Dear Mr. President,
Tonight I was in a relatively empty bar in downtown with five of my female friends. An older gentleman came over to our table and offered to buy us a round of drinks. He said this was because he'd been listening to a speech earlier that declared women, especially young women, to be responsible for the coming ascendancy of American global influence. This man, who identified himself as the former Mayor of Burbank, California, began telling us about his life; growing up in California, going to Vietnam in the 60's, meeting President Reagan, even a little about his college-age children. He said that he can't stand talking to white men, anymore, because minorities and women are the future.
A google search confirmed his identity, but what struck me most about this man was not his former job, but the sound of relief in his voice. He, at several points during his story, apologized for the baby boomers "messing everything up." He seemed eager to pass the baton of responsibility for society to women, as though the millennium of male dominance was a burden he had been carrying his whole life. At several points, I actually felt pity for this man. It is one thing to be disenfranchised, to feel powerless and unrepresented and unable to change the world when you feel it's going the wrong way. But to have power; to be a rich, white, politically active man with education and connections; to have all of this and wake up one morning 68 and appalled at the state of the world must be an entirely different form of frustration. Who can this man blame, if not himself? He has had his time, his chance at creating the world he'd want his children to inherit, and he feels he has failed. It's a new generation's turn, and all he can do is sit back and buy us drinks, hope that we can listen past his slurred references to Casablanca and take to heart what he is saying.
I don't know. Maybe he's just a creepy old man who saw six women his daughter's age and thought he'd impress us with stories of movie stars and his encounters with the Joint Chiefs. But I think that, in his own clumsy way, he was asking for something more than just our attention. He wanted to explain himself, to justify a life even he wasn't sure had been lived as well as it could have been; to ask that we, and those with whom we would inherit the future, not judge him too harshly. I couldn't help, as I was listening to this man, to think of my own father, or even President Bush. Men who could not hide behind the excuse of powerlessness, but who lacked the courage to use their power to the right ends. Do they, too, feel guilty about their legacies? Do they look ahead, hoping that redemption will somehow be found in the lives of their children?
As we left the bar, wise enough to know that nothing is given freely, we each wondered what those drinks had really cost, and what, exactly, he thought he was buying. What will we be like, at 68? How many disappointed hopes will we try to explain away to strangers? While I still believe that I'd rather govern myself than be governed by some one like this man, listening to him made me hesitate, for a moment, and wonder if I'm ready for the responsibility of that kind of burden.
I suppose I don't ask many direct questions in these letters, Mr. President, which is in part due to the plethora of information about you readily available, but mostly because I know I have little right to expect a response. So forgive the personal nature of this inquiry, but the events of tonight make me wonder, what are the things you regret, Mr. President? Perhaps more importantly, what are the things you fear you'll regret at the end of your Presidency?