The power of writing, according to the forty-fourth president

A picture of President Obama reviewing his handwritten edits to a printed draft of a speech.
A picture of President Obama reviewing his handwritten edits to a printed draft of a speech.
President Obama editing a 2009 speech. Photo credit: Pete Souza/Wikimedia Commons.

This article is the second in a series. Read part one here.

Long before he found politics, Barack Obama found writing. These days, the world knows Obama as an audaciously hopeful (and popular) former head of state, but as Craig Fehrman explained in Literary Hub, “Obama-the-writer came before Obama-the-candidate.” At every stage of Obama’s improbable journey, the act of writing has helped him make sense of the world around him — and understand where his story fits.

Over the past year, I’ve occasionally sought refuge in old profiles and articles about Obama and his presidency. I do so not to wallow in hope-and-change nostalgia or pretend that the present reality isn’t really happening, but rather to find a little perspective and do a little processing. …


In a genuinely free and fair democracy, it would be. That’s not the democracy we have.

A sheet of red, white, and blue “I voted” stickers.
A sheet of red, white, and blue “I voted” stickers.
Photo credit: Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Welcome to the Medium edition of Reframe Your Inbox, a pseudo-semi-monthly(ish) email newsletter in which I share some meandering thoughts on politics, books, work, and life. This article is a lightly edited version of a newsletter I published on October 28, 2020. Subscribe here to get Reframe Your Inbox in (where else?) your inbox.

More phonebanking, less doomscrolling

One housekeeping update to start. This will likely be the last edition of Reframe Your Inbox for a while. I plan to write fewer newsletters and articles, and instead spend these hours on a new book proposal.


Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste” sheds light on the GOP’s head-spinning double standards

A selfie taken by Mike Pence with Republican members of Congress in 2016. Nearly every person in the picture is white.
A selfie taken by Mike Pence with Republican members of Congress in 2016. Nearly every person in the picture is white.
A telling look at the Republican coalition. Mike Pence and congressional Republicans, shortly after the 2016 election. Photo credit: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers on Twitter (via Business Insider)

How do they get away with it?

We asked that question in 2016 when Republicans took the unprecedented step of refusing to consider President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, and chose instead to leave a vacant seat on the nation’s highest court for nearly a year.

We asked that question in 2017 when Republicans, who spent the entire Obama presidency hyperventilating that the federal deficit would drive America toward socialist collapse, took power and immediately passed a $1.5 trillion tax cut for corporations and the wealthy without giving a second thought to how they’d pay for it.

We’ve been asking that question for years, trying to understand how Republican politicians manage to keep a straight face as they righteously proclaim themselves warriors for limited government and individual liberty while lecturing women about what they can and cannot do with their bodies and allowing agents of the state to kill American citizens with impunity. …


Thinking deeply “is not a dismissal of the urgency of the issue,” says Cal Newport. “It’s actually an affirmation of the urgency.”

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Some of Dr. King’s notes for “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Image credit: The King Center Archive via Brainpickings.org.

Welcome to the Medium edition of Reframe Your Inbox, a pseudo-semi-weekly(ish) email newsletter in which I share some meandering thoughts on politics, books, work, and life. This article is a lightly edited version of a newsletter I published on September 20, 2020. Subscribe here to get Reframe Your Inbox in (where else?) your inbox.

Readers of my book, Reframe the Day, and some of my other writing know I’m a fan of Cal Newport’s work. …


Even in an age of instant gratification and “fake it till you make it,” some creators quietly do their work, however long it takes.

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Photo credit: Aaron Burden/Unsplash

Welcome to the Medium edition of Reframe Your Inbox, a pseudo-semi-weekly(ish) email newsletter in which I share some meandering thoughts on politics, work, and life. This article is a lightly edited version of a newsletter I published on September 7, 2020. You can subscribe here to get Reframe Your Inbox in… your inbox.

In January, when I finished reading Isabel Wilkerson’s 2010 book, The Warmth of Other Suns, I was amazed. I also had questions.

How, I wondered, does someone write a book like this? As the subtitle (“the epic story of America’s Great Migration”) suggests, The Warmth of Other Suns is an epic book. It’s epic in every sense of the word. It is iconic, painting one of the defining portraits of the Great Migration. It is unbelievably well-researched. It is a gripping story, describing the journeys and the families of three Black Americans, Ida Mae Gladney, George Starling, and Robert Foster, in the kind of detail that can only come from thousands of hours of interviews. …


Flu fiction lets us peek at the world of worst-case scenarios — and return to reality with a new sense of perspective.

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Photo credit: Huzeyfe Turan on Unsplash

Welcome to the Medium edition of Reframe Your Inbox, a pseudo-semi-weekly(ish) email newsletter in which I share some meandering thoughts on politics, work, and life. This article is a lightly edited version of a newsletter I published on August 25, 2020. You can subscribe here to get Reframe Your Inbox in… your inbox.

An unexpected reading habit

Over the past six months, I’ve read quite a few novels about global plagues and pandemics. Perhaps too many. First came Stephen King’s The Stand. …


Awareness, appreciation, gratitude, presence — now those are some interesting ideas.

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Photo credit: AbsolutVision on Unsplash

Welcome to the Medium edition of Reframe Your Inbox, a pseudo-semi-weekly(ish) email newsletter in which I share some meandering thoughts on politics, work, and life. This article is a lightly edited version of newsletters I published on August 2 and 9, 2020. Head here to sign up to get Reframe Your Inbox in… your inbox.

Making time for interesting ideas

One evening a couple weeks ago, I was washing dishes and listening to Ezra Klein’s podcast, as I do many evenings. On this particular evening, instead of thinking about the interesting ideas that Ezra and his guest were discussing, I was thinking a meta-thought about how enjoyable it is to listen to interesting people discuss interesting ideas. Or read about interesting ideas. …


Two stories about a man who always kept the faith.

A photograph of the late Congressman John Lewis.
A photograph of the late Congressman John Lewis.
Photo credit: Participant Media

“Without a doubt the greatest living American.”

YouTube comments are not usually where one finds a meaningful analysis of American history. Or a compelling argument. Or really anything of substance. But there, underneath a decidedly non-HD video of Congressman John Lewis giving a speech to what I think was a health care advocacy organization, was a line that said it all: “Without a doubt the greatest living American.”

I came across that comment sometime in early 2012, during one of those magical nights when the Internet manages to do exactly what the tech CEOs promise: deliver connection and inspiration, even joy. I was living in a studio apartment in Washington, DC, and working on Capitol Hill while taking graduate school classes in the evenings. I don’t recall what sequence of links led me to that video, which in turn led me down a beautiful online rabbit hole of John Lewis speeches. …


Everything I do takes longer than I think it will (and other early takeaways from Cal Newport’s strategy of “time block” planning).

An open monthly calendar.
An open monthly calendar.
Photo credit: Eric Rothermel on Unsplash

Welcome to the Medium edition of Reframe Your Inbox, a pseudo-semi-weekly(ish) email newsletter in which I share some meandering thoughts on politics, work, and life. This article is a lightly edited version of a newsletter I published on July 21, 2020. You can subscribe here to get Reframe Your Inbox in… your inbox.

A brief reflection on the passing of Congressman John Lewis

As he was for millions of people, John Lewis was my hero. I was lucky enough to spend some time with him on a couple different occasions, including as a young Hill staffer interviewing him for a graduate school essay. …


Some writers and creators might be able to make social media work. I am not one of them.

A light-up sign of an Instagram image with zero “likes.”
A light-up sign of an Instagram image with zero “likes.”
Photo credit: Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

Welcome to the Medium edition of Reframe Your Inbox, a pseudo-semi-weekly(ish) email newsletter in which I share some meandering thoughts on politics, work, and life. This article is a lightly edited version of a newsletter I published on July 14, 2020. You can subscribe here to get Reframe Your Inbox in… your inbox.

What the world needs now is… more reflections on social media

I’ve spent a decent chunk of the last few months trying to re-engage with Instagram and, to a lesser extent, Twitter and LinkedIn. (I never entertained the concept of returning to Facebook.) My goal was to do what I thought I needed to do as the author of a new book: build a platform that would help me spread the word about my book in a not-totally-annoying way. Earlier this month, I made the decision to abandon that effort and return to my previous lifestyle, which involves little to no social media usage at all. I dig into a couple of the reasons why below, but if you’re maxed out on the “why I quit social media” narratives, here’s the takeaway in two short sentences: The question isn’t whether there are any benefits. …

About

Adam M. Lowenstein

Author of “Reframe the Day” & former U.S. Senate speechwriter. I write about politics and life, occasionally at the same time. Subscribe & more: www.adaml.blog.

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