Are Americans Better Off Now than They Were Four Years Ago? Some Simple Advice for Team Obama

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I don’t give much political advice, especially to the advisers who helped get a black guy with Hussein in his name elected President. But they really need to find an answer to this question: Are Americans better off than they were four years ago? On This Week, David Plouffe repeatedly dodged it before saying, “We’ve made a lot of progress.” David Axelrod stonewalled on Fox News Sunday, saying only that we’re in a “better position” than we’d be under Republican rule. On Face the Nation, President Obama surrogate Martin O’Malley actually replied, “No, but that’s not the question of this election.”

That’s the question of every election! As a savvy media professional, allow me to suggest an answer: Yes.

Four years ago, the U.S. economy was in smithereens. It contracted at an 8.9% annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2008, which is Great Depression territory. At that rate, we would have shed an entire Canadian economy in 2009. We lost 800,000 jobs the month Obama moved into the White House. Then Obama passed his $800 billion stimulus — have I mentioned that I wrote a book about the stimulus? — and the second quarter of 2009 reflected the second largest GDP improvement in 25 years and the largest jobs improvement in 30 years.

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Of course, the improvement was going from absolutely hideous to really bad. Since then, we’ve improved from really bad to disappointingly mediocre. Still, I don’t understand why the Obama team feels like it can’t point out that a 2% growth rate with 150,000 new jobs a month is better than a –8.9% growth rate with 800,000 jobs lost a month. It’s not good, but it’s better, and that is better than worse.

While they’re at it, the Obama aides could argue that Americans are better off with al-Qaeda obliterated, including what’s-his-name; the salvation of the U.S. auto industry; the approval of universal health insurance; the start of a clean-energy revolution; Wall Street reform; the end of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” for gays in the military; and all kinds of other achievements that Obama presumably believes moved the country in the right direction. But they can’t say it’s not an important question, because there is no more important question.

When Obama kicked off his re-election campaign, I described him as the counterfactual President, preventing even worse messes, and I warned that “Things could have been worse” would be an awkward message. But things could have been worse. In fact, they were.