An Obama postscript

In a book to be published this week, Jeanne Marie Laskas tells the story of the ten thousand letters a day Americans wrote to President Obama. “Every evening for eight years,” the publisher recalls, “at his request, President Obama was given ten handpicked letters written by ordinary American citizens—the unfiltered voice of a nation—from his Office of Presidential Correspondence.” And Laskas reports that President Obama responded in his fashion.

The Spectator’s Francis Wheen suffered through the book on behalf of those of us who will probably give it a pass in our too short lives. Wheen describes the first three-quarters of the 400-page book as “300 pages of raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, with the author and her interviewees marvelling at everyone’s sheer loveliness[.]”

Wheen then relates the author’s shocked discovery on the day after Donald Trump’s election to the presidency that Obama himself did not actually respond to the letters. Obama’s “seemingly heartfelt replies were the pastiches of a clever 23-year-old.” Wheen puts it this way:

All this time Laskas has led us to believe that her beloved Barack answered the [ten letters a day, or] LADs himself. In a distant White House cubby-hole, however, she belatedly discovers Kolbie Blume, a 23-year-old who wrote most of his replies. Having taught herself to mimic Obama’s inflections by listening to his speeches, Kolbie could instantly ventriloquise a perfectly pitched “personal response” whenever Obama scribbled REPLY.

For Laskas, this is almost as traumatic as Trump’s victory. She thinks of the heartfelt replies from Obama that she quoted earlier with such admiration. “I suppose Kolbie was the one who actually wrote them.” How can she keep her faith? Easy: “I didn’t ask Kolbie about any of those letters specifically. This was inching way too deep into Santa Claus territory.”

All in all, a perfect postscript.

NOTE: Laskas first wrote about the subject of her book last year in this New York Times Magazine article. Rachael Allen profiled Kolbie Blume for the Atlantic last month in “The 22-Year-Old Who Wrote Barack Obama’s Letters.”