Obama's Still Big, It's The Presidency That Got Small

In a reprise of the Irrelevant Presidency theme, folks are again trotting out the poor Obama, "if only people had President Obama's back" line. Earlier this week, it was about Obama's powerlessness regarding the Bush tax cuts. Today, Balloon Juice argues the Obama Administration can't try Khalid Sheikh Mohammad in a federal court in New York because Governor-Elect Cuomo won't like it. (I actually do not care if KSM is tried in federal court in New York but that is another issue.)

These "defenses" of Obama are not helpful, to the discourse or to Obama. As I previously wrote:

As apologias for Obama go, this is one of the more amazing ones. But suppose it is true [--] Then why should we care much if he is reelected? Shouldn't we then just focus all our attention of the Congress?

Of course, it is not true. In fact, the very reason many of these same Obama apologists hated the bad Clinton Triangulation so much is it is not true. Bill Clinton was able to "triangulate" because the Presidency is in fact the most powerful political office. Stupid to act as if the Presidency became small when Obama became President.

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    Prime minister of the solar (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by observed on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 09:57:18 AM EST
    system is a job matching Obama's stature.

    Obama would make a great king (5.00 / 4) (#3)
    by MO Blue on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 10:11:07 AM EST
    on the order of British royalty. No real functional duties only promotional venues and photo ops.

    Of Course The Presidency Is Defined By the Person (5.00 / 3) (#5)
    by daring grace on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 10:12:39 AM EST
    who is elected to it. You can look at each past prez and see that. If it's small now that's because that's the way he's doing it.

    And of course it is also shaped by other forces--external ones like the Congress, the news media, the economy and wars etc. But even then the strongest element is what the person who is president brings to the table--and the people he or she (hope springs eternal) brings with him/her.

    I have to say as long as I've been voting, I've never had high hopes for the liberalism of any Dem elected and I was always correct. But I let myself nurture a tiny, tiny tiny hope that Obama would deliver something much better than he has. Not that I ever thought he was liberal. I looked at his actions/votes, didn't listen to the campaign rhetoric as much. Never do, frankly, with any pol running for prez.

    So I'm left with my usual cynical aftertaste now with a dash of anger at what a squandering of the tidal wave of momentum he (and the senate Dems) have made of things.

    Here's Why (none / 0) (#27)
    by pluege2 on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 06:38:50 PM EST
    I've never had high hopes for the liberalism of any Dem elected and I was always correct

    The entire body of elected officials is populated by rich people. It is completely foolhardy to expect rich people (or anyone else) to do anything but look after their own interests. It is truly rare the person who doesn't (FDR is quite amazing for what he did for the non-rich).

    So what would an organization (the government) composed entirely of rich people do? Look after rich people's interests of course. Which is EXACTLY what is happening on a more grotesque level everyday.


    The White House is most concerned about the (5.00 / 4) (#9)
    by esmense on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 11:17:08 AM EST
    Independent voter (who turned back to the Republicans this time around), not the Democratic base. Always have been, always will be. For that reason, they believe that what they must do now (to win a second term) is to work more with the Republicans. According to Anne Kornblut in the Washington Post:

    "To do so, they think he must forge partnerships with Republicans on key issues and make noticeable progress on his oft-repeated campaign pledge to change the ways of Washington.

    Even more important, senior administration officials said, Obama will need to oversee tangible improvements in the economy."

    The problem with this thinking is this -- forging "partnerships" and following a Republican agenda is not at all the way to proceed if you want "tangible improvements in the economy." And, changing "the ways of Washington" is a tired, abstract campaign cliche, not a concrete, achieveable (with broadly understood or agreed upon dimensions) goal.  

    White House Concern? (none / 0) (#33)
    by norris morris on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 04:28:07 PM EST
    It's all about getting Obama re-elected in 2012. As Axelrod has said he's leaving for Chicago to find the bucks for 2012 and prepare another campaign.

    This is the White House's main concern. Obama has already let us know where he doesn't stand.  He will continue to compromise unless a miracle occurs and he lets us know what he really believes in because as of now.....we don't know.


    Well, he's presiding over a country that (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by esmense on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 11:51:20 AM EST
    "got small." Small in its thinking, small in every ambition outside of big defense budgets and war, small in compassion, etc.

    Change is inevitable, life IS change -- but individuals, communities, countries can accept and respond to change, take action to manage it and encourage it in a direction they prefer. Or, they can resist it, condemn it, fear it and reap the inevitable failures and ill consequences of doing so.

    If we have a small president it is because we have become a very small people -- unable to develop intelligent policies for our future because we have spent too many decades trying to stop history and wallowing in self pity nostallgia for a long gone, and in many aspects non-existent, past.

    I don't think we even have a language anymore that can allow us, as a nation, to think about, discuss and plan for "progress."

    And if we do have one, it doesn't seem to be a language this administration knows.

    Interesting post that was in the sidebar (5.00 / 2) (#13)
    by MO Blue on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 12:12:22 PM EST
    Journalist Chris Hedges: "Death of the Liberal Class"

    In a traditional democracy, the liberal class functions as a safety valve. It makes piecemeal and incremental reform possible. It offers hope for change and proposes gradual steps toward greater equality. It endows the state and the mechanisms of power with virtue. It also serves as an attack dog that discredits radical social movements, making the liberal class a useful component within the power elite.

    But the assault by the corporate state on the democratic state has claimed the liberal class as one of its victims. Corporate power forgot that the liberal class, when it functions, gives legitimacy to the power elite. And reducing the liberal class to courtiers or mandarins, who have nothing to offer but empty rhetoric, shuts off this safety valve and forces discontent to find other outlets that often end in violence. The inability of the liberal class to acknowledge that corporations have wrested power from the hands of citizens, that the Constitution and its guarantees of personal liberty have become irrelevant, and that the phrase consent of the governed is meaningless, has left it speaking and acting in ways that no longer correspond to reality. It has lent its voice to hollow acts of political theater, and the pretense that democratic debate and choice continue to exist.

    To god's ears (none / 0) (#21)
    by Rojas on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:44:59 PM EST
    But perhaps the worst offender within the liberal class is the Democratic Party.

    The party consciously sold out the working class for corporate money. Bill Clinton, who argued that labor had nowhere else to go, in 1994 passed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which betrayed the working class. He went on to destroy welfare and in 1999 ripped down the firewalls between commercial and investment banks to turn the banking system over to speculators. Barack Obama, who raised more than $600 million to run for president, most of it from corporations, has served corporate interests as assiduously as his party. He has continued the looting of the U.S. Treasury by corporations, refused to help the millions of Americans who have lost their homes because of bank repossessions or foreclosures, and has failed to address the misery of our permanent class of unemployed.

    More Apolgies For Underperforming (none / 0) (#34)
    by norris morris on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 04:36:27 PM EST
    The presidency is small, The country is getting
    smaller. This is nonesense.

    A transformative leader [which he swore he'd be] transcends difficulty with his will and his vision. There's a huge pool of talent around as advisors, but Obama has shown no courage or creativity in utilizing these people or being clear about what he really believes in.

    His er, hesitancy is a huge problem.  There is no force of personality, and the air is out of the baloon.  No excuses please.


    It isn't just bloggers who are saying (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by oculus on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 11:56:28 AM EST
    these things.  The White House is saying them also.  As rationale for why this administration won't be closing Gitmo or trying the alleged terrorists on criminal charges in federal district court.  As previously promised by this President.

    Sunday funny (5.00 / 2) (#14)
    by the capstan on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 12:15:38 PM EST
    A cannibal was walking through the jungle
    and came upon a restaurant operated by a
    fellow cannibal.
    Feeling somewhat hungry, he sat down and looked over the menu....
         +Tourist:                                     $5.00
    +BroiledMissionary:                               $10.00
          +FriedExplorer:                                   $15.00

    +BakedDemocrat or GrilledRepublican:  

    The cannibal called the waiter over and asked,
    "Why such a high price for the Politicians?"

    The cook replied, "Have you ever tried to clean one?  They're so full of sh-t, it takes all morning."

    the logic is as follows: (5.00 / 4) (#15)
    by Turkana on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:07:12 PM EST
    anything bad that happens, and anything good that doesn't get done, isn't obama's fault, because he can't control x, y, z. but he gets full credit for everything good that happens and for every good piece of legislation that hits his desk. the irrelevant presidency is entirely dependent on circumstance. when anything good happens, he is not only relevant, but singularly responsible.

    The presidency should be abolished. (none / 0) (#26)
    by NealB on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 06:11:43 PM EST
    History will rank Obama right down there with the last six presidents we've had. Right down there with Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover.

    Unlike then, of course, Obama, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter, and Nixon, there's no sign of an FDR or Kennedy/Johnson on the horizon. Historically, FDR and Johnson were flukes. Not sure how to restructure the government, but it's long since clear, I think, that a presidency is idiotic in a Democracy.

    Let's have more failed presidencies; that's what I say.


    Quick Fix for American Politics (5.00 / 1) (#28)
    by pluege2 on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 06:49:28 PM EST
    allow voters to use their vote to vote either for, or AGAINST a candidate, i.e., if a voter dislikes all of the options, they can vote against their least favorite (not both for a candidate and against another, but for a candidate or against a candidate.)

    What this does:

     1) provides a huge boost in voter turnout even  when voters are disgusted (may be more so).

     2) reduces the chances to win of the true crazies we have gaining office

     3) Makes it possible for 3rd parties to get some traction.


    Obama has used the power of the (5.00 / 6) (#16)
    by Anne on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:12:52 PM EST
    presidency in ways that suggest he is quite aware of the power he has, and when he wants to, on issues that are important to him, he has not failed to use that power.

    Look at the things he has used his power to do, or to legitimize, and look at the issues where we, the people, believe he has failed or is failing.  What do you notice?  

    What I notice is a fairly wide authoritarian streak, and a fair amount of antipathy for the people's interests; if a particular decision shifts the balance of power toward the people, he backs away - if it strengthens executive power, he's all over it.

    This nonsense that there's little he can do is just another form of denial, and one more way for people who got suckered by his sales job to save what's left of their face.  I get that - I mean, who wants to admit they were wrong about the guy?  Who wants to admit that the signs were always there, and they chose to ignore them?

    So, knowing that he has the power, it comes down to admitting that he isn't planning to use it in ways we feel a Democratic president should, and trying to figure out other ways to get what we want.  Looks to me like the Congress is pretty much our only option, and then it's a matter of figuring out if the Democratic caucus is ready or willing to break ranks with Obama, act like the independent body they are, and do what's right for the people.

    I know - fat chance, right?

    I only know that we have to stop participating in our own relegation to the ranks of the small and powerless; how we do that is something I wish I had the answer to.

    Ping pong ping pong (5.00 / 5) (#17)
    by lentinel on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:33:11 PM EST
    Maybe Obama will do the right thing.
    He didn't? I'm so disappointed.
    Maybe Obama will do the right thing.
    He didn't? I'm so disappointed.
    Maybe Obama will do the right thing.
    He didn't? I'm so disappointed.
    Maybe Obama will do the right thing.
    He didn't? I'm so disappointed.
    Maybe Obama will do the right thing.
    He didn't? I'm so disappointed.
    Maybe Obama will do the right thing.
    He didn't? I'm so disappointed.
    Maybe Obama will do the right thing.
    He didn't? I'm so disappointed.

    Conclusion (5.00 / 3) (#19)
    by MO Blue on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:41:50 PM EST
    You and Obama have a completely different definition of what is the right thing.

    Obama policies work very well for his main constituents. Hint: His constituents aren't you or me.


    Serving constituencies ("special" (5.00 / 2) (#29)
    by esmense on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 06:54:04 PM EST
    interests) is what politicians do. I think seeing politics primarily as an ideological exercise brings us, and has brought us, inevitably to a political dead end. Endlessly trying to determine where some policy or some political players fall on the ideological spectrum distracts from trying to determine the pragmatic consequences of, and the pragmatic interests behind, political actions. And that makes workable compromise and the development of sound policy (that serves the best interest of the many rather than the few) impossible.

    Ideology, I think (some may call me a surly cynic but I believe I'm a happy realist), most often is just a cover (although perhaps not a concious one) for personal interest. It's an argument for serving what I see as my best interest based on the claim that it really serves everyone else's too (tax cuts for me create jobs for you). Conservatives especially claim to be motivated by ideology and principal -- but, in office,they govern by serving their most important constituencies' interests. Not because they are awful people, but because that is what they have been supported and elected to do.

    Frankly, I don't see anything wrong with this (in fact I don't see how politicians can operate otherwise) as long it's done honestly, our political conversation reflects this reality (which it doesn't at the moment) and a wide variety of interests get represented in the political arena (which, again, isn't the case at the moment).

    Once upon a time I defined myself as a "moderate" because I had disagreements with both sides of the political spectrum. But, as the interests of the richest Americans became more and more the focus of our politics I started saying I was "progressive" or "liberal." I'm no longer willing to do either because I've come to see it as meaningless. It is more important to define myself politically by what I see as my interests -- as a woman, as someone with responsibilities as a mother and daughter, as a small business owner, employer, an older person facing retirement, a "self-made" daughter of the working class, a participant in a particular industry, as a member of the economic communities called "Seattle," "Washington State," the "West" The "US," etc., etc.

    Of course, being aware of and knowledgeable about my best (and "special") interests in all those roles does not mean I dismiss the often competing interests of others in my broader community and the country. It means I try to understand them and hope the political process makes it possible to reach workable accomodations with them. Because I have an interest in a healthy and workable community and economy where more than my interests are being served. Furthermore, those varieties of roles, experiences and interests often inform my support for policies that not only may not affect me personally, but  may even require that I sacrifice some of my own immediate interest for the greater good. For instance, I support progressive taxation even though I am now in my highest earning years -- because I know that it can help provide the resources that younger generations, my son and young employees, will need for their economic success. I support labor rights even though I am a business owner because I have an interest in my customers' and the country's economic well being. Abortion rights even though I don't have a need for them myself. Justice for others because when justice is denied to others it makes it easier, and more likely, that it could be denied to me, etc., etc.

    All of those things can be defined as "liberal" but I think it is more important to define them as "practical" and self-interested -- because I support them on the basis of practical experience. And, because I would prefer to have them criticized and debated on a pragmatic basis -- the only basis on which workable solutions and compromises can be found.

    I say bring on the "special" interests, and "class warfare," because acting as if politics is a clash of ideologies rather than interests suits only elites and plutocrats.


    For me, the ping-pong is in (5.00 / 3) (#24)
    by Anne on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:50:12 PM EST
    the policies themselves, from the left side of the table to the right, back to somewhere left-but-not-as-left, over to the right, back to somewhere-not-as-left-as-the-last-volley, back over to the right...all the while keeping that hope alive by saying he's still in favor of something he knows people want, even as he's making deals and selling off the progressive position to curry favor with people who aren't going to go along in the end anyway.

    What you've described is, for me, more along the lines of making sure one is still in step with whatever dance Obama is doing.

    The whole thing gives me a headache.


    Well, (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by Ga6thDem on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:37:37 PM EST
    Obama is just not suited to the times we are in is really the bottom line of it all. We need leadership and that's not an ability that Obama has. Like I've said many times--he wants to facilitate and sit back and let others do the work. He still doesn't get it after being walloped earlier this month but I didn't really expect him to either.

    I am not fond of the idea of losing (5.00 / 2) (#20)
    by inclusiveheart on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:43:05 PM EST
    the White House, but that's what will happen if the victimhood continues to be the "go to" position of this Administration every time there is an obvious failure.  Nobody wants their President to be a powerless whiner - and that is in effect what his team are telegraphing when they repeatedly and defensively insist that he is "powerless".

    William Greider's viewpoint (none / 0) (#2)
    by MO Blue on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 10:08:23 AM EST
    on "defenses" of Obama are not helpful, to the discourse or to Obama.

    Only Obama can decide this about himself, but others can influence the outcome by surrounding him with tough love and new circumstances created by their own direct actions. It does not help Obama to keep telling him he did great but the people misunderstood him. He did lousy, not great, and in many governing dimensions people understood his failures clearly enough. They knew he gave tons of money to bankers and demanded nothing in return. They knew he thought the economy was in recovery. They couldn't believe this intelligent man was that clueless.

    Popular forces can blow away the fuzziness. They can mobilize to demonstrate visible support for the president's loftier goals and to warn him off the temptation to pursue a Clintonesque appeasement of the right. Given the fragile status of his presidency, Obama needs to know that caving in is sure to encourage enemies and drive off disheartened supporters. People should, likewise, call out the president's enemies and attack them with the harshness that's out of character for him. The racial McCarthyism of the GOP establishment is a good place to start.

    People who still have great hope for Obama can help revive his presidency, but only if they toughen up themselves. Stop holding his hand (he's an adult) and start building a people's agenda that compels the president to change his. Obama won't like this at first--his own supporters talking back--but he can learn to draw strength from their courage. If people fail to step up with their own message, the president will likely fail with his. link

    I personally am not sure that Obama is doing anything other than what he wants to do or that he will change course. OTOH, if Obama is just misguided, then what BTD and Greider are recommending is the way to go.

    Obama should go nuts... (none / 0) (#4)
    by magster on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 10:11:14 AM EST
    with executive orders and recess appointments. Bypass the legislature as much as he can.

    He can't do that (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by MO Blue on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 10:13:30 AM EST
    It would make the Republicans less willing to compromise with him on needed legislation like deficit reduction. :-(

    Lindsay Graham would pout (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by ruffian on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 10:41:40 AM EST
    Of course, another possibility that fits (none / 0) (#7)
    by TJBuff on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 10:20:13 AM EST
    is that Obama is doing exactly what he wants to do. And the trial in NY was BS all along. And his supporters are cool with that, and are just providing cover.  I can recall during the primaries that a fair number said that Obama was the only Democrat conservative enough to vote for.

    someone at Dk pointed out to me that (none / 0) (#10)
    by kempis on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 11:43:49 AM EST
    Obama is a Constitutional law scholar, so he is making sure that his presidency stays within the teeny-tiny bounds proscribed by the Constitution.

    In other words, he's a powerless president because he is noble and principled.

    In his hierarchy of principles, I guess sitting around waiting for Congress to send him something to sign or veto is preferable to seizing the bully pulpit and using his once-in-a-generation oratorical skills to challenge Americans to turn off the talk radio and get behind legislation that would actually benefit them instead of the banksters and assorted other "titans." That would be unseemly and over-reaching.


    Obama and the Constitution (5.00 / 2) (#25)
    by BackFromOhio on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 05:43:23 PM EST
    He is NOT a constitutional scholar.  He taught Civil Rights under the Constitution as an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago.  If you have other evidence, I'd love to see it.

    In addition, I don't see his administration abiding by the Constitution as I understand in on many issues.  


    yes, I know. I'm just the messenger. Hold fire. (none / 0) (#30)
    by kempis on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 04:20:10 AM EST
    I returned to Clinton era estate and income taxes (none / 0) (#22)
    by esmense on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:36:17 PM EST
    taxes, cut military spending and drew down troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, took the cap off FICA contributions, converted the mortgage deduction to a credit, limited Medicare spending increases and reduced the number of federal contractors. And made some reduction to non-combat military veterans' benefits. I achieved a $306 billion surplus by 2015.

    I did not touch the retirement age, change the way inflation is scored for Social Security, or further restrict eligibility for disability benefits. I don't believe it is necessary to do those things -- but even more important, I think that to doing them in this economic climate would create great social pain and work against economic recovery.

    For similar reasons I did not eliminate earmarks, farm subsidies or reduce the federal workforce or its pay. I also did not reduce the Navy and Air Force fleets. You can make credible arguments for wastefulness in all of these things -- and in better times I might want to readdress these decisions. But, in today's economic environment, these kind of eliminations and reductions would cause much more dramatic and painful hardships for the American middle and working class than I think most people realize. In my experience, Americans are very deluded about how much their own economic well being and that of their region, industry, etc., is dependent on federal spending and support. Cutting the number of federal employees, for instance, could mean cutting some of the only dependable middle class jobs in many small towns in the country's less populated regions.

    As someone who has spent the bulk of my working life in Washington state -- a state that wouldn't have emerged from its own personal depression in the lates 60s and early 70s without the shameless advocacy of the two all time Senatorial greats of pork barrel politics, Warren Magnuson and Henry Jackson, I know that while easily and often abused, "earmarks" play a much bigger, and sometimes much needed, part in economic stability and growth than many would like to admit.

    Sorry, wrong thread! (2.00 / 1) (#23)
    by esmense on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:47:04 PM EST
    I don't know how this happened -- other than I'm an idiot.

    love the (none / 0) (#31)
    by Capt Howdy on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 07:31:18 AM EST
    Sunset Boulevard reference.

    "Im still big.  its the pictures that got small."
                           - Norma Desmond

    Newsweek (none / 0) (#32)
    by jbindc on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 07:58:43 AM EST
    Has the opposite conclusion - that the presidency has become too big. (But it still seems to want to make excuses for him):

    More often, Obama projects a demeanor of unruffled cool: he can handle the pressures and demands of the job just fine (how could he suggest otherwise?), and he didn't run for office "to pass on our problems to the next president or the next generation." But the issue is not Obama, it's the office. Aides to George W. Bush make similar complaints about the demands on the executive. "It was a much different place than even during the Bush Sr. administration," says Joe Hagin, Bush 43's deputy chief of staff, who also worked for Reagan and Bush 41. "There was much less time [under the second Bush] to catch your breath during the day." He recalls the constant juggling of issues--from the wars to Katrina--often all at the same time. "There's only so much bandwidth in the organization," he says.

    Can any single person fully meet the demands of the 21st-century presidency? 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. "Lincoln had time to think," says Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University. "That kind of downtime just doesn't exist anymore."

    Among a handful of presidential historians NEWSWEEK contacted for this story, there was a general consensus that the modern presidency may have become too bloated. "The growth is exponential in these last 50 years, especially the number of things that are expected of the president," says presidential biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin, who had dinner with Obama and a handful of other historians last summer. Obama aides speaking on background say that the president's inner circle can become stretched by the constant number of things labeled "crises" that land on his desk--many of which, like the mistaken firing of Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod in Georgia or the intricacies of the oil cleanup in the gulf, could easily be handled by lower-level staff. "Some days around here, it can almost be hard to breathe," says one White House official who didn't want to go on the record portraying his boss as overwhelmed. Another senior adviser says that sometimes the only way to bring the president important news is to stake out his office and "walk and talk" through the hall.

    The growth of the presidency has been a sort of Catch-22. Most presidents after Roosevelt, at least until the Vietnam era, got by with only a few dozen advisers. Ted Sorensen, the Kennedy speechwriter who died last month, was actually hired as a domestic-policy counselor, one of only a handful (he wrote speeches in his spare time). Today there are more than 35 staffers devoted to domestic policy, plus more who parachute in on particular issues, like health care or energy. Yet as the president's responsibilities have grown, the instinct has been to hire more people to help manage the work, including the flow of information. "That's wrong; the more people you have in the White House, the more problems are sucked into it," says James Pfiffner, a George Mason University professor of public policy whose 2007 book, The Modern Presidency, examined the enormous growth of the office. Other historians point to the changing role of cabinet secretaries. While Obama has more department leaders than ever before--15, compared with Gerald Ford's 11 and Lincoln's 7--many of them have less power and influence, which has required minor decisions about trade, energy, and economic strategy to be handled by White House staffers.