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Are We Better Off Than Four Years Ago?

July 12, 2011 J

By: R.J. Moeller

In the fall of 1980, in a debate between President Jimmy Carter and former California governor Ronald Reagan, this famous question was posed by The Gipper:

Reagan’s rhetorical line of questioning might well be used in the America of 2011 and 2012. So says Wall Street Journal’s Bill McGurn:

These days parts of America feel like a rerun of the 1970s, with Washington emanating malaise and Americans told to ratchet down their dreams and expectations for the future. Yes, the White House is correct that we shouldn’t draw too many broad conclusions from any one or two jobs reports. But the challenge facing the president is that the jobs numbers reflect a larger unease about where things are headed.

Moms and dads, for example, know that they are paying more to put food on the table. They are also paying nearly $4 per gallon when they fill up their cars. Even those who have jobs are scared—some because they might lose them, others because the lack of strong economic growth means that they have fewer opportunities to move up the ladder.

The official response from all the president’s men is not likely to dispel these fears. When asked about the latest numbers, Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, stated that the best-case scenario for 2012 will be an unemployment rate of 8.2%. If so, lots of people will remember that 8.2% is still higher than the rate was when Mr. Obama entered office, notwithstanding all his spending and all those promises of jobs “created or saved.”

Mr. McGurn continues:

In a recent post on his Washington Post blog, Chris Cillizza provided the likeliest answer Mr. Obama would give to the “Are you better off?” question. According to Mr. Cillizza, President Obama’s argument on the economy will boil down to 10 words: “You should have seen how bad it would have been.”

How different that is from 2008. In 2008, Mr. Obama was the man of the future, the candidate of change who declared that his nomination would mark the moment “when the rise of oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Alas, instead of assuring us that a brighter future is just ahead, these days the president seems focused on painting the past in ever darker colors.

I lament the fact that so many Republicans and so-called conservatives spent money in the 2000′s like their ship was going down. I lament the fact that on a grander scale, with each passing decade since The Great Depression, we have given more and more control to fewer and fewer people in Washington. Real change will not come from one election, putting one Republican man or woman into office. Our problems are deep and systematic. They are cultural, moral, and yes, even spiritual.

Barack Obama means well. I truly believe that. His vision for this country is sincere, but sincerely wrong. Bush made mistakes; Obama’s core convictions are mistakes.

Maybe Americans who believed Mr. Obama when he said unemployment wouldn’t go past 8% if we passed his stimulus will now be persuaded by his explanation that his job was tougher than he or his economists expected. Maybe that’s the only way to get around the “Are you better off?” question.

Whatever you call it, it’s a long way from “hope” and “change.” And the more the president tries to justify the nagging unemployment and sluggish economic growth by rewriting the past, the more he leaves the argument over the future to his GOP rival.

Presidents can’t “fix” an economy, but they can either help or hurt. The current administration is most certainly hurting, but the only reason they are where they are, and promising the nonsensical collectivist freebies they are promising, is because of us: because of the citizenry.

Along with the “Are we better off?” question, Americans would do well to begin asking themselves (and one another) “Are we more informed than we were four years ago? Are we more engaged?”

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