At Republican and Democratic national conventions this week and last, members of both parties attempted to convince undecided voters that America is either better or worse off than it was nearly four years ago when President Barack Obama took office.
In the race for New York's new 21st Congressional District, the candidates see the picture about as differently as speakers did in Charlotte, N.C., and Tampa, Fla., where the conventions were held.
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens said he believes the country is better off than it was four years ago. He said in 2008, the country was on the precipice of either a "great recession" or another depression.
Rep. Bill Owens, left, and Matt Doheny
(Enterprise file photos)
Owens said that precipice has been "largely avoided.
"Has the economy grown the way we would like it to have? Absolutely not," he said. "So some people are doing, if you will, better - some people, clearly worse. But last quarter, the economy grew at 1.7 percent. That's certainly movement in the right direction. There's been, in fact, job growth in the private sector with Obama. Again, not as much as we would like, but there in fact has been job growth after sustained job losses at the end of the Bush administration."
Republican challenger Matt Doheny, a businessman from Watertown, sees it differently. He said 5,000 more people are out of work now than there were in 2009, when Owens first came into office.
Also, Doheny said, the nation's debt has grown by $4 trillion since Obama took office.
"And on top of that, you look at gas prices, something that everybody here in the North Country feels every day," he said. "Look at where we are today. In the last three years, we're up over a dollar, a dollar-and-a-half in some regions, depending on the day."
Doheny added that health care premiums continue to rise despite the passage of the Affordable Care Act. He said he also feels Obama's 2008 campaign slogans of "hope" and "change" haven't made much of a difference in Washington, where partisanship among Republicans and Democrats has ground legislative action to a near halt.
Doheny argued that Obama's stimulus plan hasn't worked and that 1 percent growth isn't enough. He said economic turnarounds under presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton came about much faster.
"When you talk about, 'Well, things are better because we didn't hit a Great Depression' - well again, anybody who understands economics says, 'OK, we've had such a severe downturn that you will have a sharp pull up to the positive if you have common-sense policies, that we haven't had,'" Doheny said. "Simply put: We're worse off than four years ago, and we should be doing a lot better, and that's why we need to change the folks up down in Washington."
Doheny said the solution is to curb government spending, lower taxes and cut regulations that hamper business growth.
But Owens said he doesn't think the agenda being put forth by the Republicans will get the job done.
"It largely would undo the progress at the expense of the middle class," he said, "because what's being proposed, essentially, is tax cuts for the very wealthy (and) increases in taxes for the middle class, which goes contrary not only to the direction that Democrats have been going but contrary from virtually the position of every serious economist, because the people who spend the money are, in fact, the people who are in the middle class. And since the economy is 70 percent consumer spending, you clearly want to leave the money there so it gets spent."
Green Party candidate Don Hassig didn't respond to requests for comment on this story.
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.