Is Obama focused enough on the unemployment rate?

Both critics and supporters say Obama doesn't appear to voters to be paying enough heed to jobs and the unemployment rate. Some see the problem as his focus, others as his message.

Jim Young/Reuters
President Barack Obama walks from the Oval Office through the Colonnade to deliver remarks about the economy in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, Friday.

President Obama and his economic team made another Rose Garden appearance before TV cameras and print reporters Friday, an oft-repeated ritual in which the president seeks to convey his concern about America’s grim unemployment situation.

But there's a growing perception that his message either isn't getting through or that citizens are seeing it as inadequate.

Even some of his supporters are taking note of the communications challenge vis a vis jobs and unemployment.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, for one, said Thursday that the nation’s unemployment problem does have Mr. Obama's attention, but “he has not effectively communicated it.” Obama and Mr. Trumka are slated to share the stage at a Labor Day rally on Monday in Milwaukee.

Trumka, speaking at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters on Thursday, blamed the president’s lack of effective communication on a mixed message. "I think the problem started whenever he started, in the same sentence, talking about job creation and the deficit reduction. He confused people with that." Trumka would have had Obama focus solely on the jobs issue. “We do not have a short-term deficit problem. We have a short-term jobs crisis,” Trumka argued.

The sense that voters don't see Obama as focused on curing widespread unemployment is not limited to Trumka. In a front-page story Friday, the Washington Post reports on a White House scramble to develop a package of new business tax breaks potentially worth hundreds of billions of dollars aimed at triggering business hiring. The Post quotes an anonymous Democratic strategist lamenting Obama’s apparent lack of focus on the jobs and economic issue, which is expected to dominate the 2010 elections.

"We did the mosque, Katrina, Iraq, and now Middle East peace?" the Post quotes the strategist as saying. "And in between you redo the Oval Office? It has become a joke."

On Friday, Obama lauded the creation of jobs in August and called on Republicans to help pass a jobs program for small businesses. But he also acknowledged that there “is no quick fix to the worst recession” since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

On the day the August jobs numbers were made public, Obama's team was ready and on message. “Don't be fooled - the economy added 67,000 private sector jobs,8th straight month of added private sector jobs, job loss came in Census work,” tweeted Robert Gibbs, White House press secretary.

The government reported Friday that the August jobless rate edged up to 9.6 percent from 9.5 percent in July, the first increase in four months. While there were some encouraging signs in the report, a rise in joblessness is terrible timing for the Democrats, who between now and Election Day will try to persuade voters worried about the sagging economy to let them keep control of Congress.

House Republican leader John Boehner, who is likely to become speaker if Republicans take control of the House in November’s elections, released a statement saying, “now it is time” for Obama “to change course, abandon his job-killing policies, and find himself a new economic team. We need a Congress and a White House that will listen to the American people, who are asking ‘where are the jobs?’ and help end the uncertainty for small businesses.”

The Democrats' election-year woes are deepening, writes independent election analyst Charlie Cook in a new National Journal column. Their odds of retaining the House majority have been tough for months, but now their prospects for keeping control of the Senate appear to be worsening. Mr. Cook's latest assessment is that it is still "fairly unlikely" Republicans will pick up 10 seats and take control of the Senate, but that “the possibility of a GOP takeover is growing.”

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