Are you better off than you were four years ago? asked Governor Mitt Romney in his speech accepting the GOP presidential nomination. The answer depends on which "you" he was addressing. There are some "you" whose answers he might prefer not to hear.
Corporate CEO and Wall Street moguls are doing very well. Bonuses have returned to pre-crash levels and corporations are sitting on two trillion dollars cash. Unemployment keeps down wage increases, and this core constituency can blame high taxes and regulations for not making job-creating investments. Better to invest in stock buy backs and political buy forwards with campaign contributions to candidates and "Super PACs." This is an embarrassing example of the GOP social gospel based on "I've got mine, you are on your own." Best not ask this group the question lest the answer be overheard.
And best not address the question to the military or veterans, neither of whom Governor Romney or Congressman Paul Ryan thought worthy of mention in their acceptance speeches. It would not do for the military to say they are better off with the Iraq War behind us and a clear path to winding down the Afghanistan war ahead of us. Nor can the question be posed to military families who are spared endless separations and have been helped by the tireless efforts of Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden.
For sure, do not pose the question to the 500,000 veterans who were in combat four years ago and are now getting a college education thanks to the New GI Bill of Rights, a landmark piece of legislation that Mr. Ryan voted against. It would be particularly uncomfortable for Mr. Romney or Mr. Ryan to pose the question to gay servicemen who no longer have to live a lie while serving the country they love. Or to those homeless veterans who have been taken off the streets and will see this scourge largely ended by 2015. Not that the GOP standard bearers would lower themselves to speak to either of these two groups.
The GOP ticket certainly does not want to pose the "better off" question to the thousands of students benefiting from increased funding of Pell grants and continued low interest student loans. And they will certainly avoid the six million students and other young people who are now allowed to stay on their parents' health plan until age twenty six, thanks to ObamaCare.
Instead the GOP will ask the question to those who have yet to recover from the Bush economic dive toward depression as he left office. Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan will deny that the stimulus saved or created jobs, despite clear evidence to the contrary. Mr. Romney will deny the black and white print where he advocated letting Detroit go bankrupt. And they will downplay the economic mess that President Obama inherited from President George W. Bush while keeping Mr. Bush in the political equivalent of the witness protection program, keeping him away from their convention and Mr. Romney.
It is clear that many of our fellow citizens are suffering and need help. It is abundantly clear, however, that the GOP attitude of "I've got mine, you get yours on your own" is not helpful in solving the problem. They want to pose the better off question not to find ways to help people but to obscure the fact that they have no answers to meet the challenges we face nor any real willingness to find them.
A better question that should be the basis for choice in this election is: "Will you be better off in four years with Mr. Romney or Mr. Obama in the White House?" We will examine that another day.