Egypt eclipses Obama efforts on jobs 

With the crisis in Egypt still dominating the news, President Obama on Thursday tried changing the subject -- but his message on innovation had trouble breaking through. "Innovation is what this country is all about," Obama told an audience at Penn State University. "That's what we do."

But for Obama, the "Sputnik moment" he declared in his recent State of the Union address appears to have passed, taking with it the momentum he hoped to ride to a renewed focus on the economy.

"The concept of a 'Sputnik moment' is probably a little obsolete at this point, because the media cycle is so fast these days that big moments come and go all the time," said David Meadvin, a Democratic strategist and speechwriter.

Six weeks ago, Obama was "floundering," Meadvin said. Then after a burst of legislative wins and his speech in Tucson, Ariz., following a mass shooting, "he was on top of the world again."

But Obama in the past week has been only intermittently visible. He has not taken questions from the press since Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit last month, and his most urgent priority has been a tricky diplomatic balancing act with Egypt.

Aboard Air Force One on the way to Penn State, press secretary Robert Gibbs briefed reporters traveling with the president, but spent the entire time fielding questions about Egypt.

That was out of tune with the purpose of the trip to Pennsylvania, which was intended to show the president's focus on the nation's top concern: jobs.

"My fifth-grade science experiment looked just like this," Obama joked at one of the labs.

Some critics in his own party have questioned Obama's proposals for helping the private sector create jobs with tax and investment incentives and other measures, rather than providing more direct assistance to people through government programs.

"You understand that it's not going to be a cakewalk, this competition for the future, which means all of us are going to have to up our game," Obama said at Penn State. "That's what we're going to have to do."

Either way, the moment does not belong to the innovation initiative on which Obama focused so much of his State of the Union address. It's a risk for him politically if he loses focus on jobs. Despite massive government stimulus spending, the nation's unemployment rate stands at 9.4 percent and jobs and the economy remain voters' top concerns. But he risks looking out of step or worse if he sticks to his domestic agenda while Egypt, a key U.S. ally, devolves into violence.

John Kenneth White, a political scientist at the Catholic University of America, recalled Lincoln's famous quote, "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me."

Presidents routinely lose control of the narrative and have their message eclipsed by events, White said.

"I do think Obama will be able to get it back," White said. "For most Americans, Egypt is not the overriding problem. The issue remains jobs, and Americans expect that their president is going to speak to that."

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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