Updated: May 5, 2021
Have you ever written a letter to a politician? Okay, I know nobody writes actual letters anymore, at least not the type that don't involve electronic data transmission of some type. But I'm talking about the old days, when people used cursive and licked stamps and paid attention to penmanship.
If you ever have composed and sent such a missive, have you ever wondered what happened to it? Say you dashed off a note to the president. Did you picture him (because we're still waiting on the first woman chief executive) tearing into the envelope and settling into a presidential easy chair with a glass of bourbon to read your sage advice? When he finished, did he toss it into the presidential trash or hand it off to an aide to preserve it for posterity? Maybe you imagined Ronald Reagan downing his bourbon, calling Nancy into the room, and saying, "Mommy [yes, he called her that], come hear what my friend Bob in Gatesville has to say about that Iran-Contra mess."
All this is to say that I have written several letters to politicians over the years. I even received a reply once from Bush the Younger when he was governor of Texas explaining why state lotteries are good and Indian casinos are bad. Not that I understood the logic, but hey, at least he tried.
My most memorable letter to a prominent politician wasn't really even a letter; it was a piece of junk mail I received from Rick Perry's gubernatorial re-election campaign. I think because I am a physician, and because physicians historically have leaned to the right, I find a lot of Republican fund raising appeals in my mailbox. The one from Rick Perry for some reason annoyed me enough that I took out a pen and scrawled this helpful piece of advice: "Better brush up on the old resume, Rick, because come November you'll be looking for a new job." I stuck it in the prepaid envelope, mailed it, and promptly forgot about it.
Now, Rick Perry almost certainly did not read my note to his wife over a glass of bourbon. In fact, I'd bet a good amount he never even saw it. But somebody opened it and, rather than discarding it, filed it away. Not long thereafter, I surmise a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman came across it because, one morning as I munched my Wheaties I opened the newspaper to see my name on the front page. It was printed beneath a quote from something I had written: i.e., the friendly job advice I had sent Governor Perry several weeks earlier. For the next few days every one of my colleagues and quite a few of my patients mentioned it, usually just before breaking out in laughter. I chose to believe they were laughing with me.
So, the next time you are tempted to dash off a sarcastic note to a prominent public servant be aware that somebody indeed will read it and file it away. Most likely, that act will bury it forever but, if you're lucky like me, you'll be a star.