Friday, June 1, 2012

You Can't Spin This

I've seen this countless times before — and, as Weird Al Yankovic put it in his parody of MC Hammer's hip hop song, I can't watch this. I feel as if I have seen this before, and I don't want to watch this again.

But I don't really have a choice.

The monthly jobless report was released today, and, in the wake of recent economic reports, it came as no surprise to learn that unemployment went up to 8.2% in May. It was, however, a bit of a surprise that only 69,000 jobs were added to the economy in May — and, considering the fact that job gains in recent months were revised downward, it may well be that, when the dust finally settles, there may be no net job gains in May — there may even be net job losses.

Sixty–nine thousand jobs doesn't even cover average monthly population gains — let alone make a dent in the number of long–term unemployed.

Barack Obama's re–election campaign has been banking on continued evidence of an economic recovery — even the 0.1% gains that have been witnessed in some recent months would be preferable to the loss that was reported today. Economic experts have been saying for several weeks that they think the jobs situation will deteriorate this summer.

In other words, the worst is yet to come.

If a gain of any kind had been registered in May, it might still have been possible (if the economy managed to lower the unemployment rate by 0.2% per month) for the rate to be as low for Obama this November as it was when the voters re–elected Ronald Reagan in 1984.

And that is what the Obama campaign craves — an opportunity to run for a second term with a jobless rate equal to the one that existed for the Gipper.

Ain't gonna happen.

The first half of Reagan's first term resembled Obama's, with unemployment rates in double–digit territory. But the economy began to recover in 1983, and Reagan was re–elected, even though the unemployment rate was higher than it had been for any incumbent seeking a second term since the days of FDR.

However, the recovery of 1984 was more sustained, far more robust than this one, which has gone in fits and starts, like all the other "recoveries" since we were told the recession ended three years ago. Where Reagan sprinted to the finish line under the "Morning in America" banner, Obama is limping in that direction.

And jobs reports like the one that came out today are pressing the president into the "stay the course" mode that Reagan followed in the 1982 midterm elections — and resulted in the loss of 26 House seats for Reagan's Republicans — which doesn't have the inspirational quality of hope and change.

"Obama sees the glass as half full, arguing the economy is slowly improving and asking voters to trust him to help nurture a full recovery," writes Tom Raum of the Associated Press.

"No president since Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression has won re–election with an unemployment rate as high as it is today," continues Raum.

"It was 7.2 percent when President Ronald Reagan defeated Walter Mondale in 1984."

That doesn't inspire confidence, especially since Obama has shown a marked inclination to lecture people (one of the prominent criticisms of Jimmy Carter when he ran against Reagan in 1980).

Even the New York Times, normally a cheerleader for the Obama administration, has found it hard to put a positive spin on this.

"Economists can explain away a month or two of disappointing numbers," writes the Times' Shaila Dewan. "But this was the third consecutive disappointing monthly performance by the job market, following a winter of solid gains, convincing many that the economic recovery has, for the third year in a row, lost momentum."

Three strikes and you're out.

I can't watch this.

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