The BIG picture: with so much on his plate, Obama's going to have a tough time keeping his eyes on the prize

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John O'Connor, Editorial Director
John O'Connor, Editorial Director
Daniel Burnham is one of Chicago's most notable architects. He famously urged his charges to “make no small plans.” President Obama, formerly a Chicago-based Congressman, appears to have given the mantra a more contemporary spin: Everything's on the table.

Since taking office in January, the president has embarked on a course that is notable for both its depth and reach. On the domestic front, he has tried to get the economy back on track by pumping up banks, Wall Street and American car makers, to name but a few. For the longer haul, he's backing a $3.5 trillion budget that raises taxes, deficits and Uncle Sam's helping hand. This while trying to manage wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He's also reversed many of his predecessor's directives, particularly in areas such as stem-cell research, domestic spying and aggressive interrogation techniques.

The White House also has made time to push for things such as more regulatory oversight in areas ranging from financial services to nursing homes; and seeking better relations with Europe, Cuba, Iran, and any other troubled hamlet willing to take our call.

By the way, he also plans to revamp the nation's healthcare system.

These ambitious plans for change have met both fair and foul criticism. Perhaps most ominously, there are real concerns that his proposed spending blueprint will put future generations in hock.

Reasonable people may disagree about the various priorities and tactics now in play. My concern is not so much with the president's plans for change, as for how easy it may be for some of his well-intended goals to get lost, bent or mutilated.

Remember the early 1990s, when a newly minted Clinton administration made healthcare reform its top priority? The prevailing notion then was that the election results made the change a fait accompli.

But apparently Harry and Louise didn't get the memo. Thanks largely to a pharmaceutical industry TV ad campaign that had the fictitious couple skewering the plan over coffee, public and lawmaker sentiment for change melted quickly. Faster than you can say “dead in committee,” the blueprint for a new and improved healthcare system was taken out with the trash.

With the current president pulled by so many different priorities, focus is going to become increasingly difficult to maintain. After all, it's tough to keep your eyes on the prize when there are so many of them.
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