In grand fashion, Republican Mitt Romney’s team has adopted a phrase — in the form of a question — familiar to the GOP: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” Ronald Reagan, so beloved by modern-day Republicans, famously used that phrase to reach the White House in 1980.
So prevalent is Republicans’ use today of this Reaganesque phrase that The New York Times used half a page of its Wednesday edition to examine the phrase’s legitimacy and add context to the question’s many variables. The newspaper’s answer was unsatisfying; it depends on who you are, what your situation is, and perhaps what political party has your fancy.
In other words, it is the half-full, half-empty argument. “People are not better off than they were four years ago, in the sense of where the economy is today compared to where it was,” Harvard economics professor Kenneth S. Rogoff told The Times. “But certainly, things could have been a lot worse.”
Considering the depths of the U.S. economy in the fall of 2008, the professor’s logic is rock-solid.
As for President Barack Obama, his campaign has employed an indistinct, one-word slogan — “Forward.” — for months ahead of this week’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. For grammar nerds, the slogan was problematic from the moment Team Obama unveiled it: Why include a period? Is there a valid reason other than typographical aesthetics?
That nebulous slogan has also given Republicans ample rebuttal material. Who hasn’t seen TV or Internet ads in which the slogan has been reworked — “Forward?” — to fit GOP tastes? We assume those alternative uses of Obama’s slogan will only become more ubiquitous as Election Day nears.
As for either slogan’s effectiveness, we’d like to think policies and promise sway intelligent voters more than words on a placard. But this is American politics. Whatever it takes.