Democrats Do Damage Control on 'Better Off' Question

Matt Vasilogambros
National Journal

With their national convention starting this week, Democrats took to morning television on Monday to better answer a question that many struggled with on Sunday's talk shows: is the country better off four years after President Obama took office.

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.”

Cutter then placed blame on Congressional Republicans for not moving on Democratic jobs proposals, saying the GOP has not cooperated with Democrats to promote economic growth. She also said the situation left by President George W. Bush was a grave one.

This attack was echoed by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the Democratic National Convention chairman.

“If you look at how we got here, how we got to this deficit—we got into two wars that we didn't pay for … the Bush tax cuts took us here in great part,” he said on CBS’s This Morning. “So the answer is yes, we are better off. But we've got to keep on working harder.”

When pushed on how those who are unemployed are better off, Villaraigosa remained firm in his answer. “When you're unemployed, you're struggling and of course, if you recently unemployed, you're not better off,” he continued. “But the fact of the matter is, as a nation, we are better off.”

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who in part caused this latest media storm with his comments on Sunday (when asked if the country was better off, he replied, "No, but that's not the question of this election"), did an about-face on Monday and said the country is in fact doing better.

“We are clearly better of as a country because we’re now creating jobs rather than losing them,” O’Malley, a Democrat, said on CNN’s Starting Point. “But we have not recovered all that we lost in the Bush recession. That’s why we need to continue to move forward.”

Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse was unequivocal. “We’re absolutely better off,” he said on CNN’s Starting Point.

That said, he did qualify that stance. “We don’t want to be Pollyannaish about this,” he said, later adding: “We’re not talking like the economy’s going gangbusters.”

Republicans, meanwhile, continued to attack the Obama campaign over this question. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus pushed back against Democrats for trying to place the blame on the Bush administration.

“They're going to blame Bush, but the problem is that when presidents run for reelection, they have to account for their record and the future,” Priebus said on Fox & Friends. “The question that Americans will be asking themselves: ‘Is this next four years going to be different than the last four?’ So far the president hasn't been able to answer the question.”

On Monday, in a video asking “Are you better off?” the RNC spliced clips of Obama talking in 2008 about the struggling economy, dependence on foreign oil and infrastructure side-by-side with that him talking about the exact same challenges in 2012.