Why Dems like the GOP’s favorite talking point

A couple of days ago, Dave Weigel noted the ever-popular “Track the Meme” game. The right makes it easy.

In this edition, Peggy Noonan wrote on June 3 about President Obama, “Four words: He made it worse.” Two days later, Grover Norquist said, “He made it worse.” Then the Senate Republican Policy Committee quickly began saying, “He made it worse.” At this week’s debate, Mitt Romney said the president “didn’t create the recession, but he made it worse.”

Today, the perpetually-confused House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) took this a little further.

“As long as ‘progress’ and ‘results’ are code words for ‘historic unemployment’ and ‘economic disaster,’ then the Democrats are right. The economy did indeed take a turn-from bad to worse.

“President Obama might not have started this mess, but his administration’s outrageous spending policies made it much worse.”

Oh, I see, the silliness is evolving. We’ve gone from “worse” to “much worse.”

Fortunately, this isn’t a particularly subjective question. Either the argument has merit or it doesn’t. And in this case, Republicans appear to be stuck in a pre-recession mentality. Here’s a chart, for example, that Jared Bernstein posted the other day, showing average monthly job losses and gains from the quarter the president took office to the most recent quarter of 2011.

Remember, as far as Republicans are concerned, an economy that’s adding jobs is “worse” — or in Jeb Hensarling’s case, “much worse” — than an economy that’s hemorrhaging jobs.

Indeed, in some ways, these odd Republicans are inadvertently making President Obama’s pitch to voters significantly easier. By that I mean, they’re creating a standard for the debate: either conditions have improved since Obama took office or they haven’t. What the right doesn’t understand is that this is the best of all possible standards for Democrats.

If the message to voters is, “The status quo stinks,” that’s a tough message for Dems to argue against. But if the pitch is, “Obama made it worse,” that’s a very easy message for Dems to argue against because it’s demonstrably ridiculous.

Indeed, if this is the central test of 2012, Obama has it easy — all he has to do is point to reality. Four years ago, the economy was shrinking, and now it’s growing. Four years ago, the nation was losing jobs, and now it’s adding jobs. Four years ago, money was going to Wall Street, now Wall Street is paying us back. Four years ago, the American auto industry was on the verge of collapse, and now it’s starting to flourish. Four years ago, the deficit was getting worse, and now it’s getting better.

Republicans, who are usually better at messaging than this, are setting up the easiest of all possible questions. Instead of asking, “Did Obama make things good?” they’re urging voters to ask, “Did Obama make things worse?” Democrats much prefer the latter, making the GOP talking point something of a gift.

If all Obama has to do is prove he didn’t make things worse, he wins.