Political talking heads have been chattering for a week now about President Reagan's big question of 1980 -- "Are you better off now than you were four ago?" They act as if that was the key question of the 1980 election, and President Carter's inability to answer that question satisfactorily sealed his defeat. Take it from one who was there at the time, that that's a myth. President Carter was defeated mainly because he failed to obtain the release of the American hostages from the Ayatollah.
Candidate Reagan and President Candidate staged their one and only debate on October 28th, one week before Election Day. According to The AP, 46% of Americans thought that Reagan had won the debate and 34% gave the edge to President Carter. Although the nation's economy was a factor, Americans seemed more concerned about the fate of the hostages, and that had not yet been decided. On Sunday evening, the President finally confirmed that he had been unable to obtain their release.
Monday morning, UPI reported that rolling polls had determined that after the speech, the President's ratings declined by half a point an hour for the next twelve hours -- Carter had lost six rating points to Reagan, that's a twelve percent shift overall. President Reagan won the election by just under ten percent. So maybe it wasn't the economy that elected President Reagan; maybe it was just Carter's failure to restore some of America's prestige by bringing the hostages home.
President Obama has a hell of a lot better foreign policy record than President George W. Bush did. For seven and a half years, George W. Bush had a chance to win back some of America's honor by capturing or executing Osama Bin Laden. He proved incapable. Even when the CIA and other American forces had trapped Bin Laden in Afghanistan's White Mountains (Tora Bora), President Bush missed the opportunity and Bin Laden slipped over the border into Pakistan, where he found safe haven for ten years, until President Obama had the guts to approve the Seal raid that finally ended Bin Laden's life.
That decision was not an easy one to make. President Carter had tried a rescue mission for the Iranian hostages and it ended in disaster -- another proof of his "loser" image. Obama risked that, but he succeeded and America has been more respected ever since.
I believe that the American economy is better off now than when President Obama took office and Democratic politicians have finally begun to say that publicly. The American automobile industry still exists and prospers. More Americans are employed by private enterprise than there were when the President came in office. Of course, there are many American public employees, teachers, health workers and even some policemen have been laid off because state governors are afraid to raise the taxes that would save their jobs.
Although true, that's a much harder argument to prove than to simply say, we got the guy who killed 3,000 Americans, while George W. Bush and the rest of the Republicans embarked on an unfortunate excursion in Iraq and let Bin Laden live a life of ease in Pakistan. Neither Mitt Romney nor Paul Ryan has ever made a military decision. They talk about what they would do, but they ain't done it yet, and judging by the lack of success of their Republican predecessor, I wouldn't count on them to do it.
President Obama came into office in the worst American crisis in our history. He was stuck with two wars, and the worst economy in eighty years. We're not out of that crisis yet, and the President still has a long way to go, but at least he's put an end to Bin Laden. If voters today care as much about our reputation around the world as they used to, they have every reason to stick with him. All things considered, we could have done far worse.