Obama Team Readjusts On ‘Are You Better Off?’

Sep 3, 2012 8:34am

After either saying “no” or refusing to give a straight yes or no answer to Sunday show anchors when asked if Americans are better off today than they were four years ago, officials from Team Obama this morning changed their answers and enthusiastically offered a capital-Y “Yes.”

One day ago, Democrats had a different answer to that question.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley yesterday on CBS was asked if Americans are better off than they were four years ago.  ”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.”

O’Malley today on CNN: “We are clearly better off as a country because we’re now creating jobs rather than losing them.”

Clearly yesterday’s answers from O’Malley and other top Democrats were deemed unacceptable.

“Yes or no, are Americans better off today than they were four years ago?” ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos asked White House senior adviser David Plouffe on Sunday’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

Plouffe, continuing to evade a direct yes or no, said that Republicans “did a good job of reciting all the statistics everyone’s familiar with. I think everyone understands we were this close to a great depression. Because of the leadership of this president, we staved that off. We’re beginning to recover. We have a lot more work to do.”

Trying to erase and change the question, Plouffe said, “the question is, we’re going to be far worse off if Mitt Romney is elected president and he gets a chance to enact the same economic policies that created the mess in the first place.”

Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace and Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod had a similar back and forth. “David, is the average American better off than four years ago?” Wallace asked. Axelrod responded: “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 gonna take some time to work through it.”

But on CNN’s “Early Start” this morning, anchor John Berman elicited a different response from Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse.

“Brad you’ve been shaking your head, as you’ve been sitting off camera, because we’ve been playing all the sound from the last 24 hours of Democrats being asked ‘are you better off today than you were four years ago?’” Berman noted. “So, I’ll give you the chance to ask the question: Are we better off than we were four years ago?”

“Absolutely,” Woodhouse said.

On the Today Show, NBC’s Natalie Morales asked Obama campaign deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter: “Let me begin by starting with that central question on a lot of people’s minds, and that is are we better off today than we were four years ago when President Obama was elected?”

“Absolutely,” Cutter said. “Let me just walk you through what life was like four years ago.”

Cutter noted that “in the six months before the president was elected, we lost 3.5 million jobs,” and added that wages had been declining, the auto industry was on the brink of failure, and so on. “Let’s take a look where we are today… we’ve created 4.5 million private sector jobs” — note the omission of public sector jobs, which have a net loss of more than 600,000 — “the auto industry today is the number one auto industry in the world.”

Acknowledging the weak recovery, to a degree, Cutter said “it might not be as fast as people hoped. the president agrees with that. He knows we need to do more.”

Though the unemployment rate, at 8.3 percent, is currently higher than it was when President Obama took office (7.8 percent), it wasn’t that Plouffe (and others) didn’t have a case to make yesterday.

“We’ve clearly improved, George, from the depths of the recession,” Plouffe said. “We were losing 800,000 jobs a month. We’re now gaining them.”

Plouffe added that “the unemployment rate was around 10, it’s come down” — an assertion that leaves out that the 10 percent unemployment rate arrived in October 2009.

President Obama and his team have continually struggled with how to convey the news that the economy is growing, while not seeming clueless about the economic pain Americans are feeling. Yesterday’s responses seem to now be viewed by the campaign as an over-correction.

Clearly senior staff from the White House and Obama campaign realized that saying Americans were worse off than they were four years ago — or at least not insisting that Americans are better off — was untenable.

Better to take the Labor Day hit for changing messages than stick with a losing message, the thinking seems to be.

-Jake Tapper

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