Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

Commentary

September 12, 2012

President Obama is 'incomplete'

"Are people better off than they were four years ago?" is hardly a trick question. It's one of the most reliable cliches in American politics.

So Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat from Maryland, should have been ready with some handy dodge when he was asked the question by Bob Schieffer of "Face the Nation." Really, in the circumstance, any circumlocution would do.

Instead, O'Malley said "No," igniting a firestorm and highlighting a key Democratic weakness heading into their convention with his unadorned, monosyllabic honesty. Which didn't last. Within 24 hours, the skies had brightened, the malaise had lifted, and O'Malley was pronouncing the country "clearly better off."

O'Malley hadn't done the full Booker - the act of saying what you think, as Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker did when denouncing the Obama campaign's anti-Bain Capital ads a few months ago, then recanting shamefacedly - but he'd done a half-Booker with a twist.

O'Malley can be forgiven for his initial forthrightness. People who make their living coming up with creative ways to avoid questions inconvenient to President Barack Obama didn't do all that much better. Asked twice on "Fox News Sunday" if Americans are better off, David Axelrod pointedly wouldn't say "yes" or "no." Asked three times on "This Week," David Plouffe passed on a direct answer all three times.

Given the otherwise remorselessly amoral standard operating procedure of the Obama re-election campaign, it can't have been the constraints of truthfulness that kept Axelrod and Plouffe from deeming people better off than four years ago. They must have worried about saying something so flagrantly untrue that it made them appear out of touch - the worse offense.

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