And so the facts I noted in a recent column remain depressingly true. After eight years of Obama, 20 million Americans who want full time work won’t be able to find it; the United States will be more unequal than at any time since the 1920s; there will be less upward mobility in the United States than in most of Europe; 1 in 5 children will live in poverty; our school rankings will continue to slip internationally; poor children will still be assigned to the worst teachers and most rundown facilities in the country; 12,000 Americans will still die each year from gun violence; college will be less affordable and student debt higher than ever; half of all jobs will pay less than $35,000 a year; the wealthiest 400 Americans will have more assets than the bottom 150 million combined; our top banks will be bigger than before, and powerful enough to fight off rules meant to prevent a repeat of the financial meltdown; we’ll spend a third to twice as much per person on healthcare than other wealthy nations without better results; health insurance premiums will consume a third of the average family’s income; carbon emissions will continue to rise toward levels most scientists say threaten the planet; most Americans won’t be saving nearly enough to maintain their standard of living in retirement; and politicians will spend half their time groveling for cash from the 1/20th of 1 percent of Americans who bankroll their campaigns.
Nothing Obama says anymore can change any of this. Nor can 2014, because the smaller, whiter midterm electorate favors the House GOP.
Obama’s chief remaining policy task is to implement health reform successfully. Beyond this, if you think America needs to aim much higher, 2016 is the next great chance. We need a wave election that wins back the House for Democrats after a breakthrough campaign that durably changes public attitudes about the big things the country needs to do next. A campaign that also challenges Democrats to rethink some old assumptions that prevent the party from reaching its potential and advancing its cause.
It may sound premature or maudlin, but the real test of Obama’s speeches now is whether they contribute to what the race to succeed him sounds like. It can’t be easy for the president or his team to accept. But American renewal is all about 2016 now.
Matt Miller is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He writes a weekly column for The Washington Post.