So long as the unemployment rate is stuck at 9%, President Obama's reelection chances are in doubt.
Obama isn't likely to produce nearly enough jobs before the 2012 election to greatly improve his prospects. What he can do in the absence of an unexpected burst of economic growth is demonstrate that the jobless rate is a special focus.
That's no easy feat on a tour of the Asian-Pacific, which Obama wrapped up on Saturday. The trip was a blur of summits, state dinners, arrival ceremonies, bilateral meetings, speeches and news conferences — many held in gorgeous tropical settings.
How would Obama persuade voters that his week away was connected to their everyday concerns?
Through image and message.
For starters, Obama ditched a tradition dating back two decades in which leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit donned silly-looking shirts and paraded before the cameras.
This year was Obama's turn to play host. And he made sure that when the leaders posed for pictures they were dressed in sober business garb rather than Hawaiian shirts and grass skirts.
With 14 million Americans out of work, folks back home might not have appreciated the frivolity.
At every stop en route, Obama also drove home the message that he was out prospecting for new markets.
So, in Honolulu on Nov. 13: "Now, the single greatest challenge for the United States right now, and my highest priority as president, is creating jobs and putting Americans back to work. And one of the best ways to do that is to increase our trade and exports with other nations."
In Canberra, Australia, on the 17th: "As the world's fastest-growing region, and home to more than half the global economy, the Asia-Pacific is critical to achieving my highest priority, and that's creating jobs and opportunity for the American people."
In Bali, Indonesia on the 18th: "For the last several days I've been talking about how we have to make sure that we've got a presence in this region, that it can result directly in jobs at home. "
When Obama made time for R&R, it was far from public view. Last Monday he played a round of golf in Honolulu.
There were no cameras around.