As I type this, Nighthawk helicopters are ferrying President Obama back to the White House from a jobs event in Northwest Washington. "Nighthawk Two in formation," the pilot of a decoy chopper just told the tower controller at Reagan Airport.
Beat reporters have gotten so used to these quick trips, usually pegged to some economic figure or another, that some have taken to calling them "hardhat stops" because they always seem to feature the President donning a protective cap in some warehouse. Though our economy creates more service industry jobs these days, an image of a president sitting at a desk -- that'd be more accurate -- listening to a bureaucrat or a call-taker explain the ins and outs of a telephone system wouldn't be very compelling.
Then again, his economic one-offs aren't very compelling.
They're designed to counter the impression that the president isn't focused enough on job creation. Hey! There's a new job! Let's build a presidential event around it. Image managers at the White House know that anemic jobs numbers will require at least 20 or 30 seconds of video per television story. White House images aren't nearly as compelling as they were when Michael Deaver used to produce them, but they'd rather the president be seen interacting with workers, surrounded by the the tropes of work, then be shown walking to and from the Oval Office. So -- literally -- entire events have to be manufactured every time an economic number falls from the sky.
Political strategists will point to a second benefit: the local press coverage usually lifts the president's approval ratings in the immediate vicinity of the event for a while. Like the flight restrictions that are put into place when he flies, these effects are temporary. But they're better than nothing.