WASHINGTON -- President Obama went to Toledo, Ohio, last Friday to boast about his "economic recovery," but didn't say a word about that morning's grim unemployment report showing only 54,000 jobs created in May.
The worse-than-anemic jobs number, down sharply from 232,000 jobs in April, caused the unemployment rate to balloon to 9.1 percent and left the president speechless about the most politically potent economic statistic the government produces each month.
It was the latest economic body blow his presidency has suffered in recent weeks. Earlier reports showed that home prices continued to decline in nearly every major market in the country, falling to their lowest levels since the spring of 2009; the nation's economic growth rate slowed to a snail's-pace 1.8 percent in the first quarter; state and local government jobs were slashing jobs in the face of huge deficits and sharply declining revenues; and employers from coast to coast were complaining of continued uncertainty in a lackluster economy that prevented them from expanding their workforce.
If Obama's economic advisers truly believe that a majority of Americans think the economy is doing better under his policies, Tuesday's Washington Post-ABC News Poll put that notion to rest.
The Post poll found "a broadly pessimistic mood in the country," with 57 percent of Americans saying "the economic recovery has not begun." Even those who believe the economy has improved since the 2008-09 recession complain that it remains weak.
Overall, six in 10 give Obama failing grades on the economy, the budget deficit and the national debt. Notably, nearly two-thirds of the political independents said they did not like the way he was handling the economy, and a majority expressed "strong" disapproval.
The poll's most revealing political finding: Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the GOP front-runner for the 2012 presidential nomination who has made the economy and jobs his top campaign issues, now leads Obama among registered voters by 49 percent to 46 percent.
While the president seemed unable to face reality and talk openly about the bleak job statistics last week, Democratic strategists were more than eager to lecture him on the No. 1 issue that threatens to topple his presidency.
"No incumbent president since (Franklin D.) Roosevelt has won re-election with greater than 8 percent unemployment," Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg said in a report for the liberal advocacy group Democracy Corps.
"Current Democratic narratives too often fail to meet voters where they are in how they perceive and experience the economy and, even more important, do not speak to voters' aspirations and goals when thinking about the economic future. They do not take the voters' economic understanding seriously when indeed, they are dead serious."
During Obama's first two years, Democrats "have offered a jumble of messages without a consistent framework that explains why and what Democrats are doing," Greenberg writes. The dismal economic realities Democrats now face include "a middle class smashed and struggling, American jobs being lost, the country and the people in debt."
Even those who worked within the Obama administration were sharply critical of the economy under the president's policies. "The president is going to be running for re-election in an economy that's still too weak," Jared Bernstein, Vice President Joe Biden's former chief economic adviser, told The Washington Post.
The bleak reality of Obama's economic troubles is that the White House has essentially been clueless about what to do next to drive unemployment down to more normal levels in the next year and a half.
More than three-quarters of a trillion dollars in new pump-priming spending didn't work. An unprecedented wave of costly government regulations of the nation's businesses through Obamacare and a thicket of new financial reform laws have only raised business costs, paralyzed job growth and curtailed new capital investment.
Obama has long been hostile to tax-rate cuts to spur economic growth, but there is now behind-the-scenes talk in the White House about taking a page out of Republican supply-side tax cuts of the past.
"The president and his team have looked to Ronald Reagan's presidency as a possible template for their re-election fortunes," reports Washington Post political analyst Dan Balz.
Nearly two years before Reagan's 49-state landslide re-election, the unemployment rate rose to 10.8 percent and his political future looked precarious at best. But then his across-the-board income tax cuts began kicking in, and by the summer of 1984, the jobless rate had plunged to 7.5 percent. A sense of optimism was rekindled throughout the country.
What caused the jobless rate to plummet was "strong economic growth in 1983 and 1984," Balz pointed out, with the gross domestic product accelerating at quarterly growth percentage rates of 5.1, 9.3, 8.1, 8.5, 8 and, finally, 7.1 in the second quarter of 1984 -- expansion rates that make the Obama economy look like it's standing still.
There's a lesson here for the White House that still believes last month's feeble jobless rate was just "a bump in the road," hoping against hope that the economy will eventually improve.
Obama's 1930s-era spending policies have been a complete and utter failure, leaving behind a legacy of high unemployment, a mountain of debt, and a dispirited nation looking for a new leader to get America moving again.