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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the economy at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress in Washington December 4, 2013. After the disastrous launch of the Affordable Care Act website, the president is looking to boost his tarnished popularity and credibility. Obama's speech in one of Washington's lowest-income districts is seen as his chance to swing the focus back to the struggles of the poor and middle class.   REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) - RTX163LT
If President Obama intended to deliver a resounding rebuttal to the Third Way and their argument that economic populism is a loser of an issue, he sure succeeded in his Wednesday speech. Economic disparity, he argued, is a "fundamental threat" to the American dream and to our democracy. This is the agenda that the president promised "where you should expect my administration to focus all our efforts" in the next two years, an agenda that Democrats can and should embrace in 2014 and 2016.

He took Republicans head on, blaming them for the "reckless shutdown," and challenged them on Obama, spoke forcefully in support of a litany of critical policies, some of them urgent, including the current fight to renew jobless benefits and over food stamps. "More than half of Americans at some point in their lives will experience poverty," he said.

That’s why we have nutrition assistance or the program known as SNAP, because it makes a difference for a mother who’s working, but is just having a hard time putting food on the table for her kids.  That’s why we have unemployment insurance, because it makes a difference for a father who lost his job and is out there looking for a new one that he can keep a roof over his kids' heads. By the way, Christmastime is no time for Congress to tell more than 1 million of these Americans that they have lost their unemployment insurance, which is what will happen if Congress does not act before they leave on their holiday vacation.
Noting that the top 10 percent of the population now takes half of the nation's income, and that "today’s CEO now makes 273 times" more than the average worker while "a family in the top 1 percent has a net worth 288 times higher than the typical family," the president said "the basic bargain at the heart of our economy has frayed." He forcefully rejected "a politics that suggests any effort to address it in a meaningful way somehow pits the interests of a deserving middle class against those of an undeserving poor in search of handouts."

He also rejected Third Way/Fix the Debt, saying that the "relentlessly growing deficit of opportunity, is a bigger threat to our future than our rapidly shrinking fiscal deficit." Take that, austerity fetishists. Now's the time to raise the minimum wage, he argued, to strengthen workers' collective bargain rights, to pass workplace protections like ENDA. It's also time, he said, to "shore up the promise of Social Security for future generations," addressing the fact that "nearly half of full-time workers and 80 percent of part-time workers don’t have a pension or retirement account at their job," and that "about half of all households don’t have any retirement savings." He left out how he means to shore up Social Security, but the tenor of the speech as a whole suggests that he's not going to be fighting for the chained CPI or any other kind of grand bargain in the next two years.

He concluded by reminding us of why he fought for the Affordable Care Act: "because 14,000 Americans lost their health insurance every single day, and even more died each year because they didn’t have health insurance at all."

We did it because millions of families who thought they had coverage were driven into bankruptcy by out-of-pocket costs that they didn't realize would be there.  Tens of millions of our fellow citizens couldn’t get any coverage at all. And Dr. King once said, "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”
And he did what Democrats need to be doing constantly: making the case for government.
Because government is us. It can and should reflect our deepest values and commitments.  And if we refocus our energies on building an economy that grows for everybody, and gives every child in this country a fair chance at success, then I remain confident that the future still looks brighter than the past, and that the best days for this country we love are still ahead.
If President Obama keeps his promise of focusing on inequality for the remainder of his term, and if Democrats fight right there with him, it won't mean that his policies will be enacted. The Republican House will still reject them. But if President Obama and Democrats keep putting forward proposals that the American people have been clamoring for years, and keep pointing out that it's the Republicans who are refusing to allow them to succeed, the next two elections could be very good for Democrats. And thus very good for the country.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 12:07 PM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Daily Kos.

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