Much of the Sunday shows were dominated by a simple question: asking Democrats whether Americans are better off than they were four years ago. Dems inexplicably seemed to be caught off guard by the question, and struggled with the answer. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) even felt compelled to clarify his "no" answer from yesterday.
This morning, Democrats tried to get back on message.
With a definitive "absolutely," Obama campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said the country was moving in the right direction by pointing to job growth and the auto industry.
"By any measure the country has moved forward over the last four years," she said on NBC's Today. "It might not be as fast as people hoped. The president agrees with that. He knows we need to do more. That's what this week is about, laying out a road map of how we can continue this progress, how we can continue moving the country forward." [...]
This attack was echoed by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the Democratic National Convention chairman.... "[T]he answer is yes, we are better off. But we've got to keep on working harder."
While Dems struggled with this yesterday, I think they may be missing the importance of this opportunity. If Republicans and many in the media are going to be focused on the "are you better off" question, it's a chance for Democrats to remind the public of something much of the country has forgotten -- just how cataclysmically terrible things were before.
Indeed, I'm at a loss to explain how this is even a debate. Whether you love the president or hate him is irrelevant -- four years ago the economy was shrinking, now it's growing; four years ago the nation was hemorrhaging jobs, now it's adding jobs. The auto industry, the stock market, American manufacturing, the deficit -- they're all better now than when Obama took office.
Put it this way: Mitt Romney thinks the American economy has improved under Obama.
Consider this gem.
In his remarks [Friday], Romney also acknowledged the economy was getting better -- something he has said before....
"And [President Obama]'s going to say the economy is getting better," Romney said. "Thank heavens it's getting better. It's getting better not because of him, it's in spite of him and what he's done."
Notice, in this quote from earlier in the year, Romney said twice in three sentences that he believes the economy is "getting better."
Or how about this stunning exchange between Romney and conservative radio host Laura Ingraham.
INGRAHAM: You've also noted that there are signs of improvement on the horizon in the economy. How do you answer the president's argument that the economy is getting better in a general election campaign if you yourself are saying it's getting better?
ROMNEY: Well, of course, it's getting better. The economy always gets better after a recession. There is always a recovery.
INGRAHAM: Isn't that a hard argument to make, if you're saying, like, OK, he inherited this recession, and he took a bunch of steps and tried to turn the economy around. And now, we're seeing more jobs, but vote against him anyway? Isn't that a hard argument to make? Is that a stark enough contrast?
ROMNEY: Have you got a better one, Laura? This happens to be the truth.
If the president's critics want to argue that conditions haven't improved enough, fine. If they want to argue that conditions have improved, but Obama shouldn't get credit, fine. If they want to say conditions would be even better if we'd tried a different course, we can at least have the debate.
But to say a growing economy that's adding jobs is worse than a shrinking economy that's losing jobs is demonstrably ridiculous. Is the country better off than it was in the midst of a global crash four years ago? Is that a rhetorical question?