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Brown: I’m not better off financially — but I am in most every other way

DENVER - AUGUST 28:  Democratic U.S. Presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obam(D-IL) is shown speaking screen day four Democratic National

DENVER - AUGUST 28: Democratic U.S. Presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) is shown speaking on a screen on day four of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) at Invesco Field at Mile High August 28, 2008 in Denver, Colorado. U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) is the first African-American to be officially nominated as a candidate for U.S. president by a major party. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

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Updated: October 6, 2012 1:57PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

Since Ronald Reagan posed the question in a debate with Jimmy Carter 32 years ago, it’s become such a cliche that every incumbent president has known he must formulate a compelling answer.

Now it’s Barack Obama’s turn, and as the Democratic National Convention got down to business Tuesday night, a succession of speakers tried to help him make his case that we are indeed better off.

Please note: Reagan didn’t ask if “we” are better off now than “we” were four years ago or if “America” is better off now than it was four years earlier.

As the Great Communicator, Reagan knew the question was most effective if he made it personal. He said: You.

And that’s exactly how I’ve always treated it, as a fun intellectual exercise, as a good opportunity to take personal inventory of where I stand compared to where I stood.

What I’ve never done is use it as the major determining factor in how I cast my vote for president, which to my mind, is a much broader evaluation requiring one to look outside his or her own personal circumstances.

Still, am I better off than I was four years ago?

Probably not, at least not in financial terms.

Like a lot of people, my job pays less than it did four years ago. My pension plan has been terminated and the promise of severance pay eliminated.

Also like a lot people, my house is worth less than it was four years ago, my equity reduced, along with my savings.

But I don’t blame Barack Obama.

Heck, I don’t even see the point in blaming George Bush, although as Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan reminded us here Tuesday, it was the collapse of the banking industry under a lax Republican regulatory watch that got this ball rolling downhill in the first place.

In my case, I work in an industry facing its own particular challenges only partially caused by the overall economic climate.

Yet I look around and realize I’m fortunate to still have a job, fortunate to be able to still make my mortgage payments, fortunate my mortgage was never close to being underwater.

Most of all, I feel fortunate to have a great family and to still have my health with four more years behind me.

As you think about your own personal situation, you’ll make your own evaluation and draw your own conclusions.

The president can’t tell the person who had a good job four years ago and now is unemployed that he’s better off. Likewise, Republicans can’t tell America’s auto workers they would have been better off if Obama had just let their employers go bankrupt.

I consider myself better off with Obama in the White House because decision by decision — whether it’s on immigration, tax policy, gay rights, military intervention or health care — he has demonstrated he’s more likely to make the choices I would want made than Bush did or Mitt Romney would.

Four years ago, I wanted someone in the White House who more closely reflected my thinking and values. Count me better off.

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