WASHINGTON: Two phrases a Democrat should never utter in discussing the economy are "misery" and "Jimmy Carter." John Kerry invoked both last week with his bungled revival of the Misery Index, an economic indicator designed to show just how bad things have gotten for the middle class. Carter first introduced the idea in his 1976 Presidential campaign, and Ronald Reagan later turned it on Carter to great success.But Kerry's index isn't the classic '70s version. He replaced some of Carter's measurements (unemployment, inflation) for some of his own (healthcare, energy, and college costs). Times have changed, after all, and so have the factors that determine a family's financial outlook. Maybe Kerry's people felt the media would simply be satisfied with the new numbers. Maybe they thought (rightly) that most of the reporters covering the campaign are too young to know Carter had a career before Habitat for Humanity. Or maybe this was Kerry's take on one of President Bush's favorite initiatives: faith-based media relations. Either way, they failed to see the inevitable. By introducing the new Misery Index, Kerry inspired legions of reporters to revisit the old one - and it turns out that Carter's math is no friend to the modern Democrat. Media outlets including The Wall Street Journal and MSNBC soon reported that, according to the original index, Americans are better off today than they've been in years. Better than when Clinton left office, in fact. So we won't give Kerry a hard time for intentionally associating his campaign with "misery." We won't even question the wisdom of inviting comparisons to the most poorly regarded economic steward in contemporary Presidential history. Instead, we laud him for doing what no Republican has been able to do this year: give Americans mathematical evidence that they're financially better off now than they were four years ago.