Democrats’ answer on the economy

We talked earlier about David Gregory’s interview with DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and the host’s willingness to present misleading Republican talking points as facts. But there was one question in particular that warrants a closer look.

Gregory asked, in reference to President Obama, “Congresswoman, he’s had the job. They have been his policies. You concede Americans are not better off after his leadership?”

At a fundamental level, the question is wrong. It wasn’t the White House’s “policy” to slash public-sector jobs. It wasn’t the White House’s “policy” to create a debt-ceiling crisis or cause a downgrade. It wasn’t the White House’s “policy” for Europe to push austerity or have a debt crisis. And it certainly wasn’t the White House’s “policy” for congressional Republicans to kill every meaningful effort to create jobs this year.

But Wasserman Schultz, who should have known a question like this was coming, gave a slightly disjointed response. It was accurate, but it wasn’t exactly persuasive.

Greg Sargent digs a little deeper.

While a variety of metrics show that the economy is better now than it was when Obama took office, arguing that things would have been worse without his policies is a delicate case to make while people are still suffering. That’s why you keep hearing Obama taking care to point out that many people are not better off than they were four years ago. […]

The Obama team, of course, will continue to emphasize that Republicans are blocking Obama jobs creation policies that the American people support, and they will perhaps amplify the charge that Republicans are deliberately trying to tank the recovery in order to take back the White House. But it’s still unclear whether voters not schooled in the realities of filibuster abuse and Senate procedure will care why Obama’s policies aren’t getting passed or why government isn’t acting to fix the crisis.

Agreed, it’s a mess for the president and his team. As we saw yesterday morning, it certainly doesn’t help when high-profile figures in the media establishment ignore all of the relevant details and falsely suggest the Republican argument is correct.

The best course, it seems to me, is for Dems to hammer home two key points if they’re going to have a credible shot at success. First, they should stop being so defensive and start talking up the facts: the economy was collapsing, now it’s growing; the country was hemorrhaging jobs, now it’s gaining jobs; the American auto industry was failing, now it’s thriving; the unemployment rate was going up, now it’s going down; the stock market was in a tail spin, now it’s growing.

Dems don’t try to defend the status quo because the public is so widely unsatisfied with it. But that’s all the more reason to remind voters about how much better off the nation is now than it was in 2008, and make the case that were it not for GOP obstructionism, we’d be doing even better. This is no time to go backwards, and it’s no time to reward those who stand in the way.

Second, take advantage of Republicans’ unpopularity: ask voters to imagine going back to a Republican Congress working with a Republican White House, taking the nation back to the right-wing agenda that got us in this mess in the first place.

Ben Smith argued this morning, the “Are you better off?” question “is an incumbent’s most basic question,” and “it’s proving an unusually tricky one” for Democrats right now.

Perhaps. But it’s not that tricky.