Politics And The American Dream

SBA ImageThe American dream does not come to those who fall asleep.

Quote Attributed to Richard Nixon

Ever notice politicians often pontificate on topics they really don’t understand? As we march toward the November 8, 2016 presidential election, political rhetoric on the need to restore the American Dream is ramping up.

The Republican Party’s Restoring The American Dream platform focuses on the economy and job growth. An article in Commentary describes the difference between Republican and Democrat perspective as:

“Democrats have become the party of the government-dependent, such as those receiving assistance, government workers, the academy, the media, and the very rich. Republicans are now the party of the hard-working, aspiring middle. The Democrats used to be the party of the American dream. Today it is the Republicans who are.”

In contrast though, the Democrat Party’s Moving America Forward platform appears to focus on making the American Dream achievable for more residents.

“In 2008, Democrats, independents, and many Republicans came together as Americans to move our country forward. We were in the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the previous administration had put two wars on our nation’s credit card, and the American Dream had slipped out of reach for too many.”

Net, both Parties claim to be the Party of the American Dream.

What Are The Different Political Party Views?

One of the more interesting commentaries I have read on the subject (albeit authored in 2010) attempts to explain the differences in how the two Parties actually see the American Dream.

According to the article:

  • “Conservatives believe in the American dream itself as much as they believe it exists. The principles that say hard work and determination will provide far more than any government can, the principles that say man, not his neighbor, is responsible for his own destiny, and the principles that say America is a land where everyone can enjoy prosperity if they are willing to earn it.”
  • “Liberals often don’t believe in the American dream at all. Many consider it not only nonexistent but a fabrication, devised by politicians and corporations eager to manipulate the poor and middle class into serving as pawns for the top wage earners.”

Moving From Rhetoric To Action

Dr. Martin Luther King spoke eloquently about the American Dream in a speech he gave at Drew University in 1964. He started his speech by saying:

“America is essentially a dream, a dream yet unfulfilled. The substance of the dream is expressed in some very familiar words found in the Declaration of Independence. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’”

Dr. King went on to define three things that needed to be addressed for residents of the United States to effectively realize the Dream.

  1. We must develop a world perspective. “No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone. Somehow we are interdependent.”
  2. We must get rid of the notion once and for all that there are superior and inferior races.
  3. It is necessary to develop an action program to get rid of the vestiges of segregation and discrimination.

Once And For All, We Need To Work From A Common Understanding

I find it amazing prominent political leaders have differing views on what the American Dream actually is. The problem I see is each view contains an element of truth, but fails to describe the Dream in its entirety. As a consequence, political actions fall short of enabling all residents to more easily realize their American Dream.

As we move into the upcoming election period, I think it is important every political leader who plans on speaking about the American Dream read Xavier University’s research on the subject.

The Dream is not just about economics. According to the quantitative research findings, the American Dream is about:

  • Satisfaction, freedom, and progress with respect to finances, job, home ownership and health care.
  • The extent of one’s contentment, health, and prosperity in life.
  • The extent to which the government, businesses, and people are fair and trustworthy.
  • Attitudes toward the assimilation of differences in one’s community.
  • The extent of pollution in the air, food, water, and land that one encounters on a regular basis.

As of this writing, on average only 65% of the Dream is being realized. As you would expect, this percent varies by gender, age and income level. Consequently, Dr. King’s call for making it a priority to address the systemic barriers to achieving the American Dream is spot on. On average, we are leaving 35% of the American Dream unrealized.

But, to address the barriers it is important elected officials know what the American Dream actually is. I think reading Xavier University’s research findings should be mandatory for any elected official who decides to use restoring the American Dream as their political platform this year. Their speeches should be informed by fact and not party position. If they are serious about making changes that will make it easier for residents to achieve the elusive 35%, then their plans should be well supported by the data. They should focus on closing the gaps identified by the American public and not usurp the American Dream to push their own party’s political agenda.

Similarly, we should all read Xavier University’s research findings so we are in a better position to differentiate between political genius and political bullshit. After all, in the end it is our Dream to either protect or squander.

Given the craziness in the world, we better not fall asleep.



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