Is Obama's Agenda Overloaded?

PHOTO President Barack Obama has a lot on his plate.ABC News Photo Illustration
President Barack Obama has a lot on his plate.

On five Sunday talk shows, Barack Obama has perhaps appeared before the American people more often than any modern president at this point in his term -- by some estimates, three times as much as his predecessors, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

The media blitz also included stints on Jay Leno and The David Letterman Show on Monday.

"My calculation is that, at the end of today, the president will have appeared, in terms of national print and broadcast media, about 124 times, up to this point in his term," Robert Reich, co-founder of The American Prospect and former labor secretary in the Clinton administration.

VIDEO: The president appeared on five Sunday news programs to push health care reform.Play

But in all this zeal to reach the American public, Obama's ability to articulate his wide-reaching agenda pushes some analysts to ask if he has overloaded his political plate.

The president who promised change has a super agenda: health care, the economy, Afghanistan, the European missile defense system, the Middle East and climate change, not to mention issues of racism and a swine flu pandemic.

Some Charge Overexposure in Media

Media overexposure, say some, is the least of his problems.

"Most people say you have to break some eggs to get an omelet, but with Obama, the eggs are broken and the omelet is still far from made," said presidential historian and ABC News consultant Richard Norton Smith.

"To some degree we are in uncharted water," he told "History suggests that particularly in hard times, it becomes more difficult for a president to implement so ambitious an agenda."

In the inevitable comparisons to the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which brought seismic change to American government after three years of the Great Depression, Obama's presidency is unique.

"Roosevelt had three years of economic despair to capitalize on," said Smith. "He was able to tap into the anger."

Obama, on the other hand, worked closely with the Bush administration in its final months to bail out the banking system.

"Obama is paying the price for being responsible," said Smith. "It's really not much of a rallying cry under the slogan, 'It could have been worse.'"

Frustration with Obama's health care agenda mounted last week, as he deflected former President Jimmy Carter's charges that those angered by the president's attempt at reform were "racist."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's lip quivered when she wondered aloud if violence could ensue, remembering the slaying of gay activist Harvey Milk in San Francisco in 1978.

"Mrs. Pelosi had a point," said Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, who served as a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

"Things get high," she said on ABC's "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos, "It's always good to cool things down. But, essentially, what we have here is a very new president. He's only been here for 10 months. He is a young man. He didn't have deep, long, profound experience."

Noonan suggested that important issues are being clouded because Obama's ambitious agenda appears all over the map.

"He is attempting right now to change, what is it, 17 percent, 18 percent of the GNP of the United States of America, changing how it works, health care," she said. "But on top of that, people are thinking about -- in America -- the economy, unemployment, war and peace, two wars that are going."

"This president, who is new and young, comes along and says, "Oh, that's not the issue. The issue is health care." It seems not like a program, but a non sequitur," Noonan said.

Obama admitted in a Sunday interview with ABC News that he needs to do a better job of communicating his vision for health care reform and said the popular uproar had been "humbling."

Obama Worries He's 'Not Breaking Through'

"I think there have been times where I have said I've got to step up my game in terms of talking to the American people about issues like health care," he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos, who asked if the president had "lost control" of the debate.

"Well, not so much lost control, but where I've said to myself, somehow I'm not breaking through," Obama responded.

Noonan said most modern presidents overdo it on the media circuit.

"They get their face in your face every day, all the time," she said. "It's boorish, and it makes people not lean towards you, but lean away from you, no matter what the merits of the issue."

But Reich, her co-panelist on the ABC round table, disagreed, saying that "the face that we see is one of dignity and gravitas and utter reasonableness.

"He is taking the initiative," said Reich. "He knows that if there's any lull right now, his opponents are going to jump into that lull. And it's very important that he educate the public about what's going on."

Obama Super Agenda At Risk

What's going on is enough to cause the most experienced politician presidential stress.

Though the president said in his Sunday interviews he was confident he would sign a health care bill into law, and welcomed Republicans to the effort, he added, "I don't count on them."

On the defense front, Obama girded for criticism over scuttling a plan under President George W. Bush to deploy 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a related radar installation in the Czech Republic. He told CBS's "Face the Nation," "My task here was not to negotiate with the Russians. The Russians don't make determinations about what our defense posture is."

On Afghanistan, now being called "Obama's War," the president told ABC he is "skeptical" about sending in more troops.

On CNN's "State of the Union" with John King, he said he didn't want to be rushed to commit to a new strategy until General Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, makes an assessment of the recent addition of 21,000 troops.

Other crises out of the president's control have also weighed heavily on his agenda.

Obama has pledged to check the global spread of swine flu by making 10 per cent of the H1N1 vaccine supply available to other countries through the World Health Organization.

And as the United States enters the fall flu season and infections rise, Americans are waiting for the October delivery of the swine flu vaccine.

Obama was asked if he wanted his own family vaccinated. He told CNN the vaccine will go to high-risk groups first.

"We want to get vaccinated," he said of his own family. "We think it's the right thing to do. We will stand in line like everybody else and when folks say it's our turn, that's when we'll get it."

And though Obama admits he hasn't followed the case of the activist group ACORN closely, he said there should be an investigation into the hidden-camera video involving ACORN employees and a couple posing as a prostitute and her pimp.

This week, Congress cut off funding to the activist group, which had nearly $1 million embezzled by its founder's brother and has been accused of voter registration fraud.

Bigger Problems, Bigger Government?

As Obama's problems get bigger, columnist Noonan said she worries that government will also get bigger.

"I understand the anger," she said. "They're going to make it more expensive now," she said of fears about health care reform.

"And they're going to make it more intrusive in my life, forcing me to buy, say, insurance if I don't want to or a penalty if I don't," she said.

"Do I want that now, with the economy in the shape it's in and with being worried about my nephew, who's over in Afghanistan and is he coming back? No, I don't think that's where people are."

Obama Likely to Win Health Reform

She said the president will likely win some sort of health-care reform. "There will be a headline that says 'Obama gets health insurance'-- or whatever he gets, however it's put -- but I think it will be a sort of victory that makes people think, 'That's not what we need.'"

But Robert Shrum, who was a senior adviser to Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign, said Obama should continue to use what he called the "biggest megaphone" to push for change.

"He doesn't have any choice about what's on his plate," Shrum told "He understands that if he does not do health care in the first year alone, it won't be done at all.

"He has to do the economy and he has to do financial reform and he has to deal with foreign policy crises and the climate change imperative," said Shrum, who expects Obama to pass health care reform and get a fight over climate change next year.

He compared the current president to John F. Kennedy who got "almost every big decision right -- on the new economics and on civil rights and trade and the Cuban missile crisis."

"You don't pick these things," said Shrum. "Bill Clinton said his greatest regret was being president in quiet times."