In the wake of Obama’s departure, the idealism of this fan base has borne an Obama-nostalgia market. While former employees produce biographies, photo books, films, and podcasts, the Millennial staffers turn to memoirs. In his aptly titled 2017 release, Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years, the former speechwriter (and then 24-year-old) David Litt “wrestles with larger ideas of optimism in the face of cynicism,” as The New York Times writes. Meanwhile, this past April a fellow staffer, Pat Cunnane, a senior writer and former deputy director of messaging, released his own book, West Winging It: An Unpresidential Memoir, which is already set up for a potential television show.
Blume has no plans to write a memoir, and she’s a minor character at best in Laskas’s chronicle, appearing in fewer than 10 pages, despite her important role. Since leaving the White House, she now works full-time in communications at an educational nonprofit in D.C. She also spends more than 20 hours of her week on her calligraphy-and-watercolor-illustration business, a craft she began practicing while at the OPC. True to form, she answers all of the questions from her nearly 80 thousand Instagram followers, sometimes holding Instagram story Q&A sessions. She is, however, essentially anonymous in these videos, her mild fame tied only to her art—sweet, colorful cards with messages like “You’re one in a melon” and “Try a little harder to be a little better.” “Nobody who received letters from the correspondence office knew who I was and I didn’t want that,” Blume said.
The final reply to Sheryl was thoughtful, measured—presidential. “In the months ahead, I will keep your letter in mind as I continue to do everything in my power to ensure America remains a place where all of us have the chance to live up to our fullest potential, and where we celebrate the diverse contributions of immigrants across our great Nation,” the president’s response had concluded. Blume often let replies sit for a few days to meditate on their appropriateness, particularly for some of the more heartbreaking pieces. She read them over and over to herself, sometimes aloud.
Once Sheryl’s reply was ready, it went back to Blume’s boss, Reeves, for editing. Then it was sent to the printers, back to Reeves for a final proof, and then to Obama to sign, who on occasion also added a personal note at the bottom. He didn’t need to write much, for his words had already been written.
Near the end of Obama’s second term, the OPC was surprised to learn that the president had requested to take departure photos with everyone on staff. David Litt, the speechwriter, once noted that the president didn’t know his name until his second term. But Obama didn’t know Kolbie Blume’s name until one of the very last days. When the time assigned for her photo finally came, Blume joined the line with her mother, stepdad, husband, and in-laws in tow. She waited, then the doors opened, she walked forward into the yellow Oval Office, someone announced her name—“Kolbie Blume, Office of Presidential Correspondence”—and she shook the president’s soft hand. She wore a white high-necked blouse, a pencil skirt with blue sketch roses, and red lipstick; her light brown hair tapered at the chin. She looked grown up. In the seconds between photographs, Obama told Blume’s mother she must be so proud. Blume had meant to say something meaningful to the president, to let him know what she had done—“It was an honor to respond to the American people on behalf of you”—but she couldn’t find the words.
Quotations from the letter to President Obama are excerpted from To Obama by Jeanne Marie Laskas. Copyright 2018 by Jeanne Marie Laskas. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.