(Photo above: Ronald Reagan giving his acceptance speech at the 1980 Republican National Convention in Detroit. U.S. Federal Government photograph.)
The Ronald Reagan question at the one and only presidential debate in 1980, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" is about to be brought out of the Smithsonian (GOP Annex) in order to lead the Romney-Ryan ticket coast to coast. Bill Schieffer delivers the famous question in a polite fashion -- "Can you honestly say that people are better off today than they were four years ago?" -- to Maryland's attractive and unapologetically Progressive Governor Martin O'Malley. Mr. O'Malley reacts uncomfortably, waving his left hand dismissively and then looking down to recall his likely prepared response, "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." Mr. Schieffer tosses back the quiet obvious in a disappointed voice, "George Bush is not on the ballot." Mr.O'Malley's mistake I have learned is called "answering the wrong question precisely." This oratorical gambit always fails: more, it makes the failure worse than silence.
What Martin O'Malley Might Have Said?
Mr. O'Malley is the best of the best that either party can send to the TV shows, and the fact that he cannot finesse the completely predictable question at this late date to the Charlotte meeting -- and is moved to invoke the artifact of George W. Bush -- suggests that the GOP and Romney-Ryan ops as well as Karl Rove's American Crossroads machine will launch all missiles into this breach in the OFA defenses. It may very well be the mistake that defines the response scripts all week. Is there a better answer than, "No, but...?" I puzzle if it might work to say, "Yes, we are much better off, much, much: we have survived the collapse of several thousand banks and the ruin of the American manufacturer. We have defeated the Devils who murdered thousands on 9-11, and we have started the reorganization of freedom's forces in order to confront new threats..." It is a mystery as to why the Democratic ops have not tried the "yes" version of the answer yet. Perhaps they are inhibited by the polls showing that only 20% of the respondents believe the answer is "yes," and that this lot likely contains those "millionaires and billionaires" and the rest of the 1% that Mr. Obama disdains at each rally.