Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said “no” to the question of whether the country is better off than four years ago on Sunday, setting off a flurry of GOP tweets, emails and statements publicizing his admission.
On the Sunday talk show circuit leading up to the Democratic National Convention, hosts several times asked Obama campaign surrogates whether Americans are better off than they were four years ago.
Most demurred on the question, but O’Malley said “No.”
“Can you honestly say that people are better off today than they were four years ago?” CBS’ Bob Schieffer asked O’Malley on “Face the Nation.”
O’Malley replied: “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 cards.”
The Romney campaign seized on the comment, issuing a statement from Mitt Romney in response:
This president can ask us to be patient. This president can tell us it was someone else’s fault. This president can tell us that the next four years he’ll get it right. But this president cannot tell us that YOU are better off today than when he took office. America has been patient. Americans have supported this president in good faith. But today, the time has come to turn the page.
But other Obama campaign staffers rejected the idea that the nation is worse off under President Obama.
“I just want to remind you what was happening four years ago at this time,” Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, said. “In the quarter before the president took office, we lost three million jobs. Our country was bleeding. Our financial system was on the verge of collapse. We were passing bank bailouts to ensure that our system could stay afloat. That’s what was happening before the president took office.”
The question is delicate for the Obama campaign, which wants to highlight the president’s accomplishments while also remaining sensitive to the plight many Americans continue to face in the wake of the Great Recession. It’s a question that repeatedly comes up in presidential campaigns — and one that Republicans are eager to highlight National Convention because of the box it puts Democrats in.
When the question comes up, Republicans can either attack the president for failing to fix the economy, as they are by emphasizing O’Malley’s remark, or paint Obama as out of touch. Obama recently gave the GOP some rhetorical ammunition while trying to defend his record on the economy — something his team is eager not to repeat.
“We’ve clearly improved,” White House adviser David Plouffe said when pressed on ABC’s “This Week” to answer the same question. “We’ve made a lot of progress from the depths of the recession … We’ve got to continue to recover.”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.