Presidential candidates must dominate with rhetoric, or suffer the consequences.
Challenger Ronald Reagan in 1980 asked the American electorate: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
Times were hard; the incumbent Jimmy Carter lost the race.
The Republicans are using the same question against Democratic President Obama today.
He has to nail his accomplishments up for all to see, and answer his detractors.
Many Americans will decide how to vote only late in the campaigns, and again: times are hard.
Obama’s healthcare reform law was the largest single legislative achievement of his first two years in office.
It guarantees access to medical insurance, through employers or individually, with tax credits and subsidies.
It extends coverage to more than 30 million people who could not get it before.
The ten-year cost for the federal government was originally calculated at 940 billion dollars, but Congress has revised that to more than 1.2 trillion.
Republicans are set against Obama’s reform, which is also aimed at reducing the drag on the federal budget over time. They say he has failed to right the economy, and they point to the official unemployment figure of 8.3%, which was 7.8% when Obama took office.
While the Democrats say his economic stimulus package was a success, notably into an auto bailout and to ease pressure on mortgage-payers, and most economists say that it kept America from entering a second Great Depression – but the Republicans say it did not work.
Obama kept his promise to end the war in Iraq, which pushed the nation ever-deeper into debt under Republican President George W. Bush.
When Obama received the Nobel Prize for Peace, he defended American foreign policy.
That included vigorously pursuing terrorist organisations and the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
The military is also in the process of transferring duties in Afghanistan, planning to be out of there by 2014.
The Obama administration also pursued diplomatic dialogue, notably successful with Russia, which allowed NATO material to be moved through Russian territory to Afghanistan.
Detractors have criticised his policy on Iran, and say he failed to live up to 2008 campaign promises, the biggest of which might be closing the Guantanamo prison – which is still open. This bothered Republicans less, as their position was that the detention centre should continue to hold terrorists.
Failures the Republicans attribute to Obama are their targets in their quest to replace Obama in the White House.