What ever happened to 'No Drama' Obama? 

After an unscheduled detour into homeland security, the White House this week plans to refocus on the economy and jobs — while holding off distractions like the racially charged comments of the Senate majority leader and the budget director's love child.

During the presidential campaign, President Obama earned the sobriquet "No Drama Obama" for his calm, unflappable demeanor. But the demands of the job and churning crises are constantly challenging that public persona.

"I doubt there will ever be a day in which we're only focusing on one issue," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. "There's honestly no end to the number of issues that I think he's probably spent time working on over the past eight days."

Polls show jobs are the top concern for most Americans, and Republicans believe unemployment is their best-bet political wedge to unseat as many Democrats as possible in this year's congressional election cycle.

"Instead of wildly pivoting from one issue to the next, the Obama administration needs to listen to American families asking 'Where are the jobs?' " said House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio.

Modern presidents come to office with a list of things they want to do. For Obama, fixing the economy has been the overarching imperative, with health care reform a strong second and other initiatives, like a climate bill and immigration reform, facing, at best, lengthy delays. The Christmas Day airline bombing attempt was a timely reminder for the administration of the potential for uncontrollable events to upend the schedule.

"They are constantly trying to pivot back to the economy, which will ultimately be the referendum on their governing," said Kevin Madden, a Republican political strategist. "The challenge is to not get distracted by little things — like gate-crashers." As the second year of the Obama administration opens, the White House continues to face unwelcome questions about how a third gate-crasher made it into a recent presidential state dinner.

On Saturday, as the president was pushing for final passage of his health care plan in Congress, the White House had to take time out to defend Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid had to apologize to the president after a new book about the 2008 presidential campaign quoted Reid praising Obama for being "light-skinned" and having "no Negro dialect."

Obama released a statement praising Reid, lagging badly in polls for his November re-election bid, for the "passionate leadership he's shown on issues of social justice."

Last week's headlines over Budget Director Peter Orszag's complicated personal life, including a child out of wedlock with a former girlfriend, had White House officials testy and impatient.

Another unwelcome distraction were questions about National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter taking a six-day ski trip immediately following the Christmas Day bombing attempt.

"I think you've heard the president say if there were just one problem to focus on, maybe that would be nice, but that's not what he ever assumed would happen, given the type of environment that we had coming into office," Gibbs said.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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