Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- After a first year mainly focused on health reform, and a bleak December 2009 employment report, the Obama administration was finally ready to talk, in Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's words, about "jobs, jobs, jobs." Strategist David Axelrod admitted the Obama team was recalibrating to focus on the economy. President Obama said, "We have to continue to work every single day to get our economy moving again. For most Americans, and for me, that means jobs."

Six months later, following additional health reform drama, arcane financial reform, a national immigration debate and a sluggish oil spill response, 67 percent of Americans said the president had not focused enough on job creation.

Last month's jobs report was again dreary, with 181,000 discouraged workers dropping out of the labor force entirely. Advice for the president from Democratic strategists and nervous Democratic legislators was nearly uniform: Focus on jobs. The president proceeded to enter the Manhattan mosque controversy, mark the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and address the nation on Iraq and Afghanistan. During an interview with Brian Williams last weekend, Obama made news commenting on his religious faith, on Glenn Beck's rally in Washington and on the "birther" movement.

This is a president who has lost control of his public message. It wanders unleashed from park to alley, stopping to sniff every cable news story along the way. Some blame a political and communications team that is reactive and undisciplined. But there is another possibility. Perhaps the president doesn't talk about job creation because he doesn't have much to say.

Obama has tried a number of economic messages. (BEG ITAL)If I hadn't spent a lot of money, you would be even more miserable than you currently are(END ITAL) hasn't worked very well, especially since the administration predicted that its stimulus spending would keep unemployment around 8 percent. (BEG ITAL)Don't blame me, blame Bush(END ITAL) is negative and backward-looking. (BEG ITAL)Just give me a little more time and things will work out(END ITAL) seems both passive and plaintive. Obama clearly would do another round of stimulus spending if he could -- the primary Democratic approach to job creation. But having spent beyond public patience, this isn't a realistic option.

Now, two months before the midterm election, the president is again trying to pivot to job creation, calling attention to some small-business tax reductions. But his message is about to be overwhelmed.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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