Quotes of the day

Welcome to what one exhausted adviser calls the “theater of the absurd,” where a White House is whipsawed by wild, almost unimaginable events that threaten to reshape the public perception of the Obama presidency at every turn…

“All you can do is smile at the absurdity of these things piling up,” said someone who spends much of the day with Obama. Interviews with top White House advisers revealed little smiling in the past 10 days — but a sense that, in the aftermath of it all, they avoided two potential P.R. disasters and emerged with a clear sense of the argument Obama wants to take to voters over the next four months…

As the Barton episode was starting to fade, the president himself looked to fade away into his favorite form of R&R: golf. Some officials cringed, but decided not to take their concerns to the boss. They knew he would take his lumps -– conservative media ridicules him every time he takes a break from work — but were largely unfazed. “Presidents are people — they’re not robots or automatons,” one of the aides said. “They need releases, as well. I think you’re really doing the country a disservice if you say to the president, … ‘You can’t take any time off to blow some steam off because we don’t like the optics.’ That would be counterproductive.”

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The White House certainly has an enormous interest in portraying Mr. Obama as a president who has grown comfortable with his powers and is unafraid to exercise them. They conceded that Mr. Obama had no legal basis to force BP to create the $20 billion fund; they said he was making a moral argument, and used the jawboning power of the presidential pulpit to push the company…

“I think we used this week or so not only for a reassertion of executive authority, but as an demonstration that, when presidential power is judiciously applied, you can get a lot done,” said Rahm Emanuel, the president’s chief of staff, who argued for a more confrontational approach to BP and for General McChrystal’s ouster. He described financial reform legislation as one of five pillars of “a new foundation” for the economy, after the stimulus package, the health care overhaul and the re-engineering of college aid. (The fifth, an energy bill, may prove the hardest.)

Yet Mr. Rothkopf and even some of the president’s aides caution against confusing short-term reassertion of authority with a long-term ability to shape events. Wars and markets have a curious way of taking on a momentum of their own. With his victories this week, Mr. Obama owns, even more than before, America’s future in Afghanistan and the government’s running war to rein in big market players without squashing innovation or growth.

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