Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Too hard for one man? No, just for THIS man.

One of the advantages of getting older is that when certain fashionable ideas come around, you're able to recognize them from their last appearance.

I pointed this out in a post back in 2009, when the nation suddenly got concerned about swine flu. Being old, I was able to point out that I had lived through a swine flu scare decades before, and like the 21st-century version, it also turned out to be nothing.

Yesterday history repeated itself on the pages of the Washington Post, where Obama apologist Chris Cillizza asked the question, "Is it possible for a president — any president — to succeed in the modern world of politics?" You can read the entire piece here

Cillizza's assertion is that the job of POTUS has become so big and challenging, and the level of media scrutiny so high, that the poor fellow in the Oval Office has little or no chance to succeed. Poor Obama, Cillizza seems to be saying, is the victim of a media environment and demands of the office that just make it impossible for him to succeed.

Even an aging, senility-approaching codger like me recognizes a weak argument that has been used before. That last time the Presidency had become "too big for one man," it was 1980, and it was the old peanut farmer himself, Jimmy Carter, who was in over his head.

"Watching President Carter try to juggle all the contradictory foreign and domestic problems of the nation during a presidential election and an economic recession, you have to wonder who can do it and who can govern America," wrote James Reston in the New York Times.

Reston's colleague at the paper, Tom Wicker, agreed that the job was just too hard. "In the same years when presidential politics changed so greatly, governing did, too. It got harder. The rise of single-interest politics and independent legislators has made it more difficult to put together a governing coalition; sophisticated new lobbying techniques wielded on behalf of virtually every interest group further complicate the task."

Henry Graff, a history professor at Columbia, also used the pages of the Times to argue that being the leader of the free world was too tough a gig for anyone. "The Presidency today is entangled in the great crisis of all established authority," he wrote. The President "is under such relentless scrutiny that he can only seem ordinary, never extraordinary." 

Over at the Washington Post, Walter Shapiro penned a real beauty, saying, "Some voters have entirely discarded textbook notions about presidential greatness and believe that Carter is doing as good a job as anyone could."

The only thing Reston, Wicker, Graff and Shaprio were right about was that the Presidency was too challenging for Jimmy Carter. Turns out other people were up to the task. Fortunately the American public recognized that President Malaise was in over his head, and they turned him out of office the very first chance they got, in November of 1980.

They put Ronald Reagan in the White House, and eight years later no one was asking if the presidency was too big for one man to handle.

It turns out that it takes a particularly small man to make the office look overwhelming, and for the second time in 32 years, we've found one.


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