Monday, September 3, 2012

Are We Better Off Than We Were Four Years Ago?

If we're not better off, this guy might be part of the
reason! Image from source, NY Times.
On Sunday, I performed my usual masochistic ritual: I watched some of the Sunday political talk shows, specifically, Meet the Press, FOX "News" Sunday and This Week. On each show--and this is a little suspicious, wouldn't you say?--the host asked a Democratic spokesperson the old Reagan line, "Are we better off than we were four years ago?"

It's a trap question, and also kind of a lazy one. If the answer is "no," it's the immediate talking point, and would be in an instant Romney ad: "Obama strategist declares we're worse off." If the answer is "yes," then they would be just as quick to package the quote as proof that "Obama is out of touch, says America better off despite recession."

It's lazy, because it lacks context, much like the assertion that gasoline was so cheap four years ago (when in truth, the price had cratered temporarily after historic highs). Four years ago right this minute, we hadn't fallen off the financial cliff yet. So any comparison to early September 2008* is very, very dicy. Obviously, if we were about to go off the cliff, we were in terrible shape. But, we didn't know it yet. If you start the clock at November 6 (election day), then yes, absolutely we're better off. As I've seen elsewhere, you're better off after the house fire is put out than you were when it was on fire. But the house is still a burnt mess.

Don't be surprised if the answer to this question becomes
a theme at the DNC this week. Image from The Guardian.
It would be one thing if the arguments being made by the Romney camp were based on concrete facts. There is still an argument you could make to advocate "changing horses" in the presidential race. But they're not using facts. The use the gas prices thing, and the are you better off thing, both devoid of context. They point to debt racked up in the last four years without mentioning the wars being put on the books, or Congressional obstruction. They claim the stimulus failed (which is debatable) without mentioning that it was not the stimulus the President wanted, having been watered down and larded with tax cuts by Congress. They misrepresent the facts on Obama's welfare and Medicare policies. They blame the President for things that didn't even happen within his term.

Don't believe me that they're hanging the whole Romney/Ryan campaign on dishonesty and lies? How about the "We Built That" theme of the whole damned convention? That was based on a blatant, willful disregard for the context of a quote. If the entire Democratic National Convention is based on the theme of "I Like Firing People" and Joe Biden and President Obama seed their speeches with big whopping lies, maybe I'll concern myself with the Obama campaign's lack of coordination on the "are we better off" question. Until then, I just don't care.

Finally, as for the personal answer to the question, "am I better off than I was four years ago?" In some ways, yes. It put the fear of financial security into me. We've put a lot more effort as a household to shore up our reserves, and on that front, we are much better off. We replaced both of our aging vehicles in the last two years. We've made home improvements, and are less stressed than we were in the waning days of 2008, early 2009. Except for the housing market--which I do not see as Obama's fault--we (my household) are better off.


G.O.P. Seizes on a Question: Are You Better Off Than You Were 4 Years Ago?

Representative Paul D. Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, slammed President Obama’s handling of the economy on Monday, seizing on hesitant responses by Mr. Obama’s top strategists when asked whether the country was better off than it was four years ago. . . 

Read more at: New York Times

* I'd also like to note that my full-time job was reduced in hours beginning in September 2008. We cut back hours and staffing, and are still at 2008 levels. In that we're not better we're the same. But it is worth noting that we got here under the Republicans, and that their promised policies seem to echo those that got us here.  And even though things have gotten better, businesses have learned to do more with less staff, and less time. It's dubious that they're going to give up this new-found "efficiency" quickly or easily.

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