The Atlantic: The Education of Bill Oliver. “How a letter to Barack Obama tells the story of two strangers who became family, and one lifelong Republican’s journey to a new kind of patriotism.” By Jeanne Marie Laskas.
“Word came that President Barack Obama wanted to see some of the mail just the day after he took office. Mike Kelleher was the director of the Office of Presidential Correspondence (OPC). He got the call from the Oval saying the president wanted to see five letters. Then they called back with a correction. The president wanted to see 15 letters. They called back one more time. He wanted to see 10 that day, and every day.
“It was a small gesture, I thought, at least to resist the bubble,“ Obama later told me. “It was a way for me to, every day, remember that what I was doing was not about me. It wasn’t about the Washington calculus. It wasn’t about the political scoreboard. It was about the people who were out there living their lives, who were either looking for some help or angry about how I was screwing something up.“
And why should the president be the only one reading 10 letters a day? What about everyone else in the West Wing? Surely Obama’s advisers and senior staff could benefit from seeing this material.
Fiona Reeves, an OPC staffer who soon became the office’s director, developed a distribution list, kept adding to it. Letters to the president, dozens of them, just popping into people’s inboxes. Why not? And not just the 10LADs—the president’s 10 letters a day—but also others from the sample piles. “We send out batches of letters we think are striking,“ she said. At first she worried about being an annoyance, but then she got bold. “I hope people read them; that’s why I spam them. But I mean, they don’t have to read them.“
They did. Soon people started asking why they weren’t on the distribution list. The people in OPC came to know which people in the West Wing were particularly tuned in to the letters. The OPC staff came to regard these people as special agents, ambassadors, and they had a name for them: Friends of the Mail.”