With the presidential election five months away, about the only thing consistent with the Obama campaign has been the flow of bad news almost daily on just about every front.
The last week has been a nightmare for Team Obama. Manufacturing activity slowed, an index of home contracts fell and consumer confidence tumbled, sending the stock market in decline.
Last Friday's abysmal jobs report, in which unemployment numbers rose to 8.2 percent, was especially deflating. It showed that American employers added just 69,000 jobs in May, the fewest in a year, well below the 158,000 the economists were expecting.
Here are some other gloomy headlines that hounded Obama:
• American companies placed fewer orders to factories for the second straight month, fueling recession fears.
• The weakest payroll gains in six months may raise concerns that economic growth is not fast enough to bring down the jobless rate.
• Home prices in 20 cities fell 2.6 percent in 12 months, the smallest decrease since December 2010,
• Confidence among consumers fell in May to the lowest level in four months as Americans grew more pessimistic about the labor market.
The last item, a barometer of the health of the U.S. economy from the perspective of the consumer, is critical for an incumbent president. From April to May, it declined from 68.7 to 64.9. Historically, from 1967 until 2012, the consumer confidence in this country averaged 93.5, reaching an all-time high of 144.7 in January of 2000.
On social issues, the president has also suffered setbacks. His health care mandate, which would force church-affiliated hospitals, agencies, and universities to pay for services that violate their faith (such as contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs) as part of the health insurance they provide employees, has created a firestorm in the Catholic church and with other institutions across the nation.
Groups which do not comply with the Obamacare mandate face large penalties that could force many to close. In addition to 12 lawsuits against the Obama administration, including 46 plaintiffs from dioceses, hospitals and universities, the Catholic bishops will urge Catholics to openly defy the Obama's mandate, setting the stage for what may be the largest campaign of civil disobedience since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
Finally, many political pundits are calling today's roll call vote in Wisconsin the second most important political race of 2012. Gov. Scott Walker, who rose to national prominence last year after launching a successful battle to end collective-bargaining rights for most state workers, faces Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the same challenger he defeated in the 2010 election.
This "Waterloo" race carries broad implications for public-employee unions.
Republicans, many with Tea Party backing, argue that the limits are necessary to reign in state and local spending. Democrats, who have rallied behind the unions, accuse Walker and Republican lawmakers of exacting too much from their retirement packages.
Both sides have used their big guns in this crucial runoff. The Democrats brought in Bill Clinton last week but one notable no-show was Obama.
Today's Wisconsin race is a political hand grenade for the president, which is why he avoided campaigning there like the plague. If Barrett and the unions go down to defeat tonight, it only spells more trouble for Obama and the Democrats in November.
By Jim Zbick