Am I Better Off? Yes, Actually – but That’s Not the Point

Am I’m better off than I was four years ago? Yes, actually. I am better off, and so are many of my friends and family members. I am grateful for that – we are blessed – but in terms of the presidential campaign, it doesn’t really matter. My personal better offness won’t determine how I cast my ballot on Nov. 6. And, frankly, I’m a little offended that the Republicans think I’m so selfish.

They’re asking it, of course, in hopes of replicating President Reagan’s 1980 electoral success. But the current question rings shallow and tinny compared to Reagan’s inquiry backs them. It’s a different time with a different set of challenges.

I remember when Reagan first asked his now-famous question during a debate against President Carter (I was a mere child, of course). In 1980, the country was in a dark place. Americans were still divided by racial and gender issues (remember the Equal Rights Amendment?), still bitter from Watergate, still sore from losing a war. Pile on the OPEC oil embargo/skyrocketing gas prices/lines at the gas pump, out-of-control inflation, enormous interest rates (hard to imagine now that 12 percent was considered a good mortgage rate), the Three Mile Island catastrophe, the Iran hostage crisis … yeah, things were bad.

We were depressed, not only economically, but psychologically. Americans didn’t feel good about themselves. And when we looked to President Carter – slow talking, slightly hunched and cardigan-clad – we got more depressed.

Romney isn’t asking the same question that Reagan asked 32 years ago.

So when the confident, strapping Reagan asked, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” the question resonated with Americans. It worked for him. But, then again, anything would have worked for him. He could have tap danced on stage while juggling rubber chickens and beat Carter.

As bad as things may seem now, our collective emotional state stands taller than it did in 1980. Sure, the economy sucks and people are out of work, but we’re in a healthier state of mind. We haven’t been beat down emotionally by the humiliation of waiting in long lines to fill up our gas tanks, images of hooded hostages or the crush of constant price hikes. Times are tough, but so are we. We know things will get better.

Moreover, the GOP isn’t even asking the same question that Reagan asked in 1980. The entire quote from the debate goes as such: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was?” He meant the plural “you.” Are you, your family, your neighbors, your community, your country better off?

In 2012, the truncated version wielded by Republicans narrows the focus to individual financial well-being. It feels selfish. It feels icky. Selfishly icky. And it won’t resonate with voters because I don’t believe that short-term financial self-interest drives people to the polls. Why? Because we’re not that stupid. Voters are smart enough to know that the White House resident won’t suddenly and dramatically alter their lives for better or for worse. The president doesn’t control the free-market economy or determine the unemployment rate. He can’t force your boss to give you a raise. He doesn’t have a magic wand. Voters vote to set a course for the country, whether it’s the one envisioned by the Dems, the GOP or an alternative party – not to ensure their own immediate better offness.

I’m done with school, yet I support affordable higher education for my nieces and nephews benefit. I have good health insurance provided by my employer, but I want all Americans to have access to fair and affordable health insurance coverage. I probably won’t be around to watch melted ice caps swallow islands and engulf coastal regions, but I’d like to help prevent it from happening. These are the issues that motivate me to vote. The way I mark my ballot has little to do with my own personal situation four years from now – and I believe that most American voters would say the same thing.

So when Gov. Romney asks if I’m better off than I was four years ago, my answer is, “Yes, but that’s not the point.”


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kelle
    Sep 09, 2012 @ 18:03:08

    “Voters are smart enough to know that the White House resident won’t suddenly and dramatically alter their lives for better or for worse.”

    Oh man, I’d really to think so, but based on the insane charges lobbed in these election cycles, I really wonder … Fingers’ crossed that you’re right.


  2. Melissa Webb
    Sep 10, 2012 @ 10:29:47

    Love the article and optimism. Can’t wait to hear what you think of the money spent on the election.


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