Bleak jobs report dims Obama afterglow
on 08/09/2012 00:00:00
Just hours after basking in the glow of his supporters' adulation on Thursday night at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, Obama was hit by a stark reminder of the challenge he faces convincing voters to give him a second term despite stubbornly high unemployment on his watch.
US jobs growth slowed more than expected in Aug, with nonfarm payrolls increasing only 96,000, the Labour Department said. While the unemployment rate dropped to 8.1% from 8.3%, it was bad news for the economy because the decline was largely due to Americans giving up the search for work.
The grim report was likely to dim the convention afterglow for Obama, who in an impassioned speech accepting his party's nomination had appealed to Americans for more time and patience to finish his economic agenda.
His Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, seized on the latest jobs data to slam Obama's handling of the economy.
"If last night was the party, this morning is the hangover," Romney said in a statement. "It is clear that President Obama just hasn't lived up to his promises and his policies haven't worked. We aren't better off than they were four years ago."
Obama's nationally televised acceptance speech capped two weeks of back-to-back nominating conventions for Obama and Romney.
The address opened the last phase of a White House battle that polls show is essentially deadlocked amid deep voter concerns about the economy, which Obama argued he had put on the road to recovery even though growth remained lacklustre.
Both candidates were hitting the campaign trail during the release of the Aug labour market report, a crucial economic indicator that both camps were watching anxiously in a campaign dominated by the debate over job creation.
The latest jobs data could give a boost to Romney, the former head of a private equity firm who has made his business experience the centrepiece of his campaign. He argues he is uniquely qualified to create job growth and says Obama is not up to the job.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden headed to the toss-up states of Iowa and New Hampshire for joint campaign events. Romney also will head to those two states, which could be critical to piecing together the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.
They are among eight to 10 battleground states that are likely to decide the election, a list that also includes Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada and Wisconsin.
Those states have been flooded by tens of millions of dollars in television advertisements by the campaigns, and hundreds of millions more from outside groups allied with the two candidates.
Polls show the economy is the top issue for voters, and Obama addressed their anxieties in his speech.
"You elected me to tell you the truth, and the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades," he said.
"But know this, America: Our problems can be solved. Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place."
The Obama speech, moved indoors to a 20,000-seat basketball arena after threats of severe weather cancelled plans to hold it in a 74,000-seat football stadium, in many ways failed to capture the energy and excitement of his 2008 nomination in Denver.
Democrats said they were pleased with the three-day convention, which also featured energetic speeches by first lady Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton that galvanised the crowd.
With just two months before election day, Mr Obama needs to win over undecided voters, especially those who had been swayed by his inspiring message of hope and change in 2008, but now feel disillusioned after years of economic weakness and persistent political bickering.
"The election four years ago wasn't about me. It was about you," he said. "My fellow citizens - you were the change."
He said the American people were the ones responsible for accomplishments on his watch, such as overhauling health care, changing immigration policies and ending the ban in gays in the military.
If they turned away now, he warned, "you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn't possible. "Change," he said, "will not happen."
What the critics said
* It was a great speech - and yet, it fell short. Obama still has work to do with the vision thing. Convincing voters that he has a credible, practical plan to turn the nation around is a process, not a speech. - Ron Fournier, National JournalnI'm not alone in seeing President Obama's renomination speech as a bit pedestrian. It sounded like a regular stump speech. But in the Time Warner Center, the crowd treated the speech as a rip-roaring sermon. Any little applause line ignited a standing ovation.- Timothy Carney, Washington Examiner
* Overall, it was a decent wrap-up. It was a decent defence of his first term. It was a decent appeal for votes. But there was nothing memorable... - Kevin Drum, Mother JonesnWhen you've been in office for four years, you have to tell us what you've done for us lately, and what you'll do in the future. Obama should have taken some notes from Clinton on how to do that convincingly.
- Josh Barro, Bloomberg
* On the speech overall: I thought it was not one of his best but that it did the job. "The job," in this sense, was having the party leave the convention feeling as if they had a case to present.
- James Fallows, The Atlantic
* On this night, gonewas the excitement of someone new that was felt during his two previous convention appearances. And Obama, the graying incumbent, didn't try to recreate it.
- Ben Feller, AP
* There were parts of his speech that raised the old expectations. I liked the emphasis he put not on himself but on the word "you" - the idea that change comes organically from the bottom up. I liked his extraordinary self-awareness, his willingness to admit that often life on the campaign trail requires candidates to do silly things. I liked the sense of citizenship that pervaded his address, the sense of mutual obligation. But what I was mostly looking for were big proposals, big as health care was four years ago. I had spent the three previous days watching more than 80 convention speeches without hearing a single major policy proposal in any of them.
- David Brooks, The New York Times
* I think that while this convention helped the Democrats overall, the president himself delivered one of the weakest major performances of his career.
- Ross Douthat, The New York Times