OK, the jobs numbers are conflicting. The Unemployment Rate is misunderstood. The economic spinmeisters are working overtime. A dizzying array of economic data comes at the public every week, and they don’t know how to interpret what they hear.

The Unemployment Rate was well over 10% not long ago; now it’s down to 8.5%. That’s a pretty significant drop.

In a February 2nd 2009 interview with the very liberal Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today morning program, President Obama was asked what would happen if he wasn’t able to turn the economy around:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Look, I’m at the start of my administration. One nice thing about — the situation I find myself in is that I will be held accountable. You know, I’ve got four years. And —
MATT LAUER: You’re gonna know quickly how people feel —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: — and — and —
MATT LAUER: — about what —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: that’s exactly right. And — and, you know, a year from now I think people — are gonna see that — we’re starting to make some progress. But there’s still gonna be some pain out there. If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s gonna be a one-term proposition.

Many Republican strategists are salivating over this bit of video, saying it amounts to “smoking gun” evidence of President Obama’s unambiguous, unequivocal failure on the economy. “If I don’t have this done in three years….”

Three years from February 2nd 2009 is February 2nd of this year.

The Republican strategists who think this is d*mning evidence against President Obama that the electorate will grab onto and run with are wrong. Dead wrong. Completely wrong. Utterly wrong.

The standard that Reagan so convincingly skewered President Carter on to wrest the Presidency away from him—“Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”—does not apply this year.

Instead, it’s “Are you feeling a bit more comfortable, just a little, about the country’s future prospects than you were three years ago?”

That’s a far different—and lower—standard than Reagan’s and it’s quite a bit more vague, as well. “Well, you may be making less money in your new job than you used to, but at least you’re relieved to have a job, aren’t you? Now you can look forward to getting your life somewhat back on track. Maybe you don’t aspire to the new BMW and the two weeks in Aruba, but a week at the Cape and a four-year-old Buick sure do seem a lot better than nothing, especially when a year ago you thought you were going to lose the house.”

That’s The New Standard. The fear of even losing what modest gains we’ve made—even if not anywhere near back to the level things were in 2006—is what Obama will parlay as his greatest strength going into the 2012 election.

“If I don’t have this done in three years….”

What is “this?” “This” is anything President Obama deems it to be. Anything. Far from being evidence against him, he’ll use it as proof that he’s accomplished what he said he would. He’ll define “this” in 2012 terms and then show that that’s where we are—exactly as he said we’d be. It’s not arguable or able to be disproved, because 2012’s “this” is anything President Obama says it is.

What can the Republican nominee do? Not much, especially if the UER is down to 8.3% by September 2012 and gasoline is $3.22.gallon.

What they can do—in addition to running a media-savvy campaign, with clarity, well-articulated differences/advantages, and quick, memorable soundbites that can pierce convincingly through even the densest liberal media distortion—is to get across to the electorate that things haven’t improved, that 8.x% UER and $3.xx/gallon gasoline are not acceptable and that you shouldn’t be satisfied with living like that, with that kind of fear and uncertainty, day to day.

What the Republican nominee has to do is ask if these are the questions that are hanging over your head:

– Do you fear that you could still lose your job and that your company might not survive?
– Do you feel that you’re ‘just getting by’ and that you should be grateful for even the smallest stretch of time that goes by without a personal/family financial crisis?
– Do you feel a sense of resignation over high energy costs, that “things have changed,” such that gasoline, heating oil and natural gas will continue their skyward leap without interruption?
– Are you in fear that the next economic disaster is just a blink of an eye away, and that you’re living under the constant threat that any day the ‘other shoe will drop’?

Talking to people in everyday life, this is a pretty common way to characterize many people’s feelings. The Republican nominee needs to tap into this very strong undercurrent of voter sentiment with concrete, reassuring explanations of why it doesn’t need to be this way, how they (the R) can make it better, and the Republican’s media strategy has to be better than it’s ever been.

President Obama: “I’ve accomplished ‘this,’ just like I said I would.”
Republican nominee: “Are you scared and uncertain? That’s President Obama’s fault. You don’t have to live like that.”

Those are the communications themes around which the outcome of the 2012 election will revolve. Absent some wildly unforeseen and uncontrollable outside event or factor, the side that executes their task more effectively will win.

President Obama’s task seems more easily attainable at this juncture, given his lower bar and built-in liberal MSM help. A few more Matt Lauer-like interviews and Obama is in, pretty easily.