The latest dismal employment report has thrown a monkey wrench in the White House spin machine ahead of President Obama's big jobs plan next week.
No net jobs were created in August, and the administration has acknowledged that the nation's unemployment rate — which stayed flat at 9.1 percent in Friday's Labor Department report — isn't likely to budge much before next year's presidential election.
It's a sign that the spin machine has wound down and that cold, hard, reality is all that's left, says William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former policy adviser to President Bill Clinton.
"How do you spin 9 percent unemployment? You don't," Galston says.
"The administration is going to have to frame the 2012 elections as a choice, not a referendum," he says. "If it's a referendum on what's happened, they can't win; if it's a choice between us and something worse, they still have a chance."
Republicans stayed fully on message Friday, placing blame squarely on the administration. In a statement issued just minutes after the Labor Department report, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus calls the August jobs numbers a further sign that Obama's economic policies haven't worked and "a painful reminder that America still awaits economic leadership."
The White House Office of Management and Budget, in its mid-session review released Thursday, also has projected that U.S. unemployment will average no better than 8.3 percent next year.
In other words, it's already too late to see any miraculous turnaround in the jobs picture before the election.
Obama's best hope is that there will be a few glimmers of improvement before voters cast judgment on his term in office, says Stephen Bronars, senior economist at Welch Consulting.
"The economy just doesn't turn around that quickly," he says. "But if there were signs that things were really starting to rebound, it could still be good" for Obama.
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, says people want a president to be optimistic even in the face of grim statistics. But the current economic and the political climate in the wake of Congress' bruising budget battle may limit what Obama can realistically put in any jobs plan.
"Promising nirvana at this point is just not credible," Sabato says.
Steve Elmendorf, a political consultant and former aide to House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt in the 1990s, agrees.
"[Obama] has to propose ideas that are realistic, that Republicans are willing to go for," Elmendorf says.
"If the numbers are not going to improve to an acceptable level before the election," he says, "you have to ask people if they are going to be better off with his ideas for creating jobs or the other guy's."
GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney offered a preview of sorts of his own "bold, sweeping and specific" jobs plan Friday, but it's hard to envision how sweeping his plan could be given that he faces many of the same realities as Obama.