September 4 2012

Do You Really Have to Ask If We Are Better Off?

Carrie L. Lukas

Sometimes we ask questions knowing very well what the answer is.  I go through this pretty much every morning when I ask my seven-year-old daughter “have you brushed your hair yet?” knowing very well from her tangled mane that the answer is no.

There’s a bit of that going on as the media and politicos contemplate the question that’s become a regular presidential campaign feature: Are you better off than you were four years ago? 

It’s quite obvious that Americans as a whole are not better off, and that on some measures—national debt, labor force participation, cost of living, for starters—the country is considerably worse off.

Of course, those campaigning for the President can’t just say “no”—or at least cannot without being smacked by their political allies and forced to make awkward corrective statements, like Governor O’Malley of Maryland.  They are left stumbling for a better way to respond. 

So far, the talking point seems to be: Trust us, we are better off despite what it seem, because we are in a recovery—that means adding jobs instead of losing them—instead of where we were in January 2009.  They follow on with the old explanation that the problems the Obama Administration faced when they came into power were so much worse than people realized that we should just be grateful to not be fully into the abyss yet.   

Americans are unlikely to accept this line.  Americans expected to recover from hard times.  Americans don’t want this level of unemployment and the growing dependency on government, with people exiting the labor force and joining the rolls receiving food stamps and disability checks from Uncle Sam, to become a new normal. 

Also, many Americans don’t just intuitively know that our country is worse off than four-years ago, but they have a pretty good idea why it’s worse off:  Government has grown too much and taken over too much of what used to be private life (from health care to the student loan industry), buried our country in debt, and imposed too many burdens on job creators.   

It’s not just that we are worse off, but that Americans believe—and rightly in my mind—that the policies that the Obama administration has advanced have made our economic problems worse.   

That’s the real problem for Democrats and what they’ll be trying to paper over at the convention this week.

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