Perhaps Washington is simply too disconnected [from the economic hardship of most Americans]: my brother-in-law observes that the only place in America where it is hard to get a table at dinner time in a good restaurant right now is within two miles of Capitol Hill.
Sometime in the late seventies, the Dems started dumping their traditional "party of labor and the common man/woman" role, and became the party of the social-libertarian/technocratic faction of the top 20% of the income scale.
This is what allowed the Republicans (starting with Reagan) to begin their destruction of the safety net. They did this in the service of their only real constituency: The Richest One Percent of Americans and their minions and courtiers.
So, you have the representatives of the top one percent of the income scale (the Republican Party) competing with the Democratic Party to be the representatives of the nineteen percent of the income scale right below them.
The problem, of course, is that the 80 percent below them haven't gotten a meaningful raise in 30 years; no one is representing their interests.
That's also why the safety net has been systematically weakened (a frightened and submissive workforce is what Our Reptilian Corporate Masters most desire).
That's why everyone has such crippling student loan debt - and this is increasingly true even of people who attend state colleges and universities - make class mobility prohibitively expensive to guard the privileges of those at the top, and keep those with student loan debt focused on educational choices that will lead to high-paying jobs, rather than the kind of education that will show them the deeply corrupt nature of the game.
This benefits the wealth and status of Our Reptilian Corporate Masters, who are the only people whose interests are being served by the current system; until and unless this changes, the current bad economic situation won't get appreciably better for the great majority of Americans.
The Circle That Will Never Be Squared is having the yawning inequality of wealth we have in the United States, having a "safety net" that is being weakened, leaving millions in the cold (and that is becoming increasingly literal) - and also having social stability. You can't have both.
History tells us that these kinds of situations can either be reformed (see TR and the trust-busters, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, FDR and the New Deal, and so on) or, if the oligarchs have so tight a grip on the levers of power, including the means of mass communication, that they can prevent reform, then eventually the people will rise up. This can go badly wrong, and is best avoided, if possible.
If there were a real, actual "Left" in this country, there would be mass protests and agitation about the glaring injustices of the current plutocracy. The tea party (not the astroturfing financiers; I'm speaking here of the rank-and-file) is a worrying sign that the character of the eventual reckoning may be racist, nativist and involve scapegoating of the weak and vulnerable.
If this comes to pass, the Tea Party's astroturfing rich will have the bulk of the responsibility for the consequences; but the scandalous silence of what passes for the American "Left" will be seen as having helped enable the disaster.
We need a mass movement from the left, for social and economic justice. We need a left-ish answer to the Tea Party.