Forget about the controversy surrounding Newsweek's latest cover, which depicts President Barack Obama as the Hindu god Shiva, let's take a look at the broader point the liberal magazine was making: that "the modern presidency may be too much for one person to handle."
Besides offending the entire Hindu religion (which frowns on the use of its deities for promotional purposes), Newsweek submits that with all the issues swirling around the Oval Office and the lack of substantial downtime upon which the president has to ruminate on them, no single person can handle it all. The writer contends, after consulting numerous presidential historians, that the office is just "too bloated."
While the piece, written by Daniel Stone, is an honest look at the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, it also lacks the proper balance, which an article of this breadth and magnitude should naturally include. In many ways, it comes across as a 2,087-word apology for the many mistakes, gaffes and errors in judgment that the Obama administration has made over the last two years.
Stone depicts the modern president (in this case, Obama) as an overwhelmed and exhausted executive who exudes a cool exterior but inwardly struggles with the unrelenting, ever-escalating demands of the office. Stone ends somewhat abruptly and inconclusively. "It's hard to imagine how the office could sizably shrink" he writes, before quoting a Boston College professor who says "Presidents ought to give more thought to their cabinet choices, and then give them a little more deference."
In fairness, this article is aimed specifically at the presidency, but Stone fails to look at the bigger picture and the chief executive's role in it. The reality is that the broad reach of the American presidency isn't the problem, but a symptom of a much larger problem: the staggering size and scope of the federal government.
There is no question Obama has had to deal with problems he didn't have a hand in creating and which no one could have foreseen, but in many ways he's helped to perpetuate the immeasurable list of bucks that stop with him by broadening the federal government even further.
One of the reasons conservatives look back on the second Bush presidency with relative ill regard (though they'd take it over the Obama presidency in a heartbeat) is because Bush expanded the size and scope of the executive branch by leaps and bounds. From the PATRIOT Act to the banking and auto bailouts, Bush's well-intended interventions created precedents that will last well into the future, and provided a foundation upon which future lawmakers can abuse with impunity, regardless of their political persuasion.
The United States was founded on the belief that government governs best when it governs least. The Constitution was written with the idea that overarching central authorities should yield to local communities on issues of local importance whenever possible. Certainly, this was a simpler time with simpler people leading simpler lives, but neither the complexity of our modern problems nor the ever-expanding growth of our modern population have anything to do with it. Local governmental bodies, such as states and municipalities, presumably know the general sentiments of their people, because the members of these bodies live among the people who are most affected by their decisions (Arizona's illegal immigration law comes immediately to mind).
If the federal government were to relinquish some of its authority and control, future presidents might find themselves with more time to think through a pressing national problem before making a crucial decision.
Obama may not be like Shiva -- the god Hindus believe will destroy the world -- but if he doesn't reign in the federal government soon, his administration could certainly put a dent in it.
Shiva Photo © DreamPictures/Getty Images/Riser Collection