VIDEO : On CBS's Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer asked: “Can you honestly say that people are better off today than they were four years ago?”
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley responded:
“No, but that's not the question of this election. The question, without a doubt, we are not as well off as we were before George Bush brought us the Bush job losses, the Bush recession, the Bush deficits, the series of desert wars -- charged for the first time to credit cards, the national credit card.”
Quipped Schieffer: “George Bush is not on the ballots.”
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President Obama can point to some economists' analyses that he kept conditions from getting worse.
If Mitt Romney can convince a majority that things just don't feel right with Obama, he may get his chance to tackle the U.S. economy starting in January.
(CBS News) As Democrats are gathering in Charlotte, N.C. to tell America why they want President Obama to be re-elected, the campaign has had a few fumbles answering the traditional question, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"
Democrats seem to have figured out their answer to that question and it's "Yes."
Though, they add, there is more work to do. That's been the president's message as he barnstorms in a host of battleground states looking to build momentum for this all-important convention.
Maryland's Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley had some explaining to do after CBS News' Bob Schieffer asked him the question Sunday.
He said, "No, but that's not the question of this election."He quickly backtracked via Twitter and a round of TV appearances.
"What I should've said was look, we're clearly better because we're now creating jobs as a country, instead of losing jobs," O'Malley told Charlie Rose.
By some measures, Americans are better off. Median home prices are up $17,000 from four years ago. But the median household income has dropped by $4,000. And the unemployment rate has risen from 7.8 percent to 8.3 percent.
Republican Mitt Romney was taking a Labor Day break in New Hampshire. But his campaign seized on the issue, with vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan leading the attack.
"Every president since the Great Depression who asked Americans to send them into a second term could say that you are better off today than you were four years ago except for Jimmy Carter and President Barack Obama," Ryan said.
Vice President Joe Biden tried to shore up the Democrats' position Monday, linking one of his favorite phrases to the suddenly urgent debate.
"You want to know whether we're better off?" he asked a crowd in Detroit. "I got a little bumper sticker for you: `Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.'"
National Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus accused the Democrats of "desperate damage control." He said they cannot win an argument over "the facts."
But the rest of his comments to reporters in Charlotte focused on voters' perceptions and emotions.
"I can guarantee you that families back home, especially in places like my hometown of Kenosha, Wis., don't feel like things are better today after four years of Barack Obama," Priebus said.
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Dems Wrestle with "Better Off" Question
It's a question that aides to any president seeking re-election should be ready to handle: Are Americans better off now than before he took office?
This seemingly simple query, however, flummoxed President Barack Obama's team over the Labor Day weekend, throwing the campaign on the defensive just as the Democrats are about to open their national convention.
Republican Mitt Romney's campaign pounced. Running mate Paul Ryan, speaking Monday in another North Carolina town, amped-up his party's long-running efforts to persuade Americans, once and for all, that Obama's economic record disqualifies him for a second term.
Democrats acknowledged that Obama's team must get a better handle on the question, an updated version of the Ronald Reagan line that helped sink President Jimmy Carter in 1980.
The Obama aides' halting responses reflected the dilemma the president faces. If he emphasizes the economic crisis he inherited from President George W. Bush, then Obama looks as though he's shirking responsibility for current problems.
But if Obama claims positives flowing from his policies' effectiveness - even with endorsements from independent economists - he risks appearing tone-deaf and insensitive to millions of voters' fears in a climate of 8.3 percent unemployment, sharply lower home values and uncertain futures.
"You can understand the Obama campaign's ambiguity," said Ferrel Guillory, an expert on Southern politics at the University of North Carolina. Obama's stimulus and intervention policies clearly averted bigger problems in banking, auto-making and other sectors, he said, but harping on it "doesn't satisfy the concerns of people who don't feel better off."
from our Facebook Page....
-If I were living off of the government I would say, HELL YEAH!!! Never lived better!!
--We aren't losing 750,000 jobs a month like we were four years ago.
-- Yeah I am so better off. I love paying almost 4 bucks a gallon of gas to go to work only to have barely enough money to pay my living expenses and I am one of the lucky ones!!! I still have a job. This economy stinks and so do the people driving it to the ground
--Funny,but why is it the repubs take credit for bin laden,but not the economy?
bush yrs= shrinking economy and job losses
Obama yrs=growing economy and job growth
--Taking pay cuts to do the work of two and three people. Paying more to GO to work. Stay-at-home mothers like myself have had to go BACK to work. All the "Created Jobs" you see are a numbers game. They are temp jobs, such as holiday retail, military contract work, poll workers, telephone book delivery, etc.
--maybe you should blame the corporations,who moved jobs overseas to INCREASE thier profits. blame unions all you want,but over the last 15yrs the majority of jobs moved 'off-shore' were non-union....
--Well lets see, four years ago I was deployed to Afghanistan and here we are four years later redeployed to Afghanistan,and other countries in the region.
--Why me myself? Yes I am. I work in construction. 4 years ago paying almost $3.00 a gallon for gas, and was laid off. I know gas is more now, but haven't been laid off since 2009.
--The question is really too complex, depending on each person and their individual circumstances and how they handle everyday issues.
--The democrat machine chewed up and spat out buffalo a long time ago. Unions chased away our manufacturing leaving the burned out husk that is western new york.
So for us, no change.
--Dow was at 8000 in '08, now it is steady over 13000. These numbers don't lie.
--The administration won't take responsibility for the economy, but they sure as hell want to take credit for the killing of Bin Laden even though the intel was obtained due to the policies put in place by the last administration? Priceless! Leadership at it's worst.
Others are less sympathetic.
"The Obama team made a significant tactical error on Sunday with their stumble over the `better off' question," said Republican pollster Steve Lombardo. "It is stunning that they were not prepared for this question."
Even Lombardo, however, conceded "the president is in a box."
Obama's top advisers struggled with the question, repeatedly posed on Sunday talk shows.
David Axelrod said: "I think the average American recognizes that it took years to create the crisis that erupted in 2008 and peaked in January of 2009. And it's going to take some time to work through it."
With Republicans attacking from all sides, the campaign dispatched spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter early Monday with a new message. Americans are "absolutely" better off, she told NBC, highlighting the problems Obama inherited in January 2009.
"In the six months before the president was elected," Cutter said, "we lost 3.5 million jobs, wages had been going down for a decade," and the auto industry was "on the brink of failure."
Republicans vowed not to let Obama off the hook.
"People are not better off than they were four years ago," Ryan told a crowd in Greenville, N.C., 220 miles east of the convention site. "After another four years of this, who knows what it'll look like?"
What frustrates Democrats is that, in many ways, the nation's economy was in distress four years ago. The collapse of Lehman Brothers and other financial giants sent markets into swoons and created a sense of political and economic crisis.
On Sept. 29, 2008, when the U.S. House voted down Bush's proposed $700 billion financial bailout, the Dow Jones industrial average plunged 778 points, its largest one-day point drop ever. Congress later reversed course on that measure, but the near-meltdown was doing deep and continuing damage to Americans' savings, retirement funds and confidence.
One problem for Obama is that unemployment - the economic statistic that affects the average American most profoundly - is a "lagging indicator," taking several months to reflect a crisis' full impact.
U.S. unemployment stood at 6.1 percent four years ago, 6.8 percent when Obama was elected, 7.8 percent when he took office and 10 percent nine months later.
It never dropped below 9.4 percent in 2010, when Republicans won sweeping victories in midterm elections.
Economists say even more jobs would have vanished if Obama had not pushed the automobile bailout, a separate economic stimulus plan, a banking industry bailout and other measures.
Campaign strategists in both parties, however, say few voters will credit a president for what did NOT happen. Equally troubling for Obama, people's anxieties can determine their votes just as readily as economic figures, if not more so.
"Most people know President Obama inherited a mess from Bush, but at this stage of the game they're looking for answers, not excuses," said Democratic strategist Doug Hattaway.