Monday, September 3, 2012

Are You Better Off Today Than You Were Four Years Ago?

The sixty-four thousand dollar question has finally arrived.  Let’s be honest, we all knew it was coming.  In fact, given the nastiness of this campaign, you could say it’s overdue.  The Obama Administration also knew this question was coming.  If they didn’t, then they were extremely naïve.  And based on the early answers from Administration officials, it's naïve by a nose.

There’s no way to get around it.  This question isn’t going away.  The only choice available to the Administration is how the question gets framed: on Republican terms, or Democratic.  So far the Administration has been on the defensive, primarily deflecting the question or, as Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley did during an interview on Face the Nation, deploying the standard “No, but” answer.  As a friend of mine once said, “Anything after but is bullshit.”  This is a losing strategy, one that plays right into Mitt Romney’s hands.

There is only one legitimate answer to the question and the Administration must be courageous enough to say it as often as it can.  That answer is “Yes.”

Up until now, the prevailing logic among political pundits on both sides of the aisle is that the Administration could never win the election if it was a referendum simply on the economy.  With all due respect, that logic is flawed.  Here’s why.

Most of the electorate knows full well who was responsible for the economic meltdown that occurred four years ago.  It is still fresh in their minds.  It is also still fresh in the minds of the GOP.  Want proof?  George Bush and Dick Cheney were nowhere to be seen at the Republican convention last week.  As far as anyone at the RNC was concerned generic Republican was president.

What the Administration needs to do is turn the question around and reframe it like this: Would you prefer to live in the fall of 2008 or the fall of 2012?  And then they need to drive home just what was happening four years ago.

The housing market was collapsing, banks were failing and the stock market was plummeting.  The economy was losing upwards of 750,000 jobs a month and we were on the verge of another great depression. 

None of that is currently happening.  The auto industry was saved from bankruptcy, the private sector has added over four million jobs over the last two and a half years and the economy is recovering.  We are not out of the woods yet, but we’ve come a long way. What we can’t afford to do is return to the past policies that led to the recession in the first place.  That’s the answer the Administration must sell and quickly before the Republicans box them in.

In politics, there is no successful path to victory when you’re on your heels.  The only way to prevail is by taking it to your opponent.  Mitt Romney and the Republicans have not earned to right to critique anyone on how to run an economy, any more than the White Star Line had a right to tell Cunard how to safely navigate through an ice field.   


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