Too Big a Job?

Daniel Stone’s weekend article from Newsweek on the sheer scope and impossibility of the modern-day presidency is fascinating reading:

Obama has looked to many models of leadership, including FDR and Abraham Lincoln, two transformative presidents who governed during times of upheaval. But what’s lost in those historical comparisons is that both men ran slim bureaucracies rooted in relative simplicity. Neither had secretaries of education, transportation, health and human services, veterans’ affairs, energy, or homeland security, nor czars for pollution or drug abuse, nor televisions in the West Wing constantly tuned to yammering pundits. They had bigger issues to grapple with, but far less managing to do.

National Review’s Jonah Goldberg says this should come as a surprise to no one, as “Too Much Job for One Man” is just the latest (and expected) response from the media to their Golden Boy’s struggles.

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I understand that there may be political reasons for Newsweek’s (and the White House’s) recent highlighting of the incredibly overwhelming obligations of being President.  And I’m not quite sure what the solution would be, even if we were to assume that everything suggested in the article is completely agenda-less. But some of the numbers and details mentioned are more than a bit staggering.

Nowadays, six aides is roughly the number Barack Obama has to handle incoming mail—a small fraction of the 469 employees who work in the White House Office and councils for domestic and economic policy, the core staff of the presidency. Other officials include an ethics adviser, a special assistant for “mobility and opportunity policy,” a director of African-American media, and a special assistant for financial markets, to name just a few.

On the spring day that Obama signed his health-care-reform law, for instance, he also had an economic briefing on unemployment, discussions about financial reform, a meeting at the Department of the Interior, a quick lunch, a meeting with senior advisers and then with Senate leaders on ratification of a new nuclear-nonproliferation treaty with Russia, and an Oval Office summit with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on devising a model for Middle East peace.

It is small wonder that the “before and after” pictures of recent presidents show such a marked physical decline between the time when they first take office and when they depart. Sure, government’s too big, and cutting down on some of that would help presidents greatly in “coping” with the job, I suspect. (Getting rid of the “Special Assistant for Mobility and Opportunity Policy” might be a good place to start.)

But the country (and the Presidential obligations) are enormous. Is it too much for any one man? (And even if it’s not, is it still too much to ask?)


  • Joseph Susanka

    Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming — “where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks” — he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

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