things out” kind of guy than either Bush or McCain, and I’m guessing he’ll be more supportive of free trade than his opponents fear.

    We’re probably going to find out soon enough, for better or worse…

  31. Mark D. on November 3, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Hellmut,

    The fact that the murder rate of trade union members is eight times lower than the general population may indeed be less relevant than the murder rate among labor leaders, but it is certainly not “statistical malpractice”. If anything, it is statistically amazing.

  32. Nate Oman on November 3, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Here is what Freedom House has to say about trade union murders in Colombia:

    “The murder of trade union activists has made Colombia the most dangerous country in the world for organized labor; over 60 percent of all trade unionist killings occur in Colombia. More than 2,500 trade union activists and leaders have been killed in the last two decades, with an impunity rate of over 95 percent. However, in 2007 the number of killings dropped to 39 from 72 in 2006. Labor leaders are frequently targeted for attack by paramilitary groups, guerrillas, and narcotics traffickers. In 2007, the issue proved to be a major roadblock in the effort to get a free-trade agreement passed in the U.S. Congress. In response, the government worked with the International Labor Organization and formed a specialized staff within the prosecutor-general’s office that began to prosecute effectively assassinations of union members.”

    Freedom House also points out, however, that political violence in general is rampant in Colombia and that the government has been generally ineffective in dealing with it. On the other hand, I’m not convinced that American tarriff policy is the best way of helping with this. Furthermore, the violence agaiinst union members seems like cherry picking for domestic political gain in the United States. There is also rampant violence against police, judges, and business men. For my money, one of the things that the U.S. could do to help out with this is to foster a thriving, non-narcotics based economy. Also, for my money, the Democratic rejection of the Colombian deal was driven by blue-collar populism and general trade-bashing by American unions rather than any finely balanced calculation of how best to assist Colombia better its condition.

  33. Jim Cobabe on November 3, 2008 at 11:10 am

    Obama gets my vote because of a whole host of positions and his record in many areas.

    Hmm, here is a table showing Obama’a voting record

    Looks to me like he has seldom voted on anything at all. Apparently he is much too busy with important matters to be bothered with paying any attention to the Congress Perhaps he will dispatch his duties in the White House with similar alacrity.

    There seems to be a significant disconnect between what he SAYS and what he actually DOES.

  34. Raymond Takashi Swenson on November 3, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    After living in the San Francisco Bay Area for five years, and being a constituent of Barbara Boxer when she was representing Marin County in Congress, I have no desire to see the male equivalent of Nancy Pelosi exercising the powers of the presidency. Mr. Obama’s position on Iraq–unilateral withdrawal no matter what–would have produced a disaster, while the position supported by John McCain–a surge of troops to stomp on insurgents and persuade the indigenous ones to split from Al Qaeda–actually worked. Mr. McCain has personal experience in war and peace, while Mr. Obama has no accomplishments to speak of other than being elected to office.

    The truest thing Joe Biden has said during the campaign is that America’s enemies are going to do something to “test” Barack Obama because he is has such little experience in leadership, especially in national defense issues, that they have no idea how he will react to a terrorist attack or a show of force by Al Qaeda, Iran, or North Korea. No matter how much people outside the US denigrate George W. Bush, they know that he is willing to strike back with force if America is attacked. That has played no small part in the lack of another major terrorist attack in the US since 2001. But with Obama, it will be a new ball game, and the crazies are, according to Joe Biden, going to be severely tempted to attack America just to see how Obama reacts.

    Mr. Biden said it: America’s enemies do not fear Obama.

  35. Tony on November 3, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    And how do you expect Barack Obama to react, Raymond Takashi Swenson? I expect that he will react in a suitable manner and will make it clear to our enemies that neither he, nor our nation, is to be trifiled with. And of course that will make all of you right-wingers apoplectic because you will then lose the whole “Obama is a wuss” tactic for 2012.

    This veteran of our armed forces has no reservations about Barack Obama’s ability to protect our nation as commander-in-chief.

  36. Hellmut on November 3, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    I apologize to Seth for my snarky response.

    Nate, trade is already deregulated to such a great degree that further deregulation will not revive Columbia’s economy. The marginal difference is minor.

    If you look into the evolution of this issue, you will find that Columbian unions got this concern on the agenda. Of course, they took advantage of the political climate. Only a fool wouldn’t have.

    The way to counteract populist sentiments is to share the gains from trade more equitably.

    Mark D, I am sorry but ratios like that one are analytically meaningless. They make for good propaganda.

    “Mr. Obama’s position on Iraq–unilateral withdrawal no matter what–would have produced a disaster (. . .)”

    I would agree with you, Raymond, if that was Obama’s position. He said time and again that we have to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in.

    There are good reasons to vote against Obama. This isn’t one of them.

  37. gst on November 3, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    Hellmut, your concern for Columbia’s economy is apparent. But what of NYU’s economy? And Fordham’s?

  38. Tony on November 3, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    LMAO @ #37!

    Or Colgate’s, for that matter…

  39. Steve Evans on November 3, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    I share the concern for Columbia. Did you know that it is one of the largest landowners in the City of New York? True story. Also, there is a shockingly fast Chinese food place. I once ordered beef lo mein that arrived in under 10 minutes, and we lived 6 blocks away. Tell me there’s not something wrong with that.

  40. gst on November 3, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    Well, the gravest concern about the institution is that it apparently hands out law degrees willy-nilly. Even to Canadians.

  41. Frank McIntyre on November 3, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    “Nate, trade is already deregulated to such a great degree that further deregulation will not revive Columbia’s economy. The marginal difference is minor.”

    I am curious how you know this.

  42. Steve Evans on November 3, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    And whitey Polynesians!

  43. John Taber on November 3, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    Hey, all you need to do is basically sell your soul . . . but you’ll never not have a McMansion.

  44. Hellmut on November 3, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    #41 Because the last free trade accords from NAFTA to European Union reforms have consistently underperformed expectations, probably, because the law of diminishing returns applies.

    As the world economy is already trading at high levels, the effects of additional deregulation of trade are modest.

    The CIA world fact book reports Columbia’s GDP at $171.6 billion. The United States International Trade Commission projects that Columbian exports will grow by $487 million.

    The added value, the part that actually amounts to growth, will be a fraction thereof. Lets be, generous and assume that Columbia creates half the value then the additional growth would be .1419% per year.

    Of course, there will be other benefits from imports, which are valuable but obviously cannot substitute drug exports.

    Here is the PDF of the Trade Commission report: http://www.usitc.gov/publications/pub3896.pdf, go to page 7, please.

  45. Adam Greenwood on November 3, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    Good man, Nate O. Politics and politicians deserve all the mocking we can give ‘em.

  46. Mark D. on November 3, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    Hellmut,

    Let me get this straight. We should oppose a trade agreement that will measurably improve the welfare of the population both countries because it won’t improve it enough?

  47. Hellmut on November 4, 2008 at 12:51 am

    Life is worth something, Mark. “Let me get this straight,” why would you oppose making the murder of hundreds of people every year an issue? How can that possibly be outrageous?

    Your language indicates a troubling lack of perspective in matters of life and death. It leaves me to wonder how you would feel if you cared about any of the victims.

    An effort to stop the murderous campaign conducted by Columbian police, military and militias easily justifies a no vote in the United States Senate. Passage of the trade accord is in Uribe’s hands. He just needs to prosecute the perpetrators and establish discipline among his security forces and Senator Obama will support the proposal.

    By the way, bringing the rule of law to Columbia will improve Columbia’s economy much more than a tiny improvement of trade rules. Even the Austrian school considers the rule of law a necessary precondition for markets.

    Contracts are meaningless when one party is allowed to resort to violence with impunity.

  48. Hellmut on November 4, 2008 at 1:04 am

    “As for Obama, I think it is probably naive to think his not signing the deal was about labor leaders. It had more to do with the deal coming to a vote in the Spring of 2008. ”

    Frank # 28, may be, I am naive for taking Barack Obama at his word. May be, you are presumptuous for assuming that you can read his mind. All we can do is attribute motive to actors and our allegiances will color such attributions in a systematic manner.

    In other words, it’s an argument that may yield propaganda and self-assurance but is analytically useless.

    Frankly, I don’t care about Barack Obama’s motivation as long as he does the right thing. In Federalist 51, James Madison explained that the American government was designed to balance ambition with ambition.

    If Obama held the Uribe administration accountable for cynical reasons, I will take it. That’s the genius of the American constitution.

  49. Jorge on November 4, 2008 at 2:23 am

    Why are you all so ignorant!!? It is Colombia! Not Columbia! That’s why people in UT always vote straight party.