Reminder: Presidents Don’t Set The ‘Agenda’

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Politico’s Byron Tau notes there wasn’t much Gaddafi chatter during the 2008 campaign.

That was two years ago, so it may not surprise you.  What is utterly stunning is how much things have changed in just two months.

As Susan Page recently reported,

Obama’s State of the Union speech didn’t mention Egypt — then ruled by Hosni Mubarak, a U.S. ally for decades who has since been ousted — or refer to the safety concerns over nuclear power that are sparking headlines around the world. There wasn’t a word about Libya or collective-bargaining rights, issues now front and center.

During the 2008 campaign someone — I think maybe Hillary Clinton — noted that the things which come up during a presidential campaign are rarely the things that end up mattering in the end.  For example, terrorism wasn’t a hot topic during the 2000 presidential race, although it came to be a defining issue for the Bush presidency.

It would be easy to beat up on Obama for failing to see things in advance (and maybe we do need to question our intelligence operation).  But the truth is a president rarely controls his own agenda.  A hurricane or tsunami can hit, and the world changes — even if it wasn’t on your agenda.  Life, as they say, is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

As the 2012 presidential election heats up, this makes a good reminder to us all that the things we think are are going to be important probably won’t be.  And there’s probably something big looming out there that we don’t see coming …

Matt K. Lewis