"Are You Better Off?" Neither Party Really Wants to Know.

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Sept. 4 2012 12:06 PM

"Are You Better Off Than You Were Four Years Ago?" Neither Party Really Wants To Know.

Excitement on the eve of the Democratic National Convention

Photograph by Robyn Beck/AFP/GettyImages.

Are you better off?” is one of those questions that contains within itself several highly dubious assumptions, the first being that the American president is an all-powerful deity whose daily decisions determine your general well-being. Am I better off than I was in 2008? That I am now four years older is a tragedy, but not a tragedy I choose to lay at the feet of the sitting president. That I am now halfway through the process of growing out my bangs—a process I hadn’t even started four years ago—is not an achievement with which I choose to credit him. (I built it!) A more generous translator than myself would take the Republican Question of the Week to mean "Is the economy slightly better or slightly worse than it was four years ago?" But even that assumes Obama's daemon-like control over economic forces, and assumes that said forces will respect the temporal bounds of the election calendar.

What would it mean to take this question seriously? There are lives over which the president and his administration have great power, but they’re not the ones we’re talking about. The Obama Administration has, for instance, forced record numbers of immigrants from the country. It seems like they might have some penetrating things to say about whether they’d have been better off under a McCain/Palin regime. There are the pardons Obama did not grant and the drone attacks he did not stop. The troops who weren’t pulled from Afghanistan and Iraq and the lives that would have been affected on every side if they had. If whistle-blowing is your thing, times are bad. If you happen to own a wind farm, times are good! It’s a decent line of inquiry if you're willing to acknowledge some heterogeneity. But looking for an honest answer will drive us from the realm of the “average American” into select demographics—some even non-American—which is a crime against God and country. Therein we find the other falsehood embedded in the question. A president asked whether “we” are better off is being asked to pretend that we’re all in this together. We’re not. 


Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

Kerry Howley's work has appeared in the Paris Review, Bookforum, and the New York Times Magazine. She is currently finishing a book about consensual violence, ecstatic experience, and the body.



The End of Pregnancy

And the inevitable rise of the artificial womb.

Doctor Tests Positive for Ebola in New York City

How a Company You’ve Never Heard of Took Control of the Entire Porn Industry

The Hot New Strategy for Desperate Democrats

Blame China for everything.

The Questions That Michael Brown’s Autopsies Can’t Answer


Kiev Used to Be an Easygoing Place

Now it’s descending into madness.


Don’t Just Sit There

How to be more productive during your commute.

There Has Never Been a Comic Book Character Like John Constantine

Which Came First, the Word Chicken or the Word Egg?

  News & Politics
The Slate Quiz
Oct. 24 2014 12:10 AM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
Oct. 23 2014 5:53 PM Amazon Investors Suddenly Bearish on Losing Money
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 6:55 PM A Goodfellas Actor Sued The Simpsons for Stealing His Likeness. Does He Have a Case?
Oct. 23 2014 11:47 PM Don’t Just Sit There How to be more productive during your commute.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 24 2014 7:00 AM Gallery: The Partial Solar Eclipse of October 2014
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.