An open letter to Michelle Obama

Dear Ms. Obama,

I take you at your word that you have no wish to be a candidate for vice president on the ticket with Joe Biden. No one can fairly blame you. You have already given eight years of your life to serving the country and our people with self-sacrifice and devotion. And remembering the mud, the indecent, almost inhuman campaign they dragged you through last time, no one should ask you to reconsider, except …

I have a dream in which I ask you — one Martha’s Vineyard resident to another — what if we reframe the question?

Would you rather be vice president for the next four years under Joe Biden … or a private citizen with Donald Trump as president?

You are admired, even beloved, both at home and globally. You are universally respected for your character and values and commitment. While there are other qualified possible candidates, most people believe you are our best chance to prevent Trump’s re-election, by far.

The stakes are much too important to take a chance.

Please, help make America America again.

An important moment in American history …

In 1944, it was clear that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s health had deteriorated badly. Ordinarily the most robust of men, he now often looked tired, drawn, gray. His famous energy had become a sometime thing. 

A fourth term promised to be singularly stressful. He said repeatedly he didn’t want to run — not everyone believed him — but he made clear that after 12 extraordinarily arduous years as president, fighting the Great Depression, the war, and dealing with other responsibilities beyond number, “all that is in me cries out to go back to my home on the Hudson River, to avoid public responsibilities, and to avoid also the publicity which in our democracy follows every step of the nation’s chief executive.” 

But the war was still to be won, as was the peace to follow, and FDR was unwilling to entrust those responsibilities to the Republican nominee, Thomas E. Dewey, for whom he had unvarnished disdain. He knew he might not survive another term in the most demanding job in the world, but he ran. 

He told a concerned friend, “In war, the life of any one person means nothing.”

Ten weeks after his fourth Inauguration, on April 12, 1945, FDR died. By then the war was virtually won — Germany would surrender within a month, Japan less than four months after that — and in the brief time left to him, he had successfully negotiated with Stalin and Churchill the creation of the United Nations, leaving the world a better, safer place.

Today we are again at war. Unmistakably so. 

We have a president hellbent on dismantling or betraying everything that unites us, all that we care about and believe in. If he is not stopped at the ballot box, he has given fair warning the next four years will be even worse. Far, far worse. And this may be one time he is telling the truth.

How much more can America endure and still be America?

As long as there is even the remotest chance Trump could win re-election, we must lead with all our strength, which means you.

Biden has said that if you were willing, he’d take you as his running mate “in a heartbeat. She’s brilliant. She knows her way around. She is a really fine woman. The Obamas are great friends.” He worries only that you wouldn’t agree. “I don’t think she has any desire to live in the White House again.”

Still, it could be an opportunity only you could take fullest advantage of. You could ask him to make you responsible for children, say, for their health and nutrition and safety and education and student loans and opportunities in life. You could make an enormous difference in millions of lives.

In 2008, my wife and I went to Iowa to campaign for Barack Obama. There we met Joe Biden’s mother, a remarkable and lovely woman, still vibrant in her wheelchair at age 90, beating the drum for her son. We loved the time we spent with her, and mourned when she died two years later, age 92.

In 2012 we attended a small fundraiser where now–Vice President Biden was campaigning for re-election. Passing through the obligatory reception line for a quick greeting and photo, we took our moment to say how much we had admired his mother, how proud and happy she had been to be his mother, and how sorry we were to hear of her passing.

The vice president said to his aide, ‘Please stop the line. I want to talk to these people.’

He escorted us a few feet away for privacy: “Wasn’t she wonderful! And do you know, in addition to everything else, I wouldn’t be here tonight, wouldn’t be vice president, without her.”

In 2008, he went on, after Obama had secured the nomination, he asked Biden to run as his vice president. Biden thanked him but said no. He didn’t want to be vice president, but more than that, he told Obama, he could be more useful to him in the Senate where, after six terms, he had risen to the top of the critical committees on Justice and Foreign Relations, where he would always have Obama’s back.

All well and good, Obama said, but first he had to be elected. His feeling was the 2008 election might hinge on one state, Pennsylvania, which was very much in play; having Biden, who’d been born in Scranton and had kept close connections with the state, on the ticket with him could make the difference. He asked Biden to reconsider but Biden again said thank you but no.

Obama persisted. He knew Biden discussed every big decision with his family. Would he talk to them, and then, if the answer was still no, Obama promised to accept it. 

That Sunday Biden sat with his wife and children and mother around the breakfast table, and told them about Obama’s offer and his refusal. As he finished, Biden said, “My mother was looking at me strangely, I thought.”

“There’s something I’m not understanding, Joe. When you graduated from college and law school, you had offers for good jobs, good salaries, good opportunities. But you decided to go into public service, and I’ll never forget why. You said the reason you were getting all these wonderful opportunities was that your background had made it possible, and those who had unfairly not been given the same chances you had — because they were black, say, or couldn’t afford college — would in other circumstances be equally deserving and equally qualified. And you wanted to work to see they had that chance. I thought that was wonderful.

“Now a black man you love and admire has come to you and asked your help in getting a job — a very important job — and you’re telling him no. And I don’t understand why.”

Biden said, “I looked at my mother for what I’m sure seemed a long time before I picked up the phone.

“‘Barack? It’s Joe. I’m in.’”

I have a dream, Ms. Obama. You are sitting around the kitchen table talking to your husband and daughters and your mother. Then you go to the phone and dial.

“Joe? It’s Michelle. I’m in.”

 

David W. Rintels is past president of the Writers Guild of America West, and a three-time Emmy Award winner. His hit Broadway play “Clarence Darrow” was scheduled to be revived at the Vineyard Playhouse this summer, until COVID-19 had other ideas. He and his wife, writer Victoria Riskin, are year-round residents of West Tisbury.