At the end of a long campaign, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan’s secret weapon was a simple question.
In the only debate held between Reagan and incumbent President Jimmy Carter — less than a week before Election Day — Reagan asked Americans, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
He went on, “Is it easier for you to go buy things in the store than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago?” And perhaps most bitingly for a nation suffering through a humiliating Iranian hostage crisis and an emboldened Soviet Union, “Is America as respected as it was? … Do you feel we’re as strong as four years ago?”
We know how Americans responded; Reagan was elected in a landslide.
And that’s what gives us hope for a return to America First policies. The economic formula adopted by the Carter administration is being replicated by President Joe Biden and his team. From a self-induced energy crisis to unforced errors in foreign policy, from out-of-control inflation to stunted economic growth (a politically deadly combination called “stagflation”), the Biden administration is bringing back the late 1970s, without even the good music to soften the blow.
Let’s start with the energy crisis, which is driving up prices at home and will lead to energy poverty, energy rationing and winter deaths throughout Europe in the coming months.
Biden and his team can blame the war in Ukraine, but the simple fact is that he’s been at war with the American energy sector since taking office, canceling the much-needed Keystone XL Pipeline on Day One, adding new layers of red tape and slow-walking new energy exploration since then. It’s important to remember that gas prices had already risen 44 percent, or $1.05, between January 2021 and February 2022, before Russia even invaded Ukraine.
“In 2019, the United States became a net energy exporter for the first time — finally achieving the mission that brought about the creation of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in the 1970s,” noted Jason Isaac of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “After achieving net export status, even the Iran missile controversy barely affected our oil prices. DOE estimated that America’s newfound energy dominance saved the country more than $200 billion a year — a healthy $2,500 annually for the average family of four.”
The Biden administration’s policies changed all of that, and American families are feeling the effects.
Of course, Russia’s war in Ukraine might not have happened at all if the Biden administration wasn’t so intent on projecting weakness abroad. In just one example, the president acknowledged the impending invasion but assured Russia that America wasn’t ready to respond. “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and we end up having to fight about what to do and not do,” Biden said on the eve of the invasion.
According to one Ukrainian official, this statement was “the green light to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to enter Ukraine at his pleasure,” CNN reported. What signal, we have to wonder, is Biden sending to the Chinese Communist Party with his conflicting statements on Taiwan?
Closer to home, we have the stark differences between the Trump administration economy and the Biden administration economy. Under former President Donald Trump, we enjoyed inflation of 2 percent or less. Under Biden, we’re seeing the highest inflation rates in 40 years.
Under the Trump administration, the labor force participation rate rose as strong economic growth and rising wages pulled workers in from off the sidelines. By contrast, the Biden administration’s anti-work policies have pushed people back to the sidelines and exacerbated the ongoing labor shortage.
In Biden’s America, we see a return of an unwelcome economic malaise. Mothers have trouble feeding their babies and small businesses struggle to keep their doors open. Jobs go begging while farmers and ranchers fight rising costs.
Meanwhile, the moms and dads of America are trying to keep pace with skyrocketing prices and being told they have no say in what is being taught in their children’s schools.
It’s a simple question, and every bit as relevant now as it was when Reagan asked it: Are you better off now than you were four years ago?
I think we know how Americans will answer.
James Carter is director of the America First Policy Institute’s Center for American Prosperity. Previously, he served as deputy undersecretary of labor under President George W. Bush and as chief minority economist on the staff of the U.S. Senate Budget Committee.
Doug Hoelscher serves as chief operating officer for the America First Policy Institute and previously served as assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs in the Trump White House.
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