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If Job Numbers Don't Improve Obama Can Kiss the 2012 Election Goodbye

The notion that a Democratic president can win reelection with an unemployment rate that is edging upward and talk of cutting Social Security is beyond unrealistic.

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Now, let’s be clear, no one in their right mind thinks that Republicans who would be president are any more concerned about jobless Americans than is the Obama administration.

But neglecting unemployment as an issue—or presuming, as Plouffe does, that Americans will give Obama the benefit of the doubt—is political madness.

When unemployment reaches the level that it has nationally, and the even higher levels that it has in battleground states,  potential Obama voters start losing faith that "the president makes decisions based on me and my family."

Some of the disappointed may still vote for Obama out of fear of the Republicans, some will find social issues that draw them to the Republicans, but millions will simply stay home —as they did in 2010.

That's the danger heading into the 2012 race, and it is more profound today that at any time in Barack Obama's presidency.

Obama is toying with the notion of running for reelection as the president who did what George Bush could not: cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

That calculus suggests that Obama and his team really are out of touch with the electoral dynamic.

But that is not the most politically tone deaf scheme to come out of the president's camp this week.

While the president's apparent willingness to take the best argument available to Democrats going into the 2012 election cycle—the promise that they will defend Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security—suggests that Obama learned nothing from the Democratic party's devastating electoral experience in 2010, his top political aide's statements with regard to unemployment suggest that his team has learned even less.

No president since Franklin Roosevelt has won reelection when the unemployment rate was over 7 percent. And Roosevelt won because he ran as a candidate who was fully willing to use the power of the federal government to create jobs —and programs like Social Security.

The notion that a Democratic president can win reelection with an unemployment rate that is edging upward—perhaps toward double digits—and talk of cutting Social Security is not merely unrealistic. It is evidence of a disconnect that could devastate not just Obama's reelection campaign in 2012 but Democratic prospects for years to come.

John Nichols is The Nation's Washington correspondent.

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