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The Overload Factor: Is President Obama Too Busy?

As President Obama departs for Asia, he leaves a full menu of unfinished business at home: two wars to manage, a struggling economy and his push for health care reform, to name a few. Jim Lehrer speaks to a panel of experts about the so-called "overload factor" for presidents.

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    The crowded presidential agenda was fully on display this morning, starting with turning around the economy. Mr. Obama announced a White House forum next month on jobs.


    It's important that we don't make any ill-considered decisions, even with the best of intentions, particularly at a time when our resources are so limited. But it's just as important that we are open to any demonstrably good idea to supplement the steps we have already taken to put America back to work. That's what this forum is about.


    Moments later, the president left the White House to begin a nine-day Far East trip full of its own challenges. He will begin tomorrow in Japan, where new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is asserting some independence from the U.S. on foreign policy and trade. In China, the issues likely will include Chinese concerns about U.S. budget deficits, U.S. complaints the Chinese currency is undervalued, what to do about climate change, and how to deal with Iran's and North Korea's nuclear programs.

    But, even overseas, the press of the health care initiative back home won't be far away. The president still is pushing Democratic leaders in Congress to pass a final bill by year's end.

    In recent days, Mr. Obama also has consoled the military community at Fort Hood, Texas, after 13 people were killed in last week's mass shootings.


    Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town; every dawn that a flag is unfurled, every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that is their legacy.


    And Veterans Day found the president paying tribute to the country's service men and women, as he faces a decision on whether to send thousands more Americans to fight in Afghanistan.


    Some perspective now. It comes from Beverly Gage, professor of history at Yale University, presidential historian Michael Beschloss, and Robert Dallek, professor of history at Stanford University. Bob Dallek, first, as a matter of history, is it fairly routine for a president to have as full a plate as President Obama does now?


    Well, I think they all struggle with the demands upon them. What is really amazing, Jim, is that you can go back to James A. Garfield in the 1880s, and he said, "What is there in this office that anyone would want to get into it in the first place?" because he was so beset by so many difficulties that challenged him. Woodrow Wilson said, a way has to be found to relieve the burdens on the president; otherwise, he can't survive. And, of course, he almost didn't survive, had a terrible stroke. It's just a torturous job. And, especially in this modern era, it has become all the more difficult, because the foreign policy burdens are so heavy. And when you are confronting two wars, as this president does, and an economy that's so sluggish, it's a terrible burden.