For more than 30 years, it's been a truism in politics that a president needs to improve economic conditions during his time in office, or he won't be re-elected. It goes back to the 1980 presidential debate in which Republican challenger Ronald Reagan locked up his victory over Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter when he asked Americans if they were better off than they were before Carter took over. Most felt the answer was no, and Carter lost the election.
Now President Obama has answered that question in a surprising way when asked by ABC News' George Stephanopoulos how he could convince Americans that they are "better off than they were four years ago."
Obama said, "Well, I don't think they are better off than they were four years ago. They're not better off than they were before Lehman's collapse, before the financial crisis, before this extraordinary recession that we're going through." Obama went on to say his policies prevented the situation from becoming worse and that, in the end, the 2012 election will turn on "who's got a vision?" Obama argued that his ideas are better than the Republicans' and voters will prefer him over the eventual GOP nominee. See the ABC clip from yesterday here.
Republicans say Obama has handed them a big issue. The Republican National Committee immediately posted a clip of Obama's comments on its web site and E-mailed it to reporters under the headline "Obama Answers Four Year Question." This morning, the RNC was hammering at the comments again, sending reporters an E-mail under the headline "Better Off? Obama Admits That Americans Are Not Better Off Than They Were Four Years Ago" along with the news clip.
Obama's comments are likely to end up in GOP ads next year making the point that even the president agrees that things have gotten worse under his administration.