“Are you better off than you were four years ago?” asked Ronald Reagan during his final debate with President Jimmy Carter in 1980.
Unemployment was at 7.7 percent in October of 1976, a month before Carter, the peanut farmer, was elected president of the United States. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics displays that the unemployment rate was 7.5 percent in October of 1980 when Carter lost his bid for re-election.
Inflation, which climbed upward and refused to fall, was a persistent problem for Carter’s presidency. The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, which has tracked the rate of inflation since 1913, shows that the average rate of inflation for 1980 was 13.5 percent, up seven percent from when Carter’s administration took over in 1977.
Because of this, for most Americans the answer to Reagan’s question was, understandably, no.
Republicans have tried to invoke an equal level of rumination during this election cycle. “The president can say a lot of things, but he can’t tell you, you are better off,” said Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the Republican vice presidential nominee, while campaigning in North Carolina.
“Osama Bin Laden is dead,” Vice President Joe Biden answered wryly, “and General Motors is alive.” It is a simplistic and smart-alecky campaign slogan, but true nonetheless.
As Ryan and Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, try to ask the same of Americans as Reagan did in 1980, they forget that “The Great Communicator” asked more of Americans in their reflections.
“Is it easier for you to go and buy things in stores than it was four years ago?”
On February 17th, President Barack Obama signed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which extended a cut to payroll taxes that benefited both the lower and middle classes. Also, real personal income, or income levels adjusted for inflation, have risen during Obama’s time in office.
“Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago?”
As a result of the Wall Street market crash and the recession that followed, the unemployment rate peaked at 10 percent in October of 2009. It has since fallen to 8.1 percent as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In 2010 and 2011, corporate profits reached record levels and are expected to rise to $1.9 trillion in 2012. And despite the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the stock market has put in its second-best performance in the last 65 years.
“Is America as respected throughout the world as it was?”
On June 4th, 2009 the president delivered a speech in Cairo, Egypt in which he discussed democracy and new opportunities for the Middle East. The speech was well received by the Muslim world. It didn’t incite ire as George W. Bush’s trips to the Middle East did.
“Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we’re as strong as we were four years ago?”
Obama has been a spectacular commander-in-chief. His successful coalition with NATO and Libyan rebels to overthrow Col. Muammar Qaddafi is a powerful juxtaposition to Bush’s travails to remove Saddam Hussein from Iraq.
In addition, he oversaw the mission that led to the demise of America’s top enemy, Osama bin Laden. Obama has also used careful strikes to eliminate the many heads of the hydra that is Al-Qaeda.
“And if you answer all of those questions yes” said Reagan, “why then, I think your choice is very obvious as to whom you will vote for.”
So, are we better off than we were four years ago?
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