Jennifer C. Braceras | Boston Herald | Monday, September 17, 2012 | Op-Ed |

“Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”

That’s the question the Romney campaign wants voters to answer.

For the 23 million Americans who are unemployed, underemployed or have dropped out of the work force altogether, the answer, of course, is “no.”

Indeed, with stagnant or falling incomes, lower home values and the rising cost of basic necessities, even folks fortunate enough to have jobs tend to answer the question in the negative.

Obama supporters understand this. They know that if this election is a referendum on whether we are today better off, the president will lose. So for months, they ignored the question.

Instead, Obama supporters attacked Bain Capital, mocked Ann Romney’s dressage hobby and accused Mitt Romney of being a felon. When these divisive and deceptive tactics failed, they shifted strategy and rewrote the question: “Are you better off today than if Barack Obama had not become president?”

Unlike Romney’s question, the answer to which is largely objective and quantifiable, Obama’s question is hypothetical, allowing voters the flexibility to fantasize success where there is only failure.  To support this fantasy, the campaign relies on two critical distortions: the claim that Obama “created” 4.5 million jobs and the claim that he “saved” the auto industry.

Although it’s true that we have created some new jobs, the 4.5 million figure fails to account for the millions of jobs lost during Obama’s presidency or for the significant increase in the working-age population since January 2009. Bottom line: There are fewer people working now than when Obama took office.

As for the auto industry, Obama didn’t “save” it. He merely paid off Big Labor in the form of taxpayer-funded guarantees that union contracts would not be renegotiated.

Even with this bailout, Chrysler ultimately collapsed and was bought by the Italian automaker FIAT. GM now lags behind its competitors; the company’s stock continues to fall and many analysts predict General Motors will soon return to bankruptcy. Bottom line: The notion that the American car industry only exists today because of government money is downright absurd.

To be sure, Obama defenders are correct when they say this recession was caused by decades of misguided policies. But the relevant question for voters is not whether Obama created the current crisis (he didn’t) but whether he is capable of getting us out (he’s not). In other words: “Will you be better off after four more years of Obama?” For Americans who work (or seek work) in the private sector, the answer is “highly unlikely.”

You see, Obama believes that we can and should spend our way out of the recession. His public comments (“the private sector is doing fine;” “you didn’t build that”) reveal hostility toward business and a wrongly held belief that government — not private capital – is the engine of economic expansion. And so he promises higher taxes (in the name of “fairness”), more government spending and more regulation – all the while failing to see that such policies hamper job creation and economic growth.

Moreover, by promising to enlarge (rather than reform) the social safety net, Obama essentially guarantees that he will increase the national debt and entrench the culture of dependency — thereby limiting the economic and social mobility of working Americans.

In rewriting the question “Are Americans better off today than they were four years ago,” Obama concedes that they are not.

Americans understand that the president did not create the current economic mess. But his argument for more time fails because in the long term his policies will make our economic situation much, much worse.