August 19, 2008

An Open Letter to Tom Ridge

Posted in Current Events, In the news, Political Punditry tagged at 9:16 am by R

Hi Tom. You probably don’t remember me, but we go WAAAAY back.

Remember back at the start of the Gulf War (1991-ish) you did a town hall meeting in McKean, PA’s firehouse? This was when you were still the Congressman for Erie County.

All the local media were there and lots of people asked questions because they were worried about what a war in the Middle East would mean here at home.

And then you took the time to answer my question. I was only about seven, so I was just a munchkin who had to stand on a chair to be heard and seen. My mom, Natalie Stewart-Smith (who worked with Michelle on the Erie County Historical Society and with you on a number of Veteran’s issues) tells me that I really wanted to ask you:

“What can President Bush do to stop the war?”

(Pretty good for a second-grader, right!)

At 6’4, you’re a tall guy, so you bent down in front of me while I was still standing on the chair, making us almost the same height and then you did the most amazing thing — answered my question like I was an adult. I believe that the answer was something to the effect of:

If someone went to your neighbor’s house down the street and tried to hurt them, you folks would go to help your friends, wouldn’t they?

My keen political and public relations spin detector went into high-gear as I sat back down in my mom’s lap and whispered:

He didn’t really answer my question did he mom?

Regardless of the answer, this was an important moment in my life, whether you (or I!) realized it or not. It was my first experience in PR — because let’s face it, that was an awesome photo op (big politician comes down to little girl’s level for honest foreign policy talk) — which is how I ended up where I am now. I’m sure you didn’t know it, but you pointed me on the path to my vocation.

But back to you. Your entire political career (yes, I’ve followed it closely) has been about honesty and unwavering beliefs that you consistently stand by. It’s obvious that you’re a man who is not afraid of a challenge or the hard work that comes with it. While it was an impossible task, your tenure as Secretary of Homeland Security immediately following 9/11 showcased your drive to do, not talk. It also displayed the faith your party and your peers have in you.

You’re a conundrum Tom Ridge, because I always think about what your PR strategy is when you’re with the press. But you don’t have one beyond being honest. That’s why you’re frustrating. And that’s why you’re awesome.

There’s talk of you being a candidate for Vice President alongside John McCain. You’d be a great choice. He needs someone to be his guidepost, someone firm in their beliefs and sense of self. Even if that doesn’t pan out (again — imagine how different [read:better] the world might be if it had been you instead of Cheney) I hope you keep talking, keep being honest, keep answering eight or nine year-olds’ questions in a way that makes them feel important and inspires them to be engaged in the political process. It’s the best PR strategy I’ve seen yet.




  1. themediapush said,

    What an awesome story! Actually brought a tear to my eye and remember when I knew “the world of PR and promotion” was my calling…My parents owned a tree nursery and I wanted to help out on Mothers Day weekend (busy time in Michigan because trees are blooming and people are planting.) I went out and picked flower blooms from different potted trees and handed them out at “gifts” to women who came through the garden shop. The women loved it and most every one of them asked to see the tree the flowers came from (and some bought the tree). My dad was upset at first because I was cutting off flowers, but when he saw how interested his customers were after seeing a ten-year old pass out flowers, he trusted my advice with all his little promotion campaigns.

  2. Len Gutman said,

    What brought a tear to my eye is that you were only 7 in 1991! Dang girl you’re a pup. How’d you get so smart so young? 😉

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