On Friday, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that the economy grew at a sluggish annual 2 percent pace during the third quarter. Not surprisingly, with the election just over a week and a half away, the Obama White House scrambled to spin the news as positive. "While we have more work to do, together with other economic indicators, this report provides further evidence that the economy is moving in the right direction," said Alan B. Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. But whether we measure the third-quarter growth against historical precedent or his administration's earlier projections, the Obama economy stacks up poorly.

Historically, growth tends to strongly spike when the economy is recovering from a recession. Because growth is measured by comparing the value of all goods and services produced in an economy with a previous period, growth should be strong right after an economy has been depressed and begins to recover. During the robust Reagan recovery, for instance, gross domestic product soared 4.5 percent in 1983 and 7.2 percent in 1984. Given how battered the economy was in 2008 and 2009, the U.S. should have experienced strong growth in the subsequent years of the Obama presidency. Instead, it grew 2.4 percent in 2010, 1.8 percent in 2011 and is now on pace to grow at just 1.8 percent again this year. If growth had been as strong during the Obama recovery as it was under Reagan, GDP would be $1.5 trillion higher right now than it actually is, according to James Pethokoukis, of the American Enterprise Institute.

Some would argue that it isn't fair to judge this performance against the Reagan years or any previous recovery, as the U.S. was facing a different blend of challenges under Obama. But even if you judge the performance of Obama against where his administration said the economy would be under his policies, it still looks bad.

In August 2009, months after the adoption of his economic stimulus package and after the recession had ended, the Obama administration projected growth of 4.3 percent in both 2011 and 2012. The following July, even as the severity of the economic downturn was clear, the administration still forecast growth of 4 percent in 2011 and 4.3 percent in 2012. Then, in its budget released in February 2011, the administration saw growth of 3.1 percent in 2011 and 4 percent in 2012.

Obama's closing pitch to voters is premised on the idea that things are moving in the right direction. But the numbers portray an economy that is floundering and in desperate need of a new direction.