Quick Takes: “It Is the Soul That Must Be Preserved”

* Here is Obama’s last act as President of the United States:

Today, the President granted commutation to 330 individuals. The President has now granted commutation to a total of 1,715 individuals, including 568 people who had been sentenced to life in prison. The vast majority of these men and women are serving unduly long sentences for drug crimes. With today’s action, the President has granted more commutations than any president in this nation’s history and has surpassed the number of commutations granted by the past 13 presidents combined. The President set out to reinvigorate clemency, and he has done just that…

To the President’s 1,715 commutation recipients and 212 pardon recipients – you have been granted a second chance because the President sees the potential in you. After reviewing each of your stories, the President concluded that you have taken substantial steps to remedy your past mistakes and that you are deserving of a second chance. You and your stories have been essential to the President’s successful exercise of his clemency authority. Stories of rehabilitation and growth, of families reunited, and lives turned around – these are the stories that demonstrate why our nation is a nation of second chances.

* The President also wrote us all a thank you letter.

But before I leave my note for our 45th president, I wanted to say one final thank you for the honor of serving as your 44th. Because all that I’ve learned in my time in office, I’ve learned from you. You made me a better President, and you made me a better man.

Throughout these eight years, you have been the source of goodness, resilience, and hope from which I’ve pulled strength. I’ve seen neighbors and communities take care of each other during the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes. I have mourned with grieving families searching for answers — and found grace in a Charleston church…

I’ve seen you, the American people, in all your decency, determination, good humor, and kindness. And in your daily acts of citizenship, I’ve seen our future unfolding.

All of us, regardless of party, should throw ourselves into that work — the joyous work of citizenship. Not just when there’s an election, not just when our own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime.

I’ll be right there with you every step of the way.

And when the arc of progress seems slow, remember: America is not the project of any one person. The single most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.’ ‘We the People.’ ‘We shall overcome.’

Yes, we can.

* By way of logistics, the White House has published a helpful guide to where information on the Obama administration will be archived and the transition of social media accounts.

* As we approached this last day of the Obama presidency, my mind kept returning to some advice Alice Walker shared with him a few days after he was elected in 2008.

I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play with your gorgeous wife and lovely daughters. And so on. One gathers that your family is large. We are used to seeing men in the White House soon become juiceless and as white-haired as the building; we notice their wives and children looking strained and stressed. They soon have smiles so lacking in joy that they remind us of scissors. This is no way to lead. Nor does your family deserve this fate. One way of thinking about all this is: It is so bad now that there is no excuse not to relax. From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real success, which is all that so many people in the world really want. They may buy endless cars and houses and furs and gobble up all the attention and space they can manage, or barely manage, but this is because it is not yet clear to them that success is truly an inside job. That it is within the reach of almost everyone…

Because, finally, it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to earth, to peoples, to animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies. And your smile, with which we watch you do gracious battle with unjust characterizations, distortions and lies, is that expression of healthy self-worth, spirit and soul, that, kept happy and free and relaxed, can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.

* As a bookend to that…

* Finally, as for what comes next, I’ll leave you with this from Mike Luckovich.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.