The conventional wisdom going into the first presidential debate was that debates don’t really matter. And when a challenger is running against an incumbent, they really shouldn’t matter.

While the public has witnessed the policies and effectiveness of the sitting president, the challenger offers only rhetoric to describe an alternative to the reality the country knows. A debate performance by a challenger should not be able to compete with the actual economic, social and foreign policy performance of a sitting president.

My family survived the Great Recession because of the policies of the Obama administration. I suspect we were not alone in benefiting from one or another of the various relief programs. We participated in four different programs that were designed to help middle-class families like mine ride out the recession. For us, it worked.

One of the first recession-fighting initiatives was the wildly successful “Cash for Clunkers” program. In August 2009, we drove my 19-year-old son’s 12-mile-per-gallon V-8 Dodge Diplomat to the nearest dealership, added my own car in trade and drove away with a brand new American-made car. The next week we bought another used car (25 mpg) for my son to drive. As a result, he was able to get to work in an area where public transportation is spotty.

We also benefited from the COBRA premium reduction program of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka the Stimulus Bill). My wife had been ill for the first year of the Great Recession when her employer terminated her job, and with it our health insurance. A second surgery was scheduled for the following week after we got notice of the termination. Our only option was to pay the full $1,600 monthly premium of the plan under the provisions of COBRA (the federal law that allows employees to continue their participation in an employer’s health insurance plan), in order keep her surgery date. We scraped together that first month’s premium, but it would have been impossible for us to afford the premiums going forward.

Then we found out that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included a 65 percent COBRA subsidy for those who had lost their jobs during the recession. In addition to allowing us to keep our health insurance, that gave us $1,050 over the next 15 months to maintain our new car note, pay the rent, buy food, clothes and take care of other bills.

When I sat down to do my taxes in the spring of 2010, I discovered that we qualified for an $800 tax credit from the Make Work Pay program. We hope the reduction in the payroll tax rate will continue so we can have more take-home pay.

The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) has allowed us to keep our two young adult sons on our health insurance. Their jobs have not offered them health insurance, and being on our plan has helped our younger son avoid starting his adult life saddled with crushing medical debt after a bad fall from his skateboard. A month after that accident, he received a $10,000 bill from the emergency room. At the end of the bill it showed only a $100 co-pay as his portion. By the time he ages-out of our health insurance, the health exchanges should be up and running and he will be able to buy his own medical insurance if his employer still doesn’t offer coverage.

The decline of the unemployment rate to 7.8% is not just a number in a news headline. In my extended family, all four of my adult children are working now. We feel the recovery and know that things are getting better. The speed of it has been slow, but the direction is steady and sure.

Mitt Romney would have done exactly none of these things to help my family during the recession. All he promises for the future is tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, repeal of the Affordable Care Act so that my sons will lose the health coverage they have and be unable to afford their own. He also promises to defund Planned Parenthood that has provided the primary health care for my daughter, who is not eligible for the Affordable Care young-adult provision.

We are just one middle-class family that has weathered the storm of the recession. We have friends and neighbors who suffered more than we did, primarily because of the collapse of the housing market. Mitt Romney advocated letting the market hit bottom with no provisions to soften the blow to middle-class families that are upside-down in their homes through no fault of their own. President Obama continues to refine programs to provide these families with relief and we now see evidence of a turnaround of the housing market.

Mitt Romney’s alternate reality threatens to derail the progress we are making toward a fairer and stronger economy in exchange for trickle-down policies that offer nothing to my family or our nation. I will watch the next debate for its entertainment value, but nothing Romney can say will contradict the experience we have had of a presidency that has made a real difference in our lives.

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