The big story out of Washington—and rightly so—is the debt ceiling fight that President Obama seems to be coming very close to losing. If the president abandons his 2008 campaign promise to be an absolute defender of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, he will have very little indeed to run on in 2012.
But that won’t be what beats him.
Because the biggest story in America is a different one from the biggest story in Washington. Americans are not that into the debt ceiling debate. Polling has suggested that less than a quarter of Americans are “closely following” the fight. Those numbers will rise a bit as the deadline gets closer and as the media hype the issue.
The issue that Americans have been following closely, and will continue to follow straight through the 2012 election cycle, the issue that tops the polls on the list of concerns, is the jobs crisis. Americans are worried about unemployment and underemployment.
And on Friday they got a lot more worried.
The Los Angeles Times headline was stark: “Dismal Jobs Report Shows Unemployment Rising to 9.2%.”
The New York Times headline was, if anything, bleaker: “Job Growth Falters Badly, Clouding Hopes for Recovery.”
The 9.2 percent official unemployment rate—up from 9.0 percent two months ago and 9.1 percent a month ago—is only a pale shadow of the real rate. Categorized in official terms as the “U6” unemployment, the real rate includes the offically unemployed as well as Americans who are underemployed and those who have given up on the search for work. It stands at more than 16 percent nationally. And in depressed states, such as Michigan (which Obama carried handily in 2008 but where is approval ratings are now troublingly low), it is well over 20 percent.
The official and the real unemployment rates are devastating. These numbers are some of the worst since the Great Depression. But they are not getting the response that high unemployment rates got from Democrats in the Depression era of other periods of economic downtown in the years since.
President Obama and his team have never focused on job issues with the intensity that is needed. And now they are simply being ridiculous.
David Plouffe, the president’s political czar, said on the eve of the release of Friday’s dismal jobs numbers that he does not believe that the high unemployment rate poses a threat to President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.
Speaking to reporters this week, Plouffe said, “The average American does not view the economy through the prism of GDP or unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers. People won’t vote based on the unemployment rate, they’re going to vote based on: ‘How do I feel about my own situation? Do I believe the president makes decisions based on me and my family?’ ”