Obama campaign officials David Axelrod and David Plouffe both struggled to answer the classic 1980 Ronald Reagan question “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” when it was put to them on the Sunday morning news shows. Both could not answer with a simple “yes” and instead repeatedly changed the subject to attacks on Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace showed Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod a clip of Romney asking the Reagan question and asked: “David, can you honestly say the average American is better off today than they were four years ago?”
Axelrod responded: “Here’s what I can say, Chris: I can say we are in a better position than we were four years ago in our economy in the sense that when this president took office we were losing 800,000 jobs a month. The quarter before he took office was the worst quarter that this country has had economically since the Great Depression. And we are in a better place: 29 straight months of job growth, 4.5 million private sector jobs. Are we where we need to be? No.”
He then turned to an attack on Mitt Romney, calling his convention in Tampa “a terrible failure.”
Wallace stuck to his line of inquiry, noting that unemployment is up from 7.8 percent when Obama took office to 8.3 percent today. He also noted that median income has fallen from $55,000 annually to $51,000 and the price of gas has doubled to $3.78 a gallon.
Wallace reiterated: “Is the average American better off than they were four years ago?”
Axelrod replied: “Chris, as I said to you before, 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 is going to take some time to work through it.” He then once again changed the subject into an attack on Romney.
Wallace tried one final time, noting the economy has “300,000 fewer jobs than in February 2009.” Axelrod implicitly agreed, noting that total job loss has gotten smaller and that certain groups, like auto workers, are better off. At one point, Axelrod visibly gulped while trying to respond.
He conceded: “We have got a lot of work to do.”
Senior adviser David Plouffe had similar trouble when George Stephanoplous grilled him with the same question on ABC’s This Week.
“Can the president argue unequivocally that Americans are better off than they were four years ago?” Stephanoplous asked.
Plouffe declined to respond directly, arguing instead that the American people know that the administration is trying to dig the economy out of a deep hole.
“It took a long time for us to get into that hole. It’s going to take us a long time to get out of it,” he said before switching the question into an attack on Mitt Romney.
Stephanoplous persisted: “But yes or no: Are Americans better off today than they were four years ago?”
Plouffe again could not say yes. He eventually conceded, “We have a lot more work to do. We need to grow jobs more quickly. We need to grow middle class incomes more quickly.”
Stephanoplous noted that Obama told him last year that he didn’t think Americans were better off. “You still cannot say yes,” the ABC news host said to Plouffe.
Plouffe argued “we have clearly improved,” noting that unemployment was down from its earlier high during the administration of above 10 percent and that auto manufacturing was preserved. He touted green energy investments as well.
“So we have made a lot progress from the depths of the recession. We have lot more work to do. That is the question we are going to lay out for the American people. The Romney path would be the wrong path for the middle class, the wrong path for this country,” Plouffe said.