Charlotte, N.C. — Are you better off now than you were four years ago?
When Ronald Reagan famously asked voters that question in 1980, he went on to beat incumbent President Jimmy Carter. Now that same question is dogging President Barack Obama’s re-election bid.
Republicans say the answer is no, Democrats at their convention in Charlotte say an emphatic yes. Of course, voters will have the final word, but Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are pounding it hard.
If the question is about personal finances they have a strong case. Unemployment is up, wages are not. Your house is likely worth less than it was in 2008. More homeowners are behind on their mortgages. More people are living in poverty. Dreams and retirements have been deferred. Many have lost faith that Washington can do much to help.
But if the question is about where we are as a nation, Democrats have a case to make, too. “People forget just how bad off we were four years ago,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens) at Tuesday’s New York delegation breakfast. His redrawn district now edges into Nassau County.
Things were bleak in 2008. The investment bank Bear Stearns collapsed and was sold for a song. Lehman Brothers went belly up. Financial markets were frozen. Consumers and businesses couldn’t get loans. Insurance giant AIG and too-big-to-fail banks were desperately seeking government bailouts. General Motors and Chrysler were facing extinction. Wealth was evaporating.
“The economy was literally a house of cards,” Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers said Tuesday in Charlotte.
The recovery has been halting and unsatisfying. But rather than losing jobs, the private sector is creating them. Housing prices remain depressingly depressed, but they’re no longer plummeting. The stock market and retirement savings have rebounded. And as Vice President Joseph Biden said Monday, “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”
The country isn’t out of the woods. Not by a long shot. A lot of people are hurting.
But Democrats in Charlotte are hoping voters believe the nation’s in a better place.