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Is Obama Finally Pivoting to the Economy?

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I started hearing it last December. President Barack Obama was at last about to pivot to a principal focus on the issue that people care about the most, the economy. It would be right after the holidays.

But after Christmas morning dawned, it was anything but that.

There was the barely thwarted Christmas Day airline bomber. Terrorism was suddenly back in the forefront of public concern. Just as that settled down, Scott Brown won the late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, throwing the national health care bill into total disarray. Which lasted for some time, before it became the total focus again, in part at the insistence of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who got the Senate's version through the House. When that finally passed, the pivot to the economy was to take place once again, but it never quite happened.

In his weekend video/radio address, President Barack Obama said that the auto industry and financial markets are beginning to stabilize and the government's emergency interventions can now wind down. He said that real reform, particularly on Wall Street, must now begin.

In fact, it's just one thing after another, with geopolitics playing a big part, as it should. Yet Obama is dealing with a media culture geared to simplistic takes on simple issues, and a public that is understandably most concerned about the ever so slowly recovering economy.

Now Obama has spent most of the week focusing on economic recovery and Wall Street reform, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid breaking the Republican filibuster against the latter and with Obama spending two days appearing in key heartland swing states. But Obama may be distracted once again, this time by the massive offshore oil drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which comes only weeks after he reversed his campaign position and championed more offshore drilling.

It's not as though Obama has not talked about the economy. Every day on my blog, New West Notes, starts off with a discussion of what the president is doing for the day and how it fits in to a larger agenda.

He's done plenty of events and speeches on the economy. But it's always part of a broader menu.

On a surprise trip at the end of March, Obama met in Kabul with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, to little apparent effect.

And as Ronald Reagan put it: "There's no substitute for repetition."

The lack of a persistent selling job by Obama on his economic recovery program is undoubtedly a major reason why it's been so controversial. Not to mention why so many falsely believe that he has raised their taxes, when in fact the stimulus bill was loaded with tax cuts which have reduced the federal tax burden for all but a few to a modern low.

Part of the problem is that this is a high-bandwidth presidency in a low-bandwidth media and political culture.

Obama is an intellectual who engages with a wide array of issues, many of which barely register in the popular consciousness. Obama certainly has the ability to bring issues to the fore, as he's an exceptional orator, but not multiple issues raised in seemingly rapid succession.

Of course, much of his predicament relates to the geopolitical environment he inherited from the Bush/Cheney White House, one of the most complex and challenging imaginable for a U.S. president.

Goldman Sachs execs ran into a wall of bipartisan wrath Tuesday before a Senate panel investigating their role in the financial crisis and the Securities and Exchange Commission fraud suit against it.

Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Israel and the Palestinians, Russia, China, and much more ... It's all quite fascinating and critically important. Yet in this media culture it only registers if disaster is imminent.

Perception, or frequently, lack thereof, is out of phase with reality.

Obama's polling numbers on Afghanistan are up recently even though the situation has actually worsened.

After the recent revolution in Kyrgyzstan, Obama had to intervene for a second time in less than two years to preserve a U.S. base there that is central to the effort in Afghanistan. For which he gets no credit whatsoever.

And we see that when Obama takes a major foreign trip, even one with big accomplishments like the nuclear weapons treaty with Russia, his numbers go down.

It's ridiculous, but that's just the way things are now.

As Obama and his people undoubtedly know.

Obama made a well-timed tour of key swing states this week, focusing on the economy and talking with regular people.

But while his big agenda is both admirable in its scope and probably necessary, the underlying reality is that what people care most about is the economy.

What does he need to do?

Obama needs to sell the benefits of his economic recovery program, including the tax cuts people have received and the elements coming on line this year.

He needs to focus on additional ways to create jobs.

And he needs to focus on reforming Wall Street.

We've already seen that that is something that swing and independent voters relate to a lot more readily than a complicated, easy to caricature health care bill.

On April 8th, Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev signed a major nuclear arms reduction treaty in Prague.

And it's something that will fire up the Democratic base, without which a problematic situation for Democrats in November can become a disastrous situation.

As fascinating and important as these other issues are for this president with one of the most heavily-used international relations degrees in history -- and I certainly find them fascinating, since I write about Obama's geopolitics very frequently -- there is no substitute for a powerful and exceptionally high-profile presidential focus on the economy.

Democratic prospects in November will probably turn on his success or failure in carrying that out.

To borrow a line from way, way back, all the way to, gasp, 1992: "It's the economy, stupid."

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.

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