Commentary Magazine


Topic: jobs report

Re: The Jobs Numbers

The White House spins today’s grim August jobs report (which John Steele Gordon details below), calling it “further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression”:

While there is more work that remains to be done, today’s employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression. It is critical that we continue the policies that are building an economy that works for the middle class as we dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the severe recession that began in December 2007. To create more jobs in particularly hard-hit sectors, President Obama continues to support the elements of the American Jobs Act that have not yet passed, including further investment in infrastructure to rebuild our Nation’s ports, roads and highways, and assistance to State and local governments to prevent layoffs and to enable them to rehire hundreds of thousands of teachers and first responders. To build on the progress of the last few years, President Obama has also proposed an extension of middle class tax cuts that would prevent the typical middle class family from facing a $2,200 tax increase next year.

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The White House spins today’s grim August jobs report (which John Steele Gordon details below), calling it “further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression”:

While there is more work that remains to be done, today’s employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression. It is critical that we continue the policies that are building an economy that works for the middle class as we dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the severe recession that began in December 2007. To create more jobs in particularly hard-hit sectors, President Obama continues to support the elements of the American Jobs Act that have not yet passed, including further investment in infrastructure to rebuild our Nation’s ports, roads and highways, and assistance to State and local governments to prevent layoffs and to enable them to rehire hundreds of thousands of teachers and first responders. To build on the progress of the last few years, President Obama has also proposed an extension of middle class tax cuts that would prevent the typical middle class family from facing a $2,200 tax increase next year.

At the AEI blog, James Pethokoukis cites a far less optimistic take from Citigroup:

The unemployment rate dropped to 8.1% from 8.3%, but in this case with declines in both the labor force (-368,000) and the household-survey measure of employment (-119,000). With labor force participation falling back to a new cycle low of 63.5%, the drop in the unemployment rate should not be reported as good news.

Pethokoukis adds:

This was not the employment report either American workers or the Obama campaign were hoping for. A huge miss. It shows the U.S. labor market remains in a deep depression, generating few jobs and little if no income growth.

No amount of spin from the White House or Obama campaign can put a happy face on these numbers. While the unemployment rate dipped from 8.3 percent in July to 8.1 percent, Pethokoukis notes that the unemployment rate would actually be 8.4 percent if workforce participation had remained steady from July. The fact that many unemployed Americans have given up looking for jobs over the past month is obviously a distressing sign, even though it may have made the unemployment rate look modestly better on the surface.

Meanwhile, the Romney campaign jumped on the numbers this morning to contrast them with the positive recovery rhetoric from the Democratic National Convention: “If last night was the party, this morning is the hangover.”

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Jobs and the Election

There’s something for everyone in this morning’s jobs report.

Democrats will point to the reported 163,000 new jobs last month, double June’s dismal 80,000 (which was revised downward today to an even more dismal 64,000).  For the first time in quite awhile this was above economists’ estimates (they were predicting 95,000 new nonfarm jobs).

Republicans will point to the fact that the unemployment rate ticked up to 8.3 percent from 8.2. That’s the worst since February. The unemployment rate has been above 8 percent for 41 straight months now. The broader measure of unemployment, which includes part timers who would rather be working full time, also increased from 14.9 percent to 15 percent, a really bad number.

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There’s something for everyone in this morning’s jobs report.

Democrats will point to the reported 163,000 new jobs last month, double June’s dismal 80,000 (which was revised downward today to an even more dismal 64,000).  For the first time in quite awhile this was above economists’ estimates (they were predicting 95,000 new nonfarm jobs).

Republicans will point to the fact that the unemployment rate ticked up to 8.3 percent from 8.2. That’s the worst since February. The unemployment rate has been above 8 percent for 41 straight months now. The broader measure of unemployment, which includes part timers who would rather be working full time, also increased from 14.9 percent to 15 percent, a really bad number.

It should be pointed out that these numbers are not raw, they are adjusted to be, hopefully, consistent over time. But that, of course, adds a human element to the numbers, for these adjustments are the product of judgments, guesses, estimates, and, perhaps, unconscious prejudice. There are some who have serious questions regarding the adjustments made to this month’s figures.

Even if the economy now continues to create jobs at the rate of 163,000 a month, that’s not nearly enough to bring down the unemployment rate.  Indeed, if things start to pick up, discouraged workers not now counted might begin to search for jobs again and send the unemployment rate up, not down.  It is already half a percentage point above the highest figure any president since Roosevelt has survived to be re-elected.

There will be three more jobs reports before the election (on September 7, October 5, and November 2). That last one will be on the Friday before the election day.  If it’s a really bad one or a really good one, it could make the difference provided the election is still close. The Friday before election day is considered the best day to drop a bombshell, as the opposition has little time to effectively respond. It was on that day in 2000 that the Al Gore campaign released information, which it had known for months, on George W. Bush’s long-ago DUI incident.

And it was on the Friday before the 1992 election that—in one of the most disgraceful acts in the history of American justice—Lawrence Walsh, special prosecutor in the Iran-Contra scandal, re-indicted  former defense secretary Casper Weinberger and directly implicated President Bush in the indictment although that was totally irrelevant to the indictment itself. The indictment was later dismissed on statute-of-limitations grounds (and Bush gave Weinberger a full pardon to prevent any further shenanigans from Walsh). Even Lanny Davis, later special counsel to President Clinton called the action, “bizarre.”

The first President Bush was already toast at that point. But the DUI report in 2000 might well have turned what would have been a close but clear election into the hanging-chads constitutional nightmare that the 2000 election became.

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Can Class Warfare Sink Romney?

With a sinking economy and few accomplishments to his credit, President Obama has been doing the only thing an incumbent in his position can do: trash his opponent. Democratic attacks on Mitt Romney’s business record have taken a toll on the Republican candidate, but the assault on his record as an investor can only go so far. The president’s base may buy into the claims that Romney’s wealth was gained only by outsourcing American jobs abroad, but most are not that gullible. The line between throwing mud at Romney and trashing capitalism is very thin. If the president is going to go to the polls as the champion of propping up doomed businesses with bailouts as opposed to creating wealth and jobs by promoting those that can succeed, Romney will win. However, Romney’s problem is not so much his record at Bain Capital as it is the idea that he is an out of touch rich guy. And that, rather than Bain, is the real Democrat target, as today’s front page story in the Sunday New York Times rightly points out.

Seen in that light, Democratic strategists had to be pleased this week when photos of a shirt-sleeved President Obama on his working class bus tour of Ohio were contrasted with pictures of Romney jet-skiing on a New Hampshire lake while on a July 4th vacation with his family. Republicans who remember the points they scored when photographers caught John Kerry windsurfing during the 2004 campaign probably winced when they saw Romney cavorting on the water. But it remains to be seen whether Barack Obama–the candidate of Hollywood elites and who recently was hosted at a gala fundraiser in New York by Sarah Jessica Parker where his candidacy was touted by Vogue editor Anna Wintour–can convince wavering independent voters he is the champion of the working class. The question for the country is not so much who’s the rich guy in the race as who is the one who is out of touch with the country’s economic dilemma. While Romney’s weakness has always been his inability to connect with ordinary voters, Obama’s is that he is the guy in charge of an economy where employment is shrinking rather than growing.

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With a sinking economy and few accomplishments to his credit, President Obama has been doing the only thing an incumbent in his position can do: trash his opponent. Democratic attacks on Mitt Romney’s business record have taken a toll on the Republican candidate, but the assault on his record as an investor can only go so far. The president’s base may buy into the claims that Romney’s wealth was gained only by outsourcing American jobs abroad, but most are not that gullible. The line between throwing mud at Romney and trashing capitalism is very thin. If the president is going to go to the polls as the champion of propping up doomed businesses with bailouts as opposed to creating wealth and jobs by promoting those that can succeed, Romney will win. However, Romney’s problem is not so much his record at Bain Capital as it is the idea that he is an out of touch rich guy. And that, rather than Bain, is the real Democrat target, as today’s front page story in the Sunday New York Times rightly points out.

Seen in that light, Democratic strategists had to be pleased this week when photos of a shirt-sleeved President Obama on his working class bus tour of Ohio were contrasted with pictures of Romney jet-skiing on a New Hampshire lake while on a July 4th vacation with his family. Republicans who remember the points they scored when photographers caught John Kerry windsurfing during the 2004 campaign probably winced when they saw Romney cavorting on the water. But it remains to be seen whether Barack Obama–the candidate of Hollywood elites and who recently was hosted at a gala fundraiser in New York by Sarah Jessica Parker where his candidacy was touted by Vogue editor Anna Wintour–can convince wavering independent voters he is the champion of the working class. The question for the country is not so much who’s the rich guy in the race as who is the one who is out of touch with the country’s economic dilemma. While Romney’s weakness has always been his inability to connect with ordinary voters, Obama’s is that he is the guy in charge of an economy where employment is shrinking rather than growing.

Obama’s ordinary guy pose is as phony as the image of Romney as the top-hatted plutocrat from the Monopoly board game. Obama is as comfortable cavorting with the rich as Romney, and were he a Republican rather than a Democrat and the first African-American president, the mainstream liberal press would be roasting him over his frequent golf breaks and hobnobbing with the coastal elites. Moreover, Obama is misguided if he thinks economic rhetoric stolen from Occupy Wall Street protests is a political winner. While the Times may think this is no longer an aspirational society that admires rather than resents success, there is no evidence the majority of Americans agree.

While the Bain attacks have scored some points, Democrats are actually fighting on Romney’s ground when they seek to determine the election on the question of who is the better economic steward or job creator. Romney’s gaffes and general awkwardness have beguiled them into thinking his wealth and business success is a weakness. But, as Friday’s latest jobs report shows, this vulnerability on the GOP standard-bearer’s part is nothing when compared to the president’s failures. Class warfare tactics may rouse the liberal base, but they are bound to fall flat with swing voters who want to know why the president is still blaming his predecessors for the state of the country.

Thus, the Democrats’ harping on Romney’s money and what Bain did is actually a trap they are setting for themselves. Romney’s campaign has been rightly criticized for a strategy that appears to be aimed at playing it safe and avoiding the bold proposals that would provide a clearer alternative to Obama’s dependence on big government solutions. But as long as the campaign is being fought on the question of job creation and the economy, the Republican has the upper hand. Trashing the challenger is the only way to go when you can’t run on your record, but so long as Romney can point to the country’s economic decline on Obama’s watch, his business acumen remains an asset rather than a defect.

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Obama’s Excuses Are Getting Weaker

President Obama’s response to the latest dismal federal jobs report was as predictable as it was weak. Speaking on his bus tour of Ohio, he repeated the theme we’ve heard so often since January 2009: It’s not his fault. Only this time he not only heaped blame on the administration of his predecessor but also claimed the problems dated to the Clinton administration, which heretofore Democrats have spoken of as a golden age of prosperity:

“We’ve got to deal with what’s been happening over the last decade, the last 15 years.”

It’s not clear what event it was that happened in 1997 — when his secretary of state was serving as First Lady and President Obama had just begun his first term in the Illinois State Senate — whose impact was so far-reaching that even today the administration is helpless to ameliorate its effects. But whatever it was that the president had in mind when he threw out this puzzling alibi, blaming Bill Clinton is about as pointless as pointing the finger at George W. Bush, Obama’s usual punching bag. But the way things are going for the president, one more bad jobs report and he may be blaming the elder President Bush as well his son and  Clinton for all of his troubles.

As even a liberal stalwart like Robert Reich pointed out today at the Huffington Post, the excuse that he inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression is “wearing thin.” In fact, it has already worn out, a fact made all too clear by the president’s obfuscations about the jobs numbers that Reich was honest enough to report.

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President Obama’s response to the latest dismal federal jobs report was as predictable as it was weak. Speaking on his bus tour of Ohio, he repeated the theme we’ve heard so often since January 2009: It’s not his fault. Only this time he not only heaped blame on the administration of his predecessor but also claimed the problems dated to the Clinton administration, which heretofore Democrats have spoken of as a golden age of prosperity:

“We’ve got to deal with what’s been happening over the last decade, the last 15 years.”

It’s not clear what event it was that happened in 1997 — when his secretary of state was serving as First Lady and President Obama had just begun his first term in the Illinois State Senate — whose impact was so far-reaching that even today the administration is helpless to ameliorate its effects. But whatever it was that the president had in mind when he threw out this puzzling alibi, blaming Bill Clinton is about as pointless as pointing the finger at George W. Bush, Obama’s usual punching bag. But the way things are going for the president, one more bad jobs report and he may be blaming the elder President Bush as well his son and  Clinton for all of his troubles.

As even a liberal stalwart like Robert Reich pointed out today at the Huffington Post, the excuse that he inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression is “wearing thin.” In fact, it has already worn out, a fact made all too clear by the president’s obfuscations about the jobs numbers that Reich was honest enough to report.

Though the president preferred to take a “glass half full” approach to the jobs numbers, as the New York Times delicately described his rhetoric, Reich was more frank about Obama’s excuses. Far from the creation of 84,000 new jobs being a hopeful sign, the truth is very different:

Remember, 125,000 new jobs are needed just to keep up with the increase in the population of Americans who need jobs. That means the jobs situation continues to worsen.

After a good week in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ObamaCare decision that led to more focus on Mitt Romney’s weaknesses, the jobs report brought the president back to the reality of a sinking economy that, as even Reich pointed out, he owns. The voters don’t care what he inherited. After four years, the Bush alibi, not to mention the swipe at Clinton, isn’t fooling anyone.

Reich also stated the obvious when he noted that Obama hasn’t any real ideas about dealing with the crisis. Even worse for the president — and the country whose fiscal affairs he is steering into the ditch — at this point the European debt crisis and China’s economic slowdown are likely to only make things a lot worse before they get better. Democrats may hope voters aren’t paying attention to the election and economic statistics until Labor Day, but by then the president’s goose as well as the economy may already be cooked.

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Dewey for President!

Another month, another lousy jobs report. The June report out this morning is no worse than the May report that was considered a disaster for the Obama re-election effort, but it’s no better either. Unemployment stayed the same at 8.2 percent, but the broader measure that includes part-time workers who would prefer full-time work ticked up a notch from 14.8 percent to 14.9. While the economy created an average of 226,000 jobs a month in the first quarter, it created only 75,000 a month in the second.

Just how dismal has been the recovery that began way back in June 2009, in the Obama administration’s earliest days, is graphically (quite literally) demonstrated in an interactive chart from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. George W. Bush owns the recession (fairly or unfairly), but the Obama administration owns this dismal recovery lock, stock, and barrel.

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Another month, another lousy jobs report. The June report out this morning is no worse than the May report that was considered a disaster for the Obama re-election effort, but it’s no better either. Unemployment stayed the same at 8.2 percent, but the broader measure that includes part-time workers who would prefer full-time work ticked up a notch from 14.8 percent to 14.9. While the economy created an average of 226,000 jobs a month in the first quarter, it created only 75,000 a month in the second.

Just how dismal has been the recovery that began way back in June 2009, in the Obama administration’s earliest days, is graphically (quite literally) demonstrated in an interactive chart from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. George W. Bush owns the recession (fairly or unfairly), but the Obama administration owns this dismal recovery lock, stock, and barrel.

Four more months of reports like these (the November report will be issued only four days before the election) and it gets hard to see how Obama can win. No president since FDR has won re-election with numbers this bad. And FDR was a master politician. Obama is not.

But then, neither, it seems, is Mitt Romney. As Jeffrey Lord, political director in the Reagan White House, writes in The American Spectator, he is beginning to look disturbingly like Tom Dewey. Dewey ran against a deeply unpopular president who was widely regarded as just not up to the job (“to err is Truman”). Everyone knew Dewey just couldn’t lose. And yet, for reasons Lord enumerates, he managed to do exactly that in the most famous upset in American political history.

Obama is increasingly unpopular and widely regarded as not up to the job. But the Democratic Party is not fractured as it was in 1948, with Henry Wallace running to Truman’s left and Strom Thurmond to his right in the then-solid South. Truman did not have the media totally in the tank for him as most of it is for Obama. So Obama will be a lot tougher to beat than Truman. So why model a campaign on Dewey’s? That’s like modeling a ship on the Titanic because everyone knew it was unsinkable. Memo to the Romney campaign: It sank.

 

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Jobs Report Rains on Obama’s Bus Tour

The unemployment numbers in May were bad, but June showed no improvement, according to the jobs report released this morning. Just 80,000 jobs were added last month (economists expected 95,000 on the lower end of estimates), keeping the unemployment rate unchanged, via BLS.gov:

Nonfarm payroll employment continued to edge up in June (+80,000), and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.2 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Professional and business services added jobs, and employment in other major industries changed little over the month.

The number of unemployed persons (12.7 million) was essentially unchanged in June, and the unemployment rate held at 8.2 percent. (See table A-1.)

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The unemployment numbers in May were bad, but June showed no improvement, according to the jobs report released this morning. Just 80,000 jobs were added last month (economists expected 95,000 on the lower end of estimates), keeping the unemployment rate unchanged, via BLS.gov:

Nonfarm payroll employment continued to edge up in June (+80,000), and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.2 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Professional and business services added jobs, and employment in other major industries changed little over the month.

The number of unemployed persons (12.7 million) was essentially unchanged in June, and the unemployment rate held at 8.2 percent. (See table A-1.)

Economists had revised their initial estimates yesterday after some encouraging indications from ADP. The Wall Street Journal reported that the late estimate for June was around 100,000 new jobs — but obviously the reality fell far short.

The dismal numbers come as President Obama wraps up his jobs tour in the Rust Belt:

U.S. President Barack Obama is facing the release of a potentially weak jobs report from June as he wraps up a two-day campaign bus tour in Ohio and Pennsylvania Friday. …

Ohio and Pennsylvania are two crucial states in the November general election, both of which Mr. Obama carried in the 2008 election. The president is using the campaign swing to portray himself more like a champion of average, working-class Americans than his presumptive Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, a wealthy businessman before entering politics.

After last month’s jobs report, Obama lost ground in states like Michigan and Ohio, which means the numbers released today could counteract any benefit gained from his jobs tour this week.

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It’s Getting Late Early for Obama’s Economy

For some liberal political strategists, the focus on the monthly federal jobs report that will come out later this morning is much ado about not all that very much. The unemployment and job creation numbers are, they say, just statistics that don’t necessarily tell us all that much about the economy and perhaps even less about the sentiment of voters. To which the sensible observer can only respond: Like hell, they don’t.

The question about why we’re all so obsessed with economic statistics this summer was the conceit of a New York Times feature that served to preview the latest jobs report due out on the first Friday of every month. According to many of those quoted by the paper, the problem with the jobs numbers obsession is they aren’t a true measure of the worthiness of President Obama’s economic program. Their fear is that the latest report as well as those that preceded it and those that will follow in the coming months may merely reflect a caprice of fortune in which a few ill-timed economic statistics can ruin the chances of an otherwise praiseworthy president to gain re-election. The experts consulted seem divided between those who think the predictive power of these stats is overrated and those who think they do mean a lot but aren’t necessarily fair to the president.

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For some liberal political strategists, the focus on the monthly federal jobs report that will come out later this morning is much ado about not all that very much. The unemployment and job creation numbers are, they say, just statistics that don’t necessarily tell us all that much about the economy and perhaps even less about the sentiment of voters. To which the sensible observer can only respond: Like hell, they don’t.

The question about why we’re all so obsessed with economic statistics this summer was the conceit of a New York Times feature that served to preview the latest jobs report due out on the first Friday of every month. According to many of those quoted by the paper, the problem with the jobs numbers obsession is they aren’t a true measure of the worthiness of President Obama’s economic program. Their fear is that the latest report as well as those that preceded it and those that will follow in the coming months may merely reflect a caprice of fortune in which a few ill-timed economic statistics can ruin the chances of an otherwise praiseworthy president to gain re-election. The experts consulted seem divided between those who think the predictive power of these stats is overrated and those who think they do mean a lot but aren’t necessarily fair to the president.

But this analysis misses the obvious. The numbers matter because they are the tangible measure of the success or failure of any administration in proving the country is in better shape than it was when they took over the big fancy offices in Washington after the last presidential election. If voters take these numbers seriously, it’s because along with personal experiences, they help form the voters’ overall impression of the state of the economy. The key here is not so much the details of each report as it is the trajectory of the nation’s finances. Moreover, given the fact that we are just four months away from the November election, it’s that point in time when, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, politicians begin to understand that “it gets late early out there.” Once the electorate accepts the verdict that the economy is either on the decline or on the rise, a possible change in the fall (with the exception perhaps of a collapse on Wall Street such as occurred in September 2008) is unlikely.

If, as some economists think and worried Democrats fear, the jobs reports will continue to spread gloom, attempts to spin the statistics as either arbitrary or misleading won’t work. Nor will President Obama’s claim the economy has been recovering for three years on his watch. If three straight summers of recovery leave the country in worse shape than the president found it in January 2009, then the only arguments to be made for his re-election will revolve around the historic nature of his presidency and attempts to smear Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Though it will, as Bill Kristol rightly noted yesterday, take more than a bad economy to elect Romney, a president who can’t run on his record in the midst of an ongoing economic crisis isn’t likely to be re-elected.

President Obama will have to hope the July numbers will be kind to him and pray the first Friday of August and September will not do him more damage. But whether they help or hurt him, it’s no good for Democrats to pretend the sinking employment figures aren’t a fair measure of the administration’s competence.

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Obama’s 1996 Scenario is Finished

Last year, as the Republican-controlled House of Representatives stood its ground on the debt ceiling standoff, President Obama’s strategy for 2012 became apparent. Throughout the torturous negotiations over entitlements, budgets, taxes and spending, the president issued statements about wanting a compromise, but these were a thin veil covering his obvious desire for a confrontation. Demanding new taxes that the House majority elected in 2010 had vowed never to accept, the administration more or less dared the GOP leadership to allow the country to default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling.

It was painfully obvious as the controversy lingered throughout the summer that President Obama was working from Bill Clinton’s 1995 playbook when he similarly bluffed a Republican Congress into shutting down the government over a budget standoff. Though Congress’s popularity plunged, the president was disappointed in his hopes that House Speaker John Boehner or Majority Leader Eric Cantor refused to step into the Newt Gingrich clown suits he had prepared for them. Nevertheless, the White House still hoped that lingering disgust for Congress combined with an economic recovery would allow the president to win re-election in the same manner as Clinton did. But if there was any doubt about the inapplicability of the 1996 template, this year it was removed on Friday as another dismal jobs report more or less guaranteed that a summer recovery wasn’t in the cards. The bad economic news isn’t just a setback that will give the Democrats a few shaky news cycles. It is confirmation that the president’s re-election strategy has already failed.

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Last year, as the Republican-controlled House of Representatives stood its ground on the debt ceiling standoff, President Obama’s strategy for 2012 became apparent. Throughout the torturous negotiations over entitlements, budgets, taxes and spending, the president issued statements about wanting a compromise, but these were a thin veil covering his obvious desire for a confrontation. Demanding new taxes that the House majority elected in 2010 had vowed never to accept, the administration more or less dared the GOP leadership to allow the country to default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling.

It was painfully obvious as the controversy lingered throughout the summer that President Obama was working from Bill Clinton’s 1995 playbook when he similarly bluffed a Republican Congress into shutting down the government over a budget standoff. Though Congress’s popularity plunged, the president was disappointed in his hopes that House Speaker John Boehner or Majority Leader Eric Cantor refused to step into the Newt Gingrich clown suits he had prepared for them. Nevertheless, the White House still hoped that lingering disgust for Congress combined with an economic recovery would allow the president to win re-election in the same manner as Clinton did. But if there was any doubt about the inapplicability of the 1996 template, this year it was removed on Friday as another dismal jobs report more or less guaranteed that a summer recovery wasn’t in the cards. The bad economic news isn’t just a setback that will give the Democrats a few shaky news cycles. It is confirmation that the president’s re-election strategy has already failed.

This realization comes through in some of the accounts of the White House’s reaction to the bleak jobs report. Though the president was undaunted during his various campaign appearances and statements, even the usually pro-Obama coverage of the New York Times could not fail to note that the hopes of the president’s staff for a 1996 rerun have been crushed. Though the Democrats are still going all-out to demonize the congressional Republicans, blaming them or George W. Bush for the poor economy is a perilously weak re-election strategy for a man running on the slogan of “Forward.”

The Democratic counter-attack to the GOP carping about jobs is to accuse the opposition of rooting for a bad economy. But that is a talking point that will work just about as well for the Democrats as the Republican effort to claim critics of the Iraq war were cheering for America to lose. The problem here is that, as the Times noted, the president seems to have no viable options to change the situation other than to whine about Republicans not passing mini-stimulus bills he claims will jump-start the economy.

As the Times notes, in 1996 with the economy booming. the Republican Congress passed legislation that aided Clinton as well as bolstered their own reputation. Democrats will brand the GOP as obstructionists for not working with the president for the common good this year, but the big difference between the two situations is that Clinton co-opted Republican positions and moved to the center as he cruised to re-election. By contrast, President Obama has run to the left this year, making it impossible for the House to embrace his proposals even if they wanted to.

The president hoped to make the election a referendum on the GOP and on Mitt Romney’s fitness for the presidency. But with a failing U.S. economy and the prospect that an even worse tailspin in Europe will drag America’s finance down even further this year, that is looking like a losing bet. Nothing is worse for an incumbent than the appearance that he is not in control of events. The president’s helplessness on the economy — an issue that is his opponent’s one great strength — is scuttling his 1996 blueprint for victory in an election in which the odds appear to be starting to turn against him.

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