In December 2007, when the recession began, 7.7 million Americans were out of work; the unemployment rate was 5.0 percent.
Yesterday, however, the White House triumphantly announced that the 2009 stimulus "saved or created" somewhere between 1.5 million to 2 million jobs.
The White House is in a difficult position; it is trying to argue that things would be much, much worse without the stimulus. From a political standpoint, however, such an argument is a tough sell. When you make this sort of argument, you are asking people to imagine certain counterfactuals and accept them as true. There's nothing wrong with this; those of us who argue the world is better off without Saddam Hussein do it all the time.
The problem is convincing the public that your counterfactual is reasonable and correct. Voters don't seem to care for counterfactuals, but rather seem to base their judgments on tangible conditions in real-time.
That is why the administration sacrifices its credibility when it tells voters that, despite everything they are feeling, the stimulus was a tremendous success. The "saved or created" mantra may make for a great talking point, as Greg Mankiw explained last year, but it relies on abstract macro-economic models that have little to do with the real-life experience of individuals. No amount of pro-stimulus spin--even if the spinners do not use the "s-word"--will be able to convince voters that the economy is in better shape, right now, than it was prior to the recession or Obama's election.