The other day I read a really good article in The Washington Post about the travails of a Pennsylvania teenager trying to better her life. The writer noted that both Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama made multiple visits to that battleground state during the campaign, pushing their competing messages.
It's fair to say that neither man offered much of a way out to millions of Americans stuck on the frozen escalator of upward mobility or to those already on their way down. The political story in this country for the near future -- as well as the social and economic story -- is the lack of economic growth and the attendant loss of opportunity. So much for that hallmark of America: upward mobility.
Most of our grass-roots politics can been seen as a response to this new reality, from the Tea Party to the Occupy movement. And most of our policy discussions tinker around the edges of a response -- from competing visions of further tax cuts to stimulate growth to more investment in education, technology and science to boost productivity.
Today's debate on the fiscal cliff only scratches the surface of what is necessary to reboot America's economic growth. While discussions about bolder ideas may be going on in private, the public discussion sounds the same now as it did two years ago -- or even 10 years ago.
When one is discouraged about the gap between what our country needs and what our politics can give it, Franklin Roosevelt can serve as a useful pick-me-up. In a commencement speech at Oglethorpe University in 1932, at the depth of the Depression and the height of political stalemate, he said:
"The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. The millions who are in want will not stand by silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach.
"We need enthusiasm, imagination and the ability to face facts, even unpleasant ones, bravely. We need to correct, by drastic means if necessary, the faults in our economic system from which we now suffer. We need the courage of the young. Yours is not the task of making your way in the world but the task of remaking the world which you will find before you. May every one of us be granted the courage, the faith and the vision to give the best that is in us to that remaking!"
Carter Eskew, chief strategist for the Al Gore 2000 presidential campaign, is co-host of The Washington Post's Insiders Blog.