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Despite progress, McCarthy argues we were better off 10 months ago

Kevin McCarthy would have us believe the United States was in better shape 10 months ago. That's demonstrably foolish.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spoke for more than eight hours on Thursday night and Friday morning, which had the effect of delaying a floor vote on the Build Back Better Act by about 12 hours. As a practical matter, the California Republican's remarks were irrelevant: Democrats passed the transformational legislation a few hours after McCarthy stopped talking.

But as a rhetorical matter, the GOP leader's strange monologue is still drawing scrutiny. Some of McCarthy's rhetoric was bonkers. Many of his key claims were false. Many of his core arguments were incoherent.

But there was one specific claim in his weird diatribe that still seems relevant:

"This isn't an image of a thriving nation. It's the image of a country that is clearly on the wrong track. Are we better off today than we were 10 months ago? No."

The rhetorical framing is familiar for a reason. In the final week of the 1980 presidential election, Ronald Reagan asked during a debate, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" For much of the electorate, the answer was, "No," and then-President Jimmy Carter lost badly.

A political test was born: Presidents seeking re-election should be judged on whether conditions improved or deteriorated during their tenures.

President Joe Biden's next election is still on the horizon, but McCarthy seemed eager late last week to lay the groundwork for a political indictment of sorts: The United States, according to the House minority leader, was better off in January than it is now.

But is that true?

Ten months ago, the unemployment rate was 6.3 percent. Now, it's 4.6 percent. Ten months ago, the public saw a report that the economy had just lost over 300,000 jobs the previous month. Now, job growth is soaring and is on pace to create nearly 7 millions this year.

What's more, the U.S. economic recovery is strong, we're the only advanced economy on the planet to have a higher GDP now than before the pandemic began.

Ten months ago, Covid-19 infections were vastly worse, as were hospitalizations and fatalities. Ten months ago, a tiny percentage of the population had been vaccinated.

Ten months ago, the United States fell short of a peaceful transition of power for the first time in its history. Ten months ago, the United States still had thousands of troops in harm's way in Afghanistan. Ten months ago, the United States' international standing and credibility was in desperate need of improvement.

The point, of course, is not that the progress has created some kind of state of perfection, but McCarthy would have the public believe that the progress isn't real — as if Americans were better off in January, when practically everything was worse.