During the 1980 presidential debate, when Ronald Reagan asked the voters, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" they said "no," and ousted President Jimmy Carter by a landslide.
The GOP, now eager to put the Democrats on the defensive with respect to the current recession, decided to recycle Reagan's issue-crystalizing query. Why? Because polls continue to suggest that Americans remain pessimistic about the state of the economy — and their own financial futures.
Vice President Joe Biden offered this response, "You want to know whether we're better off? I've got a little bumper sticker for you. Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive."
But Biden's sound bite, while entertainingly snarky, didn't actually answer Reagan's question. In fact, no Democrat did, until former President Bill Clinton showed up at the Democratic National Convention for his "Clint Eastwood moment."
Before Clinton even took the podium, he owned the room. When he looked into the television cameras, Clinton not only captivated approximately 25.1 million viewers (according to Nielsen) but his audience also exceeded the number of football fans watching the Dallas Cowboys' victory over the New York Giants.
According to a poll by the Pew Research Center, 29 percent of viewers rated Clinton's speech as "the highlight of the evening" — compared to just 16 percent for President Barack Obama and 15 percent for the first lady.
Twelve years ago, Clinton was offered a marginal role at the Los Angeles convention nominating Vice President Al Gore for the top spot and experts claimed that ignoring Clinton cost Gore several key states.
In 2012, not only did Clinton top Eastwood's showing at the Republican National Convention by nine points, but by delivering the magic words: "They want to go back to the same old policies that got us into trouble in the first place," he was able to sink the GOP "four years ago" strategy.
Clinton, in cunningly reframing the debate, argued that no president, including himself, could have repaired the economic damage Obama had to face in 2009. "But conditions are improving," said Clinton, "and if you'll renew the president's contract, you will feel it."
When Clinton added, "I believe that with all my heart," voters believed it, too. In fact, his words so resonated with the electorate; they are now being employed in a commercial playing morning, noon and night.
Clinton, the politician who feels our pain, has reinvented himself as a credible source. Yes, I'm talking about the same man who defiantly told the American public, "I did not have sex with that woman." Face it, not only is Clinton able to seduce women — he is able to seduce everybody.
So what does Clinton have — that Mitt Romney and Obama are missing? Charisma. And he's not afraid to use it.
Charisma is the ability to make people believe you, no matter what you say; it's uber-credibility.
When people are asked to define charisma, they employ such diverse synonyms as ability to engage, competence, authenticity, magnetism and trustworthiness. That's because each of us responds to a different signifier of charisma — so the more signifiers an individual possesses, the more charismatic he or she is perceived to be.
Bud Tribble employed "Reality Distortion Field" or RDF, a term the Apple executive borrowed from "Star Trek," to describe Steve Jobs' over-the-top aura of competence, magnetism and the ability to engage. Everybody seemed to believe everything Jobs said.
Michael Ellsburg, the author of "The Power of Eye Contact" scientifically measures RDF according to the number of people reporting that they can't resist the charismatic person's will while interacting face-to-face. Ellsburg not only claims Clinton's RDF surpasses that of Jobs' but is "perhaps the strongest in the world."
Say what you will but Clinton never embraced Obama — literally or figuratively. Yet, that's exactly why Clinton is the ideal person to address former Obama backers who are presently feeling betrayed.
Four years ago, they voted for change, but Obama failed to deliver. In his convention speech, however, Clinton gives these voters permission to mark their ballot for a candidate they no longer love. All he asks is that they consider Obama a better choice than Romney.
Finally, Clinton's use of humor was not only an amusing diversion to offset the litany of boring facts and figures his speech required, but it also gave Clinton the opportunity to borrow Reagan's credibility — for just one night.
When Clinton quipped, "As another president once said, 'there they go again,'" he was employing a catch phrase from the same debate that produced "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"
Since both political parties seem eager to embrace Reagan's talking points from 1980, what's a voter to do? As Reagan also said, "trust — but verify."