“The economy has been growing for 18 months after the longest recession since the Great Depression – but public opinion has yet to fully reflect what economists generally agree are incipient signs of hope. One truism of presidential politics that actually happens to be true is that voters’ perception of the economy trumps just about any other issue, so Obama, acutely aware of both the need to present a successful economic record and the dangers of prematurely declaring victory, is treading very, very carefully…

“White House officials have begun to make a cautious, persistent case that the recovery has taken hold, and Obama’s chief economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, offered the most detailed argument yet in an address Tuesday morning to the National Association for Business Economics.

“‘If you had said in March of 2009 when we had just lost almost 800,000 jobs a month, [and] GDP is in the steepest decline in more than a half century, that by March of 2011 we’re going to have grown for six straight quarters, we’re going to have added jobs for 12 straight months, spreads are going to be back to lower than they were — back to lower than they were before the financial crisis — I would have given you a kiss,’ Goolsbee said. ‘I do feel we have turned a very serious corner.'”

***
“Call it an above-the-fray strategy.

“On hot issues that Democrats and Republicans have found cause to fret about — from spending reductions to state labor disputes — President Barack Obama is keeping a low profile

“‘There is a very strong gravitational pull in this town to try to drag the president to every single political skirmish and news story,’ said White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer…

“‘[People] want him leading the country; they don’t want him serving as a cable commentator for the issue of the day,’ he said.”

***
“This is not the first time this has happened. The Obama White House left the drafting of the stimulus mostly to Democratic leadership in Congress — so much so that aides to House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey complained about a lack of guidance — and the result was a bloated, inefficient bill that quickly galvanized conservative opposition and ended the “post-partisan” age. He was similarly agnostic on the health care bill, allowing Congress to come up with an incomprehensible mish-mash that still required political trickery to pass. His recent budget fails to take seriously the mounting deficit crisis, which the White House is happy to let Republicans take the politically unpopular lead on. His administration was persistently behind the curve on the revolutions in Iran and Egypt, and now it is taking a backseat to the French on Libya…

“Nobody in the United States is as intent on reminding his fellow citizens just how awesome he is than Barack Obama. That’s what the ‘Age of Obama’ is all about. But that seems to be about it. The sense of awe he has cultivated has not been used for any great purpose — not to forge a bipartisan compromise on the stimulus, not to push through an intelliglble health care plan, not to handle the deficit, not to lead on any of the various foreign policy flareups. This is more a clerkship presidency, with a commander in chief either unwilling or unable to take the lead on the most challenging issues of the day.”

***
“For the second week in a row, the most powerful man in the world stepped away from the White House to hit the golf course.

“Even as his administration and the U.S. military help Japan recover from a devastating earthquake, and as the world worries about Fukushima’s nuclear reactor, the president could not resist taking advantage of the 48-degree weather in the Washington, D.C., area…

“These are never quick ‘work on your swing’ trips; usually the president plays 18 holes, as he did last week.”