Posted at 01:17 PM ET, 10/21/2011

President Obama wrote checks to struggling Americans, according to Washington Post book

President Obama has often been labeled professorial and aloof, a commander-in-chief who has had trouble connecting to the struggles of ordinary Americans, and trouble emoting.
President Barack Obama reads one of 10 letters from the public selected for his personal reading from the volume of mail he receives. (Pete Souza)

But a new book by Washington Post reporter Eli Saslow offers a small window into Obama’s thinking as he hears from ordinary Americans. Each day, Obama reads ten letters that are carefully selected and offer a representative sampling of the 20,000 missives that arrive each day at the the White House for Obama.

It’s a humble, old-fashioned thing to do, writing to a president in a text- message era. Yet the letters are Obama’s eyes-and-ears as to what’s going on across the country.

“I can’t think of any other means through which Obama connects so directly to people’s everyday lives,” Saslow e-mailed me.

In his book “Ten Letters,” Saslow writes of the growing disconnect that Obama felt between the urgency of people’s problems and the slow grind of government in Washington.

From an excerpt:

A few times during his presidency, Obama admitted, he had written a personal check or made a phone call on the writer’s behalf, believing that it was his only way to ensure a fast result. “It’s not something I should advertise, but it has happened,” he told [Saslow]. Many other times, he had forwarded letters to government agencies or Cabinet secretaries after attaching a standard, handwritten note that read: “Can you please take care of this?”

“Some of these letters you read and you say, ‘Gosh, I really want to help this person, and I may not have the tools to help them right now,’ ” the president said. “And then you start thinking about the fact that for every one person that wrote describing their story, there might be another hundred thousand going through the same thing. So there are times when I’m reading the letters and I feel pained that I can’t do more, faster, to make a difference in their lives.”

Saslow, who met with the president for 30 minutes in February, e-mailed me that “even a year after [Obama] had read some of these letters, he still remembered the details of these people’s lives.”

“Some of the letters in the book have truly been transformative for [Obama]. One helped him pass health care; one formed the climax of a major education speech; one, from a conservative in Plano, compelled him to hand write a two page reply about civility and bipartisanship.”

“And Obama’s replies were also totally transformative in return: a cleaning woman in Ohio became penpals with the president while fighting leukemia with a 30 percent chance to live: a fourth grader in a Kentucky housing project became an icon for school reform.”

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By  |  01:17 PM ET, 10/21/2011

 
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