Julian E. Zelizer: Fight for Middle Class Economic Security

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Arsenal of Democracy" and a book on former President Carter and editor of a book assessing former President George W. Bush's administration, to be published this fall by Princeton University Press.]

In an extraordinarily powerful moment last Monday, a middle class mother named Velma Hart confronted the president for whom she had enthusiastically voted.

During the town hall, Hart expressed to President Obama her deep frustration with the current state of affairs: "I've been told that I voted for a man who said he's going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. I'm one of those people, and I'm waiting sir. I'm waiting. I just don't feel it yet . . . I need you to answer this honestly: Is this my new reality?"

With this simple question, Ms. Hart articulated a feeling that is shared by millions of Americans who are growing more desperate for our current economic situation to change....

If the nation is serious about responding to Velma Hart's complaint, and we should be, the government and private sector will need to generate much bolder ideas than anything currently on the table. This will require public-private partnerships that can stimulate investment and research in new economic areas that will allow us to compete in international markets.

The U.S. must look for the kinds of public investment that took place in the 1940s and 1950s, when government and private funds, combined with entrepreneurial genius, fueled the high technology sector and resulted in rapid development in areas such as the Silicon Valley in California and Route 128 in Massachusetts....

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