THE BLOG
09/05/2012 11:37 am ET Updated Nov 05, 2012

Are You Better Off? You Betcha!

Of all the lying nonsense that came out of last week's Republican convention, the biggest was that this country is worse off now than it was when President Obama took office. Even more discouraging is the fact that for three days, Democrats went along with that big lie!

Willard M. Romney started it all in his acceptance speech last Thursday night, later echoed by Republicans by the dozen, that:

This president can tell us it was someone else's fault. This president can tell us that the next four years he'll get it right. But this president cannot tell us that you are better off today than when he took office.

There it was, the old line Ronald Reagan used so effectively against Jimmy Carter in 1980. Whipsawed by a combination of 13.5% inflation and recession, a Democratic mutiny led by Ted Kennedy, and the Iran hostage crisis, Carter took a 10-point thumping from the nation's leading snake-oil salesman.

Whatever the merits of Reagan's "better off" charge back then, Romney's similar accusation these days is ridiculous. Not that there aren't plenty of exceptions today, like if you've lost your job or your home. But Americans, in general, have famously short memories. A little mind-jogging may remind reasonable people of how much more awful it was everywhere in those dark days when Time magazine's September 2008 story reminded us "How Financial Madness Overtook Wall Street" (and Main Street too):

If you're having a little trouble coping with what seems to be the complete unraveling of the world's financial system, you needn't feel bad about yourself. It's horribly confusing, not to say terrifying...

Every day brings another financial horror show, as if Stephen King were channeling Alan Greenspan to produce scary stories full of negative numbers. One weekend, the Federal Government swallows two gigantic mortgage companies and dumps more than $5 trillion ...of the firms' debt onto taxpayers... Lehman Brothers goes broke, and Merrill Lynch feels compelled to shack up with Bank of America to avoid a similar fate. Then... having Treasury and the Fed reverse course for an $85 billion rescue of creditors and policyholders of American International Group (AIG), a $1 trillion insurance company. Other once impregnable institutions may disappear or be gobbled up.

As ex-North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt recently reminded in Newsweek:

We were within inches -- inches -- of a depression the month that this man came into office... [I]t took us 10 years and a world war to get out of the Depression. So this man has been leading under terribly difficult circumstances...

Can anyone really compare the sheer nationwide panic the new president faced to the painfully slow but steady progress to date? I can't. The month Obama took office, the U.S. lost 818,000 jobs. Job growth has moved almost steadily upward since then and has been positive almost every month since early 2010. Last month we gained 163,000.

Economic growth in GDP, and home prices, are up too; manufacturing has risen 12% and Wall Street's S&P 500 is up over 50%. Foreclosures and interest rates are down and inflation remains low. Admittedly, unemployment, at 7.8 per cent when Obama took office, is now half a per cent higher. And the number of people employed today is 316,000 fewer. But a closer look reveals that private sector employment is actually up a bit. The drop in total unemployment is caused by a cut of 648,000 in public sector jobs -- largely because the end of the stimulus forced hard-pressed local governments to fire thousands of workers.

Especially given the total obstructionism of Romney's Republican Party, the president's record, while leaving much to be desired, is certainly defensible. Remember: Republican leaders met to begin sabotaging his presidency on his inauguration day. And their Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, boasted that "the single most important thing we want to achieve" was not recovery from the Bush Depression but "for President Obama to be a one-term president."

Last year, veteran reporter Robert Parry summed up the GOP's anti-Obama, anti-American policy this way:

Republicans and the Right... are well positioned to roll the U.S. economy off the cliff and blame the catastrophe on Obama. Indeed, that may be their best hope for winning Election 2012.

They may well realize that hope, fortified by hundreds of lies and billions of dollars. Let's hope they don't get any more help from the Democrats, as they did with "are you better off." Incredibly, even with all their ammunition and the total predictability of the question, the Democrats' first response was to agree with Romney.

When CBS's Bob Schieffer asked Maryland's Governor Martin O'Malley, one of the party's rising stars, "Can you honestly say that people are better off today than they were four years ago?" on Sunday, O'Malley's answer was "No," agreeing we were NOT better off now. The governor went on to blame George Bush for wrecking the economy until reminded by Schieffer that "George Bush is not on the ballot."

David Plouffe, Obama's top White House strategist, did almost as badly. He twice ducked the "are you better off" question from ABC's George Stephanopoulos, lamely explaining that "the American people understand" that the country is in the worst fix since the Depression. "It took us a long time to get into that hole, it's going to take a long time to get out of it," he said

But neither they, nor Obama's chief election strategist David Axelrod, did what they should have and angrily denounced Romney's statement as nothing but another big lie. All three were badly unprepared, behaving though they never expected to be asked the big question. How come? Are You Better off? You bet. Besides all the statistics, no one's talking "panic" or "Depression" any more.

All this apparently occurred to the Democrats overnight because next day, Labor Day, they changed their tune. O'Malley told CNN :"We are clearly better off." Obama's deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, reminded Today Show viewers of the horrors of four years ago. Vice President Biden chimed in, leading an audience chanting: "Osama Bin Laden is dead and GM is alive." And Democratic conventioneers have since weighed in by the dozens.

It all came a few days late. And it shouldn't happen again. But at least the Dems finally got it right. Let's hope they keep reminding us about how much better off we are, and how much worse we'll be if Romney and his party of billionaires and lunatics takes power with its promises to cut taxes for the rich and corporations, and slash government help for all the rest of us.

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