To President Obama on the Next Four Years

President Barack Obama campaigning in Milwaukee. Photo by Callen Harty.

November 13, 2012

Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on your election to a second term. I sincerely hope that as a nation we can set politics aside and all work together to move this country forward. It was your campaign theme and my state’s motto and it is the direction indicated by this most recent election.

It was great to see how many candidates with outdated or out-of-touch ideas about rape and other issues were defeated. It was equally pleasing to see all the Progressives like Elizabeth Warren elected. I was particularly glad to see Wisconsin’s own Tammy Baldwin elected to the Senate and Mark Pocan to the House. I was happy to see the results of referenda around the country on a multitude of issues like gay marriage and emergency financial managers that all leaned forward to the future in positive ways.

Everything on election night told me that America is ready for the changes those on the left have been waiting to see. We are ready to end the wars on drugs and on other nations. We are ready to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people into the melting pot that is America. We are ready to acknowledge climate change and move toward green energy. We are ready to return to an economy and a nation of, by, and for the people rather than of, by, and for the corporate elite. You can help lead us there. I still dare to hope.

When the 2008 election was called I jumped up and down in joy and then I sat down and cried. I was overjoyed that you won, that the Bush era was over, that the election was not stolen, and that remnants of the previous administration would not continue through Republican candidate John McCain. I’ll admit I was not happy with your promise to increase troop presence in Afghanistan, but was happy with your promise to get us out of Iraq and to close Guantanamo. In every other way I believed that night that we would have an entirely fresh start full of hope. I wept with the knowledge that I was living a part of history with the election of our nation’s first-ever African-American President, something I honestly did not expect to see in my lifetime.

You already have plans for health care and the economy and this election I was happy with your promise to extricate us from the mess in Afghanistan. We should never have been there in the first place, we should never have increased our presence there, and bringing our troops home now is still the right thing to do. Thank you for those promises.

But there are other promises not only unfulfilled but as of yet unspoken.  There are issues that were barely touched upon during the campaign that are of vital importance to the core of who we are as a nation.  The way you handle these issues will determine whether your Presidency will be remembered as one that stood for what is right against greed and corruption or one that accepted the dictates of corporate overlords and moneyed interests.  It will determine whether our nation continues to prosper and lead or whether it declines and falls as all empires before it have done.  It will determine whether you stand on moral high ground or descend a road to moral compromise.  My hope is that you are the man who can lead us less with military strength and more with moral courage.

The first issue that wasn’t discussed during the campaign is the need to undo the Defense of Marriage Act. As shown by Maine, Maryland, Washington, and Minnesota, as well as your own stated evolution on the issue, the people of this country are ready for marriage equality. No longer should my love be considered second class. No longer should I have to accept that I am not a full and equal citizen of this republic. I have been in a loving, stable relationship for more than two decades, longer than most marriages last, and I deserve equal treatment under the law.  This nation should move ever forward to achieving the goal of equality for all.

While you briefly mentioned it in your victory speech climate change was not mentioned in any of the debates and barely a blip during the election.  We must acknowledge that the earth is in peril and we need a leader to guide us away from the ecological precipice upon which we now teeter.  Climate change is real.  Coal is not clean.  There are limited supplies of oil.  Our nation should be leading the way forward to green energy with the use of wind and solar power.  Instead we are falling behind Germany, the Netherlands, and countless others.  It is time to invest in power sources that can be replenished and which do not harm our mother earth.

Another important issue is drone warfare. Innocent civilians by the hundreds have been reported killed by American drones and those human lives—mothers and fathers and children—are considered as nothing more than collateral damage. Even if drones only killed enemies of our country as they are supposed to do the idea of killing enemies from a computer screen thousands of miles away makes the act of war seem like a video game with no consequences. Unfortunately in real life you cannot just start over and get new lives and go back to the beginning. Drones kill, and they don’t just kill their intended targets any more than more traditional bombs. Further, the use of drones removes whatever humanity there may be in soldiering. It is not that I want to see those soldiers sent overseas and put in harm’s way; it’s that I don’t want to see anyone in harm’s way, either our soldiers or the citizens of other lands.  It is time for years of peace.  It is time for a new era and a new way of doing things.  I beg you to lead us forward into that world where conversation, compromise, and negotiation are the first tools in a crisis.  America and the rest of the world are ready for it.

As President your primary duty is to uphold the Constitution of the United States.  The signing of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with its allowances for indefinite detention is antithetical to that duty.  In addition, the idea of an American President giving the go-ahead to kill citizens—of our country or others—without the benefit of a trial or the ability to defend themselves in a court of law is antithetical to the Constitution.  The power given to the Presidency to determine whether a person lives or dies, without the necessity of showing proof of a crime, is antithetical to everything that this country has stood for throughout its history.  I urge you to withhold using this power and to urge Congress to repeal it.  While you may not abuse such power others who follow may, and while you may think you will not abuse it as long as the temptation is there the possibility exists that you may.

I believe that you are a good man, but I also believe that a good man can sell his soul too easily.  Presidents are faced with grave decisions every day about war and peace, life and death, whether to give or withhold aid, and more.  I do not envy the decisions you must make in your second term, but I urge you to find your moral compass and be guided by your conscience as a man rather than your power as a President.  I wish you peace, as I wish it for my brothers and sisters all over this world.  Please help bring it to all of us.


Callen Harty

Monona, WI

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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