The day after his inauguration he gets a phone call from his predecessor to ask him how things are going. Now, it was a war of attrition that year and a hard-fought victory for the new President, but the Oval Office looks a lot different from the leather chair than it does from the other side of the desk. In a moment of kindred connection, he says to his former adversary, “It’s a big job. I have an agenda, but I don’t know where to start.”
The other guy laughs a little and says that it is a big job, but if he’s man enough to win the election he’s man enough to run the country. But just in case, in the top center drawer of the desk in the oval office, there are three envelopes. If he doesn’t know what to do next, just open the first envelope.
The new president thanked his former adversary, and hung up – certain he would never really need the envelopes. He started to work with his new cabinet and advisors, and while he tried to make good on his promises, making real advances was nearly impossible. And after a few months, his poll numbers started to slide. Then about Christmas of the first year, the bottom fell out of his first major policy change and he found himself alone in the oval office on Christmas eve not too sure what to do next.
Just then, he remembered the three envelopes, and he opened the center drawer of the desk – half-expecting to find it empty. But there they were, numbered 1-2-3, in very fresh-looking Presidental stationary from the previous administration. So he took envelope 1 out and held it for a second, thinking it might be a prank of some kind of biochemical revenge tactic from his former adversary who might just hold a grudge. But he held to up to the light and could see a single piece of paper in there, so he opened the envelop and read these three words:
BLAME YOUR PREDECESSOR
The next morning he showed up at the daily White House briefing, and after a few words from his press secretary he gave a brief but impassioned statement that framed the problems of the country in terms of the last administration. If things were every going to change, the old ways of the last president had to be pushed over – and he needed the help of the American people to do it.
The brief statement went over like gang-busters, and his poll numbers shot up. He pressed forward with a modified legislative agenda which many people supported as he governed a little more to the center, and for the next year his agenda made some forward headway. However, taxes went up, employment waivered, and his poll number started to slip. Again.
On the eve of his second Christmas, a bombshell revelation was released to the media that several of his cabinet members had shady dealings while in office, and he was himself a little ashamed of them – even though he knew in his heart he might have done the same thing in their shoes. It was going to take a renewed center of energy to fight the fight necessary to continue to make progress and refute allegations that his administration was simply corrupt. He wasn’t sure he had it in him, and he didn’t know what to do.
Then he remembered the envelopes. The first had worked so well, he thought maybe there was some strategic prophecy in the others. He took out the second envelope and opened it, and the message said:
BLAME THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES
As the words sunk in, they made perfect sense to him – the problem wasn’t his but the problem of people just being down-right un-leadable. Especially those who opposed his agenda.
The next morning he showed up at the daily White House briefing, and after a few words from his press secretary he gave a brief but impassioned statement that framed the problems of the country in terms of the lack of charity, compassion and wisdom of those who were making charges against him and his administration. If things were every going to change, the old ways of the last president had to be pushed over – and he needed the agreement of the American people to do it.
The brief statement went over like gang-busters, and his poll numbers shot up. Again. He pressed forward with a legislative agenda which some people supported as he governed a little more to the center still, and for the next year his agenda made some forward headway. However, his message of “us vs. them” left a lot of people cold – all politicians talk that way, and they thought they elected a leader they could trust to lead the whole nation and not just the few who agreed with him.
On the eve of his third Christmas in office, his poll numbers were simply pathetic – and it was time to run for re-election in earnest. But his agenda was now a lot more moderate than it used to be, and his ability to lead a coalition was severely compromised by his message against his enemies. He wasn;t sure how to proceed – and then he remembered the last envelope.
He opened the drawer and paused for a moment, wondering for a second if he was the first president to ever receive these pearls of wisdom, and somewhat perplexed by his former adversary’s intentions in leaving those envelopes for him. He paused to consider whether he should follow the advice on a letter-sized envelope from someone who was his political enemy. But he realized he didn’t have any idea where to start the new year, so he opened the envelope.