The whole “are you better off now than you were four years ago” thing is a Reganism from 1980, and like most things that dribbled out of that cowboy actor’s incontinent mouth before Peggy Noonan started writing his every word, it’s pretty banal.
I would even go so far as to say “forgettable,” except we can’t forget it, because it comes back up like bad shellfish every time we have an election cycle against an incumbent.
So fine — great. It is a way, I suppose, of cutting through the complicated metrics and the polling data and the debt-as-percent-of-GDP kind of talk that makes people’s eyes glaze over. Forget all that and be selfish — are you, personally better off?
Stupid question, at least for anyone under the age of 30. Forgive me while I talk about my generation for a moment here:
The things that have changed in the last for years for us — “us” being the 20-30ish crowd, and that second number creeps upward as the age of “settling down” does likewise — don’t have that much to do with Presidential politics.
They matter, to some degree. Our lives are probably a bit better under Obama than they would have been under McCain, particularly those of us burdened with student loans (and I suppose potentially all of us eligible for the draft; McCain was pretty damn nutty on foreign policy).
But for the most part the changes of the last four years have not been because of changes in the law and governance of America. They’ve been the natural changes of getting older. Most of it would have happened regardless of who was in the Oval Office, barring I suppose some sort of apocalyptic WWIII or Civil War 2 scenario.
(Random fun-fact break — there are whole right-wing paranoia message boards out there where [CW2], referring to any discussion of a second Civil War type scenario, is a standard-issue “tag,” much as multiplayer gaming boards use [pvp] to denote discussion of player-vs.-player gameplay, or steamy fanfic sites [f/f] in reference to female-on-female content. If you’re on that sort of board it’s assumed that you know what the tag stands for.)
So if we assume that whoever was in charge for the last four years didn’t start something like that, most of us would have gone through our dramatic personal changes one way or another.
For my part, I moved to Madison to live with my girlfriend, bounced through a couple of service sector jobs as I was getting started, and finally clawed my way into enough paid work to settle down as a writer. Moving in, getting cats, changing jobs, getting dumped, and eventually finding a new place and new roomies were not things that Barack Obama had much to do with (although the Scott Walker recall election did help speed the breakup along — long story, that).
Most of my peers have gone through similar vicissitudes. The only ones who haven’t seen much change are the ones who settled down very early, and even they mostly have gone from “newlyweds” or “pregnant for the first time” to “dealing with a toddler,” which I imagine is a big enough change to keep us occupied — and again, not one that Presidential politics has much to do with, although I suppose hypothetically a lunatic like Santorum with a cooperative Congress could see a lot more of us raising a lot more toddlers, involuntarily.
It’s a stupid question, is sort of the point here. Maybe not so much for people whose careers and families are already well-established. At the point where you’re an industry stalwart, and the industry might come or go at economic whims that the government can help influence, then it’s a fair question. But most of us Gen. Yers are still failing around for a bit of solid ground from which to survey the political landscape in peace rather than worrying about which new earthquake will shake us.
You’re going to have to come up with something a little more meaningful than “where were you four years ago” to catch the attention of people who were, for the most part, vomiting cheap beer on their shoes four years ago.
Speaking of which, I gotta order that keg for Saturday. The more things change…