The Vanishing Barack Obama

  • Share
  • Read Later

Have you been suffering from a vague sense of loss? As if something that was once ubiquitous in your life has gone missing, and you are not quite sure what it is? That Miley Cyrus song suddenly out of rotation on the radio? A friend who stopped updating on Facebook? The magazine that stopped coming every week in the mail? CBS News’ Mark Knoller, the press corps’ in-house number cruncher, may have figured out what is going on. Via Twitter, he reports:

By my count, Pres. Obama made no public or press appearances on 4 days last week. It was the most off-the-radar week of his presidency. But the days we don’t see him are few and far between. Since taking office, his no appearance count is 27 out of 392 days.

Yes, that’s right, you may be suffering from Obamapotusitis, a faint feeling of loss that has been known to occur when a president who has tried for three years to fill the daily news cycle, appearing daily in your life, suddenly decides that he has better things to do. You can take comfort in the fact that this condition is not expected to last long. Other public figures–Simon Cowell, say, or Mitch McConnell–may soon fill the void. Also, the White House is not pulling Obama cold turkey. Today Obama spoke at a Maryland green jobs event, and learned from a guy named Sean Myers about motor control panels. Obama has a Stimulus event at the White House on Wednesday, a meeting with the Dalai Lama on Thursday, and on Friday and Saturday, he will be traveling to Nevada and Colorado for more events. But you should also know that the Obama’s recent disappearance from the national stage is not an accident, and it is expected to continue over the coming months.

As recently as last month, David Axelrod, Obama’s top political strategist, was quoted in the New Yorker explaining the rationale. “We’ve got the greatest running back of all time, so the tendency is to want to hand off to him on every play,” he said. “We need to involve all the other members of the team. If I were to rethink the last year, I’d like to spread the load around a little and use other members of the administration.”

As Michael Shear, my similarly-named nemesis at the Washington Post reported on Monday, these conclusions were formalized in a recent White House review of communications strategy. When it comes to Obama’s public schedule, less is suddenly more. “The threshold for things he will go out and talk about is higher,” one senior aide told one-syllable Shear.

The reasons are multiple, but the most important one is self-preservation. White House aides want Obama to be seen as more of a Washington outsider, even as he leads the town, and that means he can’t always be the face of his own administration.

So today, Vice President Biden has been dispatched to Michigan to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the totally unpopular Stimulus bill, which remains Obama’s crowning legislative achievement. But that is just the start. The White House is giving the ball all week to the administration’s second string. To wit:

Tuesday, February 16

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is in Atlanta, GA where she will tour a local community medical center that has received funding through the Recovery Act.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is touring Transportation Security Administration (TSA) explosive detection technologies and canine program operations in Virginia and Texas—highlighting $576 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds devoted to securing the U.S. aviation system and creating jobs in local communities across the country.

DOD Deputy Comptroller Mike McCord and DOD Recovery Act Resources Coordinator Sandra Richardson are visiting Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX. They will tour the warrior transition unit, an ongoing construction project with Recovery Act funding.

Wednesday, February 17

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will be in the Seattle, WA area with Governor Gregoire to discuss all Interior Recovery projects in the state of Washington.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will be doing media conference calls in several states to discuss the impact the Recovery Act is having on job creation in rural communities.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis will visit a construction project at the Labor’s Community Service Agency in Phoenix, AZ. YouthBuild students are currently working on the construction site at LCSA. They will later receive green construction training (with Recovery Act funding), which will be used to install solar panels at LCSA.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will make a major Recovery Act announcement in Kansas City, MO.  Secretary LaHood will also hold Recovery Act events in Tucson, AZ on Thursday and Los Angeles, CA on Friday.  Additional Recovery Act announcements will be made by Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo in Birmingham, AL and Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez in Albuquerque, NM.  Mendez will also break ground on the largest Recovery project to date in Dallas, TX.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan will visit Riverside Elementary School in Alexandria, VA.  Most of the $239,000 Riverside received under the Recovery Act was used for the continuation of extended learning time (formerly called Project Excel) initiatives and the implementation of a series of parent workshops. Recovery Act funds enabled Riverside to augment all teachers’ contracts to pay for the 2 additional hours of instruction every Monday (in Fairfax County most schools have a half day).  Secretary Duncan will visit a class of kindergarten students and hold a roundtable discussion in the library.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki will hold an event in Chillicothe, OH at a VA Medical Center that has eight Recovery projects slated for completion. The total combined budget for all eight projects is $8.3 million. Construction contracts totaling $2,208,000 are currently underway for two of the projects.  These two projects include repairing approximately 1,200 linear feet of steam and condensate lines, and renovating the Therapeutic Exercise Gym and adding air conditioning. These two projects employ up to 21 workers. These Recovery projects will help nearly 20,000 Veteran patients in the area served by the Chillicothe VA Medical Center and its five community-based outpatient clinics.

SBA Administrator Karen Mills will travel to an Arkansas small business that was able to grow and create jobs due to the Recovery Act.  Nearly 250 Arkansas small businesses have benefited from the Recovery Act so far.

GSA Administrator Martha Johnson will visit workers at the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood, CO who are building a more efficient utilities infrastructure and 35 acres of solar panels, funded by the Recovery Act.

GSA’s Senior Sustainability Officer Stephen Leeds will visit the Goodfellow Federal Center in St. Louis, MO, where local small business workers are converting buildings in the former World War II munitions plant into high-performance green buildings, funded by the Recovery Act.

DOD Deputy Comptroller Mike McCord and DOD Recovery Act Resources Coordinator Sandra Richardson will visit Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, CA to attend the ground breaking ceremony for the Child Development Center.

Thursday, February 18

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke will travel to Pittsburgh, PA and Wheeling, WV to make Recovery Act announcements.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan will travel to Cincinnati, OH to visit an affordable housing project that is under construction as a result of $1 million in Recovery Act Tax Credit Assistance Program (TCAP) funding and $249,000 in Treasury Exchange funding.  The project, called Forest Square, will produce 21 affordable apartments for seniors in the Avondale neighborhood of Cincinnati.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will travel to Columbus, OH to announce more than $249 million in clean water and drinking water projects for the state. With this key Recovery Act infrastructure investment, Ohio will put people to work in cleaning up the region’s water systems. EPA officials will also hold events in ten other communities across the country.

On Thursday and Friday, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan will highlight Recovery Act projects in New Mexico.

HUD Deputy Secretary Ron Sims will visit an elderly public housing complex in Tampa, FL that is receiving energy efficient upgrades, and creating green jobs, as a result of the Recovery Act.

Friday, February 19

Attorney General Eric Holder will be traveling to North Carolina for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Commencement Ceremony where police officers hired through the COPS Hiring Recovery Program will be graduating.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu will tour a wind turbine manufacturing facility in Windsor, CO to underscore the importance clean and renewable energy is playing in putting more and more Americans back to work. The company has announced it plans to reinvest more than $1 billion in its facilities in Colorado thanks to provisions contained in the Recovery Act. Secretary Chu will also co-host with Rep. Betsy Markey a renewable energy forum, highlighting the success the Recovery Act has had in the state and across the country.

Treasury Assistant Secretary for Management and CFO Dan Tangherlini will travel to Maryville, TN to break ground on a school being financed with $20 million in Recovery Act Qualified School Construction Bonds.