8 Questions

Dan Balz on the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte

Question 2: How can Obama articulate a convincing defense of his economic record?

The defense will start by stating the obvious: that Obama inherited a terrible economic situation, so bad that a majority of Americans still blame the current state of the economy on former president George W. Bush. But at the Republican convention in Tampa, Bush’s brother Jeb called out the president, challenging him to stop blaming his predecessor and start taking responsibility.

Obama will be defending a record that has kept unemployment above 8 percent for 42 consecutive months. Long-term unemployment is having a corrosive effect on the lives of many Americans. Although there are some bright spots — the housing sector has shown signs of life recently — voters aren’t convinced that a real recovery has taken hold.

It’s often been said that claiming things could have been worse is hardly an effective message, but Obama’s team has often made that argument. Had Obama not done what he did, they say, the country could have plunged into a depression. But what hurts Obama now is the persistence of high unemployment and slow growth.

Explaining why is not going to be easy. Instead, a number of Democrats say, this is why Obama must draw a contrast with Romney. Tad Devine, a top adviser in the presidential campaigns of Al Gore and John Kerry, suggested that Obama steal a line from Ronald Reagan and say as the Gipper did, “Our opponents began this campaign hoping that America has a poor memory. Well, let’s take them on a little stroll down memory lane.” Of course, Reagan was dealing with a recovery with far higher growth rates than those of today.

One top Democratic strategist said, “His most convincing defense of his economic record is contrast and comparison with the other side’s proposals moving forward. If he is defending his record, he is not doing what he needs to do.”