The White House could be forgiven for looking back on last month's earthquake, hurricane, floods and wildfires as the good old days. The August unemployment figures came out, and for President Barack Obama they couldn't have been much worse.
The unemployment rate remained frozen at a politically unpalatable 9.1 percent. The private sector added only 17,000 jobs, not even close to the 70,000 forecast.
That growth was canceled out by a cut of 17,000 public-sector jobs. It was only the second time that payroll growth had come in at exactly zero since the government began keeping track in 1939.
The private-sector figures might have been better, but the strike by 45,000 Verizon workers ended too late for their return to work to be counted. But, as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld might have said, you go into political battle with the statistics you have, not the ones you want.
Those searching for still more gloom might note that the economy needs to create 150,000 new jobs a month just to stay even with population growth. Government — the nation's traditional employer of last resort — not only has not been hiring, but its federal, state and local levels have shed 550,000 jobs since 2008.
Republican Mitt Romney, who has remained aloof from his party's congressional infighting, flatly declared that the August figures were "further proof that Obama has failed."
But the congressional wing of the party was muted when it might have been expected to crow. That's because the congressional Republicans' intransigent Tea Party-movement wing, with its reckless rule-or-ruin attack on lifting the debt ceiling, saddled the Republicans with the downgrading of U.S. creditworthiness, introducing massive uncertainty into the financial system when the markets were craving certainty and dealing a body blow to the fragile recovery of consumer confidence.
Moreover, other than calling for politically improbable tax-and-spending cuts, Republicans seem bereft of ideas on how to rekindle the job market. Perhaps that's why GOP House Speaker John Boehner offered the anodyne observation that it is time for cooperation "to end the uncertainty facing families and small businesses, and (to) create a better environment for long-term economic growth."
Obama is to offer his solutions to those very problems in a much-hyped speech Thursday night. His political advisers have told him to offer no small plans. The president may be at the point in his presidency where it's literally go big or go home.5 comments on this story
He likely will: demand extending the payroll-tax cut and long-term unemployment insurance yet again; propose major, and expensive, public-works and infrastructure spending; and support public-sector hiring in health and public safety and perhaps another major stimulus program.
Republicans almost certainly will balk at this. Even if it's good for the country, they are determined to deny Obama any kind of victory. Let them. And then let them spend all of 2012 explaining why they are refusing to put America back to work.