Presidents have often taken foreign trips to divert attention from domestic travails, but it didn't work out that way for President Obama on his nine-day Asia Pacific visit. Everything he did abroad was outweighed by concerns at home, ranging from continued economic trouble to the stalemate of the congressional "super committee" in its efforts to reach an agreement to cut the burgeoning deficit.
Obama attempted to underscore his commitment to job creation in various ways during the trip, which ended Sunday. He announced an Asian trade deal and had a surprise meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Bali Saturday to discuss economic issues. But White House officials don't have much to show for the trip in terms of a positive immediate impact on the economy back home.
And there was a glitch when Obama said Americans have been getting "lazy" in trying to lure foreign investment into the United States. He was talking about the failures of business and political leaders, but his Republican opponents, including presidential candidates Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, attempted to broaden his meaning in a very negative way. Taking him out of context, they condemned Obama for supposedly calling American workers lazy. Even some of his allies admitted that the president was sloppy in his phrasing.
Republicans also made a larger point that Obama has been absent from some important policy deliberations in Washington, especially the deficit-reduction talks. "Even now, while they're up against the final deadline on this super committee, the president is nowhere to be found, traveling abroad," said Sen. John Thune, an influential Republican from South Dakota.
Democratic strategists say he declined to get involved in the super committee's work for several reasons. He doubted that members would pay much attention to what he said, and he didn't want to get mixed up in an effort that seemed likely to fail.
But now that the committee seems more deadlocked than ever and with its deadline hours away, Obama will have to live with the consequences of failure--a government that seems hopelessly weak, polarized, and unable to solve the country's fundamental problems.