For the last several months, liberal journalists have been plugging the idea that the United States is enjoying an economic recovery after the slow down of the past few years and that President Obama deserved the credit for rescuing the nation from its troubles. Evidence for that upswing was slight but, to be fair, Americans could be forgiven for viewing the debate about the state of the country from a “been down so long looks like up to me,” perspective. But one of the leading exponents of this thesis may be about to give up on their crusade to persuade us that everything is just fine and getting better every day. The New York Times published a front-page story intended to let its readers down gently as they confront a worsening economic picture in 2012.

The piece, titled “Rising Fears That Recovery May Once More Be Faltering,” is something of a cold shower to Times readers who have been fed a steady diet of features this year intended to prove that the recession is over and the country is on the rebound after a long spell of miseries that could be blamed on George W. Bush. As the Times reports:

Some of the same spoilers that interrupted the recovery in 2010 and 2011 have emerged again, raising fears that the winter’s economic strength might dissipate in the spring.

In recent weeks, European bond yields have started climbing. In the United States and elsewhere, high oil prices have sapped spending power. American employers remain skittish about hiring new workers, and new claims for unemployment insurance have risen. And stocks have declined.

While the newspaper maintains the recovery will persist and the negative factors are a mere “blip,” considering they admit that the same circumstances led to downturns before, this is a difficult argument to sustain. Even more to the point, the consequences of going into the fall with, at best, an anemic recovery is sobering news for their faithful audience of fellow Obama worshippers. If even the Times is prepared to admit that the recovery is collapsing, that is a sure sign the country should brace itself for far worse during the course of the year.

For all of the optimism emanating from Democrats lately as they surveyed the bloody wreckage caused by a bitter Republican nomination fight, the prospect of a declining economy is the sort of thing that overwhelms all other factors in evaluating the outcome in November. Romney’s flaws and an all-out Democratic campaign to convince the public the GOP is waging a mythical “war on women” will mean nothing if the president is forced to go to the people this year as the man who gave them, as the Times put it, “a third straight year of economic disappointment.”

With European instability, sluggish growth, a still high rate of unemployment and the prospect of higher gas prices this summer (that will go even higher if President Obama sticks to his word and doesn’t back off on sanctions intended to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons), there is little room for optimism about the economy even among the president’s liberal mainstream media cheering section.

But far from this unhappy news causing the Democrats to rethink their approach to the presidential campaign, this will, if anything, cause them to double down on their efforts to demonize Romney and to make the election a referendum on the Republicans instead of Obama. After years of economic failure, unpopular policies and minimal accomplishments, Barack Obama can’t run on his record. The real question to be answered now is whether the Democratic attack machine is powerful enough to overcome an economic situation that would sink any other incumbent.

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