By Steven Sloan
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Regardless of whether the unemployment rate rises or falls on Friday when new monthly figures are released, the White House will continue to make the same pitch to voters: the economy is moving in the right direction.
"If you look at what the president has been saying for every jobs number for the past year or so, it's almost exactly the same," White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said today at a POLITICO luncheon here on the economy. "We're moving in the right direction; we're creating jobs."
"No matter what the number is, that's how we'll approach it," he said.
The administration is effectively putting on a brave face as it prepares for the possibility that Americans might learn of an increase in the unemployment rate just hours after they hear President Barack Obama deliver a speech on Thursday accepting his party's nomination for another four years in the White House.
Though he acknowledged that the unemployment rate is an important indicator of the economy's health, Pfeiffer cast the month-to-month movement in the number as a Washington fascination that doesn't resonate with all Americans.
"To the average person, the economy is a very personal thing," he said. "People will look at the array of things happening."
Pfeiffer's comments reflect the broader strategy by the administration of arguing that Obama inherited a terrible economy when he took office in 2009, steady progress has been made since then and that voters now need to decide whether to keep with the Obama plan or choose the ideas being offered by Republicans, which Democrats contend crippled the economy in the first place.
GOP lawmakers have seized on such sentiment to portray Obama and other Democrats as out of touch with the on-the-ground impact of the recession and its aftermath.
At the luncheon, Austan Goolsbee, the former chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, spoke of the challenges facing other countries and said the U.S. is faring much better.
"I think that once you get out of the grasp of a financial crisis — which takes some time to get out of — and you proceed on this transformational road — which we are doing, it just takes time — I'm not downbeat at all," he said. "Almost any other country in the world would rather have our problems than the problems they have."
Goolsbee acknowledged that the general acrimony in Washington and the looming fiscal cliff of spending cuts and tax increases "accentuates" some of the uncertainty that surrounds the economy.
But it's "by no means a majority" of the problem, he said, noting other factors that have weighed down the global economy, including the debt crisis in Europe.
The fiscal battles of the past continue to influence how both sides approach the fiscal cliff. Pfeiffer said one of the "biggest myths" surrounding the campaign is the idea that Obama could have won over Republicans on the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction panel by supporting its recommendations on tax increases and spending cuts.
"The president had very serious policy disagreements with the plan that came out of Simpson-Bowles, particularly the magnitude of defense cuts," he said.
Still, Pfeiffer said there's "no other option" for the president and Republican leaders than to confront the myriad fiscal issues that must be decided at the end of the year, when tax cuts will expire for everyone and $1.2 trillion in spending cuts will take effect unless Congress acts.
He said Obama is happy to sit down with Republican leaders to work on a deal but said both sides must give ground on their priorities.
"The idea that you could do something that would require one party to step on the third rail — I don't think that's realistic," he said.
Steven Sloan is a reporter for POLITICO.com. POLITICO and ABC News 4 have partnered for the 2012 presidential campaign cycle.