Why Obama Can't Save The World Overnight

Peter Bluff is a CBS News producer in the London bureau.


4754840When Bruce Springsteen popped up recently on the BBC to list Barack Obama's "jobs-to-do-to-save-the-world," that was the last straw.

Greater minds have spent the past few weeks pouring over the tasks ahead of the new president. Miles of newsprint, billions of electronic picture digits, acres of cartooned oceans containing the menace of shark fins, each one carrying a single word problem the new president has to fix; tax, Iran, banks, Guantanamo... You know what they are.

In one newspaper there was a cartoon mountain being climbed by the spindly-legged Obama as rocks fall from above, each, again marked with a job to solve; banks, Palestinians, Iran. Same joke, same problems.

The point here is that everyone wants to give Obama advice, but stand back while doing so. It's almost as if everyone wants him to listen to them, as if their list is the definitive list. This is unfair, unrealistic and could be damaging.

The intoxicating current of goodwill that is carrying Obama along is unprecedented, but so are the expectations. Leave the man alone; he knows what has to be done. His inbox, as another cartoonist, perhaps several, pointed out is literally tottering with challenges — none of them surprises.

In the 1960's there was a professor of politics at the London School of Economics who taught what someone ought to be teaching now with regard to President Obama.

It was a simple acronym - B.F.S. It stood for the "Basic Facts of the Situation." When Professor Robert McKenzie strode into the lecture room, he would start talking as he came through the door, what we heard was usually the same and began as follows, "Good afternoon - in a week when..." He would then go through the problems and crises of that week, many of them, like now, enduring problems.

His point was that no matter how clever a Prime Minister or a President and government might be, there are factors buried deep inside each crisis that are almost intractable. In other words, some problems just can't be fixed, certainly not quickly.

No solution overnight, even 100 days would be pushing it. So Professor McKenzie would turn and ask us why the intractable problems couldn't be fixed overnight. "Because of the B.F.S, sir," we parroted. We had heard it before and everyone needs to hear it now.

Robert McKenzie's line was simple, no matter how clever, how much influence, goodwill and the rest of it a leader has, they still have to deal with the B.F.S., the Basic Facts of the Situation.

These, he said, were facts that are quite simply stitched into the fiber of the problem and require more than diplomacy, muscle, money or time to solve.

So, although its inevitable, even required, that columnists, cartoonists, bloggers and their ilk will make lists for Mr. Obama, give advice and pile suggested solution on solution, this time, they should back off.

This man and his people won't miss anything on anyone's list. Remember McKenzie; no matter how hard working, creative or brilliant Mr. Obama and his administration are, they still have to deal with the B.F.S.

And the B.F.S so often bring expectations to a grinding halt.

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