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The only question that counts in 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – In the wake of the Democratic Convention, only one question counts for voters: “Are we better off today than we were four years ago?”

It’s the question most effectively raised by Ronald Reagan in 1980, when Jimmy Carter was running for re-election – because at the time the answer was clearly no. But Republicans should think twice about raising the same question in 2012. Because, except for those who’ve never accepted the idea of Barack Obama as president, the answer is clearly: Damned straight!

True, things are far from perfect. Too many middle-class Americans are hurting. Too many Americans are still out of a job. Too many recent graduates can’t find their first one. But, in so many areas, we have made significant progress. And, given the mess Obama found himself in when taking office – and the determined opposition of congressional Republicans – the miracle is that Obama has accomplished as much as he has. As former President Clinton assured Americans in his powerful speech to this convention, “No president, not me, nor any of my predecessors, could have repaired all the damage he found in just four years.”

There is no question that this country is in better shape since Obama took office. Four years ago, we were bogged down in two long wars. Today, the war in Iraq is over. A new Iraqi government is in charge. And the war in Afghanistan is winding down, with the first wave of American troops already back home.

Four years ago, we still feared the possibility of new terrorist attacks cooked up against the United States by Osama bin Laden. Today, he’s dead. Al-Qaida’s leadership has been almost totally destroyed. And Moammar Gadhafi’s no longer up to his old tricks.

Four years ago, following the Bush crash of 2008, the Dow had sunk below 9,000. Today, the Dow is routinely trading above 13,000. U.S. corporations have enjoyed record profits for three years in a row. The auto industry is back from the brink of bankruptcy: bigger, stronger and building better cars than ever before. And, under Obama’s most recent executive order, by 2025 American cars and light trucks will be competing with Japanese vehicles at 54.5 miles per gallon.

Four years ago, America was hemorrhaging 800,000 jobs a month. That’s the hole Obama found himself in, during the first month of his presidency. Today, it’s just the reverse. For the last 29 months, over 100,000 new private sector jobs have been created. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Obama stimulus alone is responsible for creating or saving 3.2 million jobs.

Four years ago, some 50 million Americans could not get access to health insurance, even if they could afford it. Today, thanks to Obamacare, 36 million Americans have health care for the first time, 3 million young people are now covered on their parents’ health policy, and all women have access to contraception and preventive health care, with no co-pay.

Four years ago, gays and lesbians serving in the military had to live a lie. Today, with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” no longer in force, they can serve proudly and openly in uniform. And same-sex marriage has been endorsed by a president of the United States.

As Democrats repeatedly stressed from the podium in Charlotte this week, that’s an impressive list of accomplishments, by any measure.

It’s even more impressive when you consider the total lack of cooperation President Obama has received from Republican leaders in Congress – a point inadvertently raised by the Mitt Romney campaign. In response to Clinton’s Wednesday night address, Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said that Clinton’s success was due to the fact that he “had worked with Republicans” to balance the budget, while “Barack Obama hasn’t worked across the aisle.” That’s a Paul-Ryan-sized lie.

The truth is, when Clinton reached across the aisle he found Republicans willing to work together: Bob Dole, Trent Lott and, believe it or not, Newt Gingrich. When Obama tried to reach across the aisle, he only got his hand slapped by John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell.

So, Republicans beware. By asking Americans to consider whether we’re better off today than four years ago, they’re only inviting voters to give Obama a second term. His success was perhaps best summed up by Vice President Joe Biden: “Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive!”