It’s election time again, so let me tell you a story.
There was once a charming, and idealistic, young politician. She had paid her dues, worked the campaign trail and now she was running for the senate. It had been a long time coming but now she was close. The night of the election she eagerly awaited the results of the polls. Finally when the votes were all counted she was shocked and elated to discover that she had won by a landslide. Her manager, her team, and her family were as happy as they could be. Not long after that, her rival’s office called to concede defeat. In response she took to her podium and delivered the most important speech of her life. Her victory speech was inspired and inspirational. She talked about reform, and she thanked all of the people who had got her this far. She vowed to protect human rights, increase jobs, use government funds for important public service projects, and cut back on unnecessary spending.
Yet sometime later that night she got a call from her former rival. It seems that the old senator wanted to sit down and have a chat with her. She saw no harm in this and so she set up a meeting for the next available afternoon.
A few days later she found herself sitting across from the now geriatric old senator, in the very office that was due to become hers in just a few months. The old senator seemed relieved that the election was over and assured her that there were no hard feelings. In fact, he had asked her there in order to give her a gift, congratulating her on her victory. The old man then produced two sealed envelopes. They bore no discernible markings and seemed to be ordinary in every way, except that one envelope had the number one written on it, and the other had the number two.
The old senator handed them across his desk to the young woman who was to replace him and he then explained what they were for.
“When I took this office over 30 years ago, the man who was senator before me gave me 2 letters. He said that if I should ever find myself in a jam, in a scandal, or in a great big old political mess that I should open the first letter and do what it says. When I asked him what the second letter was for, he just told me that if the first letter didn’t help me out then the second letter surely would.”
Then having ended his little speech the old senator wished the young woman a good day, and their meeting was over.
She took office a few months later and so began her first term, a term rocked by difficulties.
Within a year she had found herself embroiled in an economic crisis about legislation that would resolve a dispute between worker’s rights and owner’s rights. She had actually become a kind of figurehead for the legislation and as such she found herself relentlessly attacked by the media. As often happens, the negative publicity created just enough tension to end up killing the bill before it even came up for a vote. Her colleagues were angry, and her approval ratings dipped. She felt absolutely unsure of herself and began to wonder how she could ever repair the damage caused by this political failure.
Then she remembered the letters given to her by the old senator. So she decided to take his advice and she opened the envelope marked only by the number one. Inside she read these few simple words, handwritten on a piece of otherwise blank paper. “Blame it all on your predecessor.”
She took the advice of the letter and laid the failure for her legislation on the man who had held the office before her. She claimed that his office had already laid the groundwork for the legislation, but that they had done such a bad job of it that despite her best efforts it had been impossible to salvage. A little creative journalism found that the former senator had in fact backed similar legislation. She was fully vindicated before she had been in office even two years.
Yet time passes, and success in politics can come and go with the changing winds. She found herself committed to a landmark piece of legislation regarding some cutting edge medical research. It was a huge issue for the pharmaceutical companies, but an even bigger issue for the religious interest groups. The researchers stood to make huge breakthroughs in treating certain diseases and the drug companies wanted to cash in on the new pills. The religious interest groups saw the research, and the resulting drugs, as violating a basic moral right. Once again, despite her best efforts, the bill fell through. This time the fallout was even worse than before.
It had happened during the year that she was up for re-election, and now her opponents were making her out to be a heartless money grubbing monster. It was even rumored that she had taken bribe money from the drug companies and that several of them were secretly funding her campaign for re-election.
So it was that she found herself working late one night in her office, with only a few short weeks left to campaign. The polls showed that she was heavily favored to lose and she was desperate for any leverage she could find. As she was digging through her paperwork she stumbled across an envelope that had nothing on it except the number two.
A ray of hope seemed to shine as she remembered the old senator’s advice. She could no longer blame anything on her predecessor, not now that she had been in office for a complete term. Yet since that first letter would no longer help her then she desperately hoped that this second letter would.
With trembling fingers she carefully opened up the envelope. Inside the envelope was a very old piece of paper. It looked like something from the archives at a museum. It was cracked, yellow, and it felt very fragile. Three words had been written on it, written in a flowing script and style that harkened back to a time when all writing was done by hand with ink and quills. The young senator squinted in the dim light of her office. She carried the letter over to a desk lamp and turned the lamp on in order to see better. The lamp illuminated the message of the second letter with the clarity of a rising sun.
It said, “Write two letters.”
My thanks to the writers for the film “Traffic”, Simon Moore and Stephen Gaghan, for coming up with the original version of this story in their film.