As the Democratic convention gets underway, one of the dominant questions seems to be the one Republicans eagerly pushed into the discourse: are Americans better off than we were four years ago.
Suppose your house is on fire and the firefighters race to the scene. They set up their hoses and start spraying water on the blaze as quickly as possible. After the fire is put out, the courageous news reporter on the scene asks the chief firefighter, "is the house in better shape than when you got here?"Yes, that would be a really ridiculous question.... A serious reporter asks the fire chief if he had brought a large enough crew, if they had enough hoses, if the water pressure was sufficient. That might require some minimal knowledge of how to put out fires.
I strongly approve of the metaphor, and think it can be applied even more broadly. After all, reporters asking "really ridiculous questions" isn't helpful, but let's also not forget the role of the folks who started the fire.
In this case, the firefighters raced to the scene, setting up their hoses and spraying water on the blaze as quickly as possible, eventually putting out the fire. At the same time, however, those responsible for the fire complained incessantly about the speed at which the firefighters were working, blocking efforts to send more trucks, and trying to convince the public the crisis could be alleviated if only the firefighters would agree to use more kerosene.
Indeed, now that the fire is out, those who set the fire are still demanding to know why the ashes haven't been cleaned up to their satisfaction.
The political world can and should have a spirited debate, if you'll allow me to strain the metaphor, about whether the firefighters were effective enough and/or whether other techniques could have put out the fire faster.
But I suppose the question for the public in 2012 is, who's ready to start playing with matches again?