There are polls and imperfect Republican candidates and rhetorical fireworks about the president’s rather lame bus tour. But these are all a sideshow in the nation. The main events economically and politically are continued financial instability, low growth and persistently high unemployment. The Post reports:

Stocks plummeted Thursday as worries over Europe’s banking sector again gripped investors and reignited the broad sell-off that roiled global markets last week.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 4.07 percent, or 463.9 points, in afternoon trading, after plunging more than 500 points on opening

But it’s not merely European debt and the ensuing financial-sector instability:

On Thursday, several economic reports pointed to an ongoing slowdown in the U.S. economy. Manufacturing activity in the mid-Atlantic region dipped significantly in August, according to a survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

Data from the National Association of Realtors, a trade group, painted a disappointing picture of the housing market, with sales of existing homes falling 3.5 percent in July to 4.67 million, the lowest rate in eight months. Economists had been expecting sales closer to 5 million.

“Demand is just taking another hit because of all this uncertainty we’ve had in the last month,” said Patrick Newport, an economist with IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Mass.

Newport said that the housing market could take another dip, though “the more likely scenario is that housing may just remain flat for another two years” without contributing to an economic recovery.

The labor market, a key driver of home demand, is also tepid. The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly unemployment benefits again rose above the 400,000 level last week, which typically indicates an economy that’s losing steam.

What say you, Mr. President? Ah, there’s a speech coming up in September. The chasm between the president’s agenda (and leadership skills) and the problems we face seems to widen with each passing day. The problem is not the Martha’s Vineyard vacation but the two and a half years that preceded it. The policy initiatives and the president himself seem too small for the challenges we face. He resorts to political stunts to fill the time and directs blame to Congress, the Republicans or whatever else he can think of. As our problems deepen and expand, Obama’s stature shrinks. You wonder what will be left of him by November 2012.