President Barack Obama has admitted to being obsessed with seeking a solution to the nation's economic woes. "You should know," the president recently told UPS workers, "that keeping the economy growing and making sure jobs are available is the first thing I think about when I wake up every morning. It's the last thing I think about when I go to bed each night."
You can't measure how much time a president spends "thinking" about the economy. But how much time has Obama spent working on rebuilding America's crumbling economy? Researchers at the Government Accountability Institute looked into this for a new report into Obama's official public schedule from his inauguration until June 30, 2012. They uncovered startling facts that reveal just how little time Obama has actually spent on economic matters.
Here are a few findings for the first 1,257 days of Obama's presidency, based on the president's official schedule as posted on the White House website and Politico.com:
* He has spent less than 4 percent of his total time in economic meetings or briefings of any kind (assuming a workweek of six 10-hour days).
* Obama spent 412 hours (or 41 10-hour workdays) in economic meetings or briefings of any kind.
* There were 773 days (72 percent), excluding Sundays, in which he had no economic meetings.
* So far this year, Obama has spent 24 total hours in economic meetings of any kind.
* Throughout his presidency, Obama has spent an average of 138 minutes a week in economic meetings. For comparison, consider that dog owners spend an average of 130 minutes a week walking their dogs.
The researchers used a broad definition of what counted as economic meetings. For example, "Obama meets with Cabinet secretaries" counted as an economic meeting. So did "Obama meets with Democratic members of the House Ways and Means Committee" and "Obama meets with Consumer Product Safety Commission Chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum."
On the days where an economic meeting listed no ending time, the researchers spotted Obama a full two hours -- though most presidential meetings run much shorter. Still, the totals for time spent on the worst economy since the Great Depression came in shockingly low.
Everyone understands that the U.S. economy is massively complex. That's why, given the depth of the economic problems we face -- federal budget, tax policy, international financial crisis, banking crisis, mortgage crisis -- these numbers are surprising.
Add to this Obama's often stated belief that the government needs to stimulate, manage and steer the economy on several fronts -- and these findings are stunning. His recent statement that "the private sector is doing just fine" may just reflect his lack of time spent on economic issues.
To be sure, a president's public schedule doesn't include every phone call or chat on economic matters. However, any White House would have an interest in conveying a president's priorities based on the schedule it releases. The numbers don't lie -- and the schedules do reflect priorities.
The Obama administration's ambitions speak of bold economic changes -- like creating "an economy built to last." Obama's allies, including former White House aide Bill Burton, are quick to say that he is "working hard to fix" the economy.
But Obama's bold policy rhetoric is not reflected in what he spends his time on. Time spent "working on" the economy, of course, does not always benefit economic performance. Indeed, many free-market capitalists believe the two are inversely related. Calvin Coolidge, for example, was famous for his low-key style. Yet during his tenure, the economy performed brilliantly. Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, was famous for micromanaging, and the economy was lousy.
Therein lies the paradox surrounding Obama's time spent working on the economy -- or lack thereof. The president's critics are likely to be relieved that he isn't spending more time on policies they believe will be destructive to wealth creation. By contrast, his supporters are likely to be troubled by the dearth of hours he has invested in studying the economy.
Either way -- in politics, perception is reality. Obama recently played his 100th round of golf as president. The numbers above suggest he might want to worry more about getting a grip on the economy than on his golf clubs.
Peter Schweizer is the William J. Casey Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the president of the Government Accountability Institute. He wrote this for Politico.com.