My uncle from NoCal started grumbling about a year ago - as if it were some carefully considered opinion that independent deep thinkers had been developing over the years and were offering as a potential Narrative For Our Age - that perhaps the American presidency was just too complicated for any one person to really manage well. I suspect they are imagining how this will begin to work it's way into American Government textbooks as a thought-provoking question at the end of the chapter. Write it yourself.
It's the perfect topic of discussion for a dilettante like me. (Thank you, spell-check. Double consonants are my downfall.) You can spin some theory on the basis of broad but vague knowledge - a management article you read three months ago, a few cliches about the Roman Empire, some quotes from Roosevelt, some statistics on the GDP and the size of the federal government compared to Fortune 500 companies, plus a few personal anecdotes from your own career, and heck, you can go on for 30 minutes straight on that topic. Piece o' cake.
So the momentum builds slowly over the year, and I am hearing it more and more: "Maybe the presidency is just too much for any one person. There's just so much to do."
Really? Governing is hard? It takes some skill? Maybe even some...experience? Nah, that couldn't be it. It's just too much for even a brilliant person to do.
Set-up. There are two groups of liberals that fall outside the beard-stroking-deep-thought-of-the-month category. There are essentially moderate people who think that some liberal ideas are quite good but temper that with some distance, some influence from other gravitational fields, such as their upbringing or their jobs, that keep them from being fully captured in the current liberal fashion orbit. And, there are folks of genuinely curious disposition, who may have absorbed a lot of liberal assumptions along the way but are always looking for new angles and interpretations (so long as they don't originate from any of the despised groups). I exempt both groups from the following generalisations, only giving the caution that if you believe you are in one of these exempt groups, what makes you so sure? They're small.
NPR is a mixed bag here. They bring in some expert commentators who just might fall into the second exempt group. Not anyone completely off the reservation, of course, but people who like hanging out at the edge of the liberal circle, gazing out onto the other 80% of the population for novel understandings or examining the driftwood that washes up on liberal shores. OTOH, NPR puts many of the inner circle thinkers on display - folks who have no clue that they don't represent 90% of the smart people, and have no awareness of any driftwood.
On to today. My father-in-law always saves his magazines for us, and we saw him for Thanksgiving and took some home. Right on cue, just after the election, as even liberals are beginning to get the idea that Obama has basically accomplished one thing, health insurance reform, and that's falling apart - Newsweek has a cover with Obama as Shiva, the Indian deity with many arms, holding money, a globe, a military helicopter, a house, with the tag line "Is The Modern Presidency Too Much For Any One Person To Handle?"
It is not so much the question itself. It's rather an interesting question actually. It's the utter predictability of the question being raised now. I haven't checked the Hillary sites, but they must be spitting mad at this point. The incurious liberals, the ones who go into journalism and popular books, and the people who read them with the idea that they are being exposed to the great questions of the age, are utterly predictable. Far more than fundamentalists (who are a pretty ununified group perpetually arguing with each other about ever-smaller points, actually), they are a people told what to believe and they believe it. The trick is that it's artful and indirect, giving them the illusion that they are coming up with these great new discussion topics, rather than the preacher's overt declarations. The new spin comes with humor, and cleverness, posed as a question* or sold as a fashion.
So, you'll be catching a lot of this wise opinion over the next year or two, not on the Sunday morning shows where it's not catchy enough, but in thoughtsy interviews on NPR, or dropped into editorials, or mentioned in response to any suggestion that Obama isn't really getting a lot accomplished. Golly, there's just so much a president has to keep track of, and we stupid citizens expect him to do it all. Those corporate interests are just so powerful, and there are just so many of us now, and we're an advanced industrial nation with all sorts of new technologies. Maybe we need a new constitution, too.
*I wrote about the dishonesty of the "note of interrogation" last March, in the context of a Chesterton essay on pacifists asking near the end of WWI, when victory was finally in sight "Can we win?"