Well, there's no shine to put on today's unemployment numbers. The trend of slowing growth continues, and most ominously of all, the unemployment rate rose to 8.2 percent, approaching the danger zone of disqualification for President Obama. (I have said before that if unemployment rises to 8.4 percent, Obama cannot be reelected.)
What will be interesting to watch now is how these numbers impact Obama's strategy, which still seems based on the assumption that the economy will continue to improve slowly. Obama's message has been, to oversimplify, "We're making progress, and the other guy will take us backwards."
Obama has let the Republicans put him in a box on the economy and the deficit.Their refusal to allow any further economic stimulus and Obama's failure to make that intransigence an issue have made him politically dependent on an improving economy. Their refusal to agree to a "grand bargain" on the deficit and his failure to pursue one himself have given Republicans another issue on which to base their campaign.
So what, now? Obama needs a serious Plan B, a campaign strategy that doesn't assume slow economic growth but figures out how to win with unemployment back on the rise. It may very well be impossible to win under those circumstances, but the current frame of "forward versus backward" is on the verge of obsolescence. It's time to contemplate the abyss and emerge with a message that tells the truth boldly and consistently — as the president himself sees it — about what he will do to turn the economy around and put our country's finances in order.