The American Dream. I remember when those words and what they connote made me stand just a little taller, feel just a little bolder, speak just a little more assuredly. To me, The American Dream (yes, with a capital “T” on “the”) meant that anyone–even me–had a chance to succeed, to build a business, buy a home, save for a rainy day, plan for a decent retirement, send kids to college, achieve whatever success one dreamed possible for oneself. If that meant financial success, yay! If that meant personal success, however you define that for yourself, yay!
The way to The American Dream was usually summed up in one word: “opportunity.” But that was one packed word, for it meant opening doors for all races, both genders, and all religions. It meant that anyone, anyone at all, should have access to the same opportunities as anyone else. This is how it should be. And we, as a nation, worked to make that possible. We opened doors with the Civil Rights Act, we condemned gender, age, and every other conceivable discrimination. We scrambled to “make college affordable”; after all, who can succeed without a college degree? We fell over ourselves trying to make amends for historical inequities, inequities that had long-ceased to exist, but we made amends anyway. We passed laws to enforce equality, to ensure that “opportunity” was indeed available to all.
And in doing all this (and more), we crossed a line, we didn’t level the playing field, we killed opportunity. We killed or at least are killing The American Dream. We shifted the responsibility for one’s success, even for determining how one defines success for oneself, to someone else. We handed over our individuality, our cultural, social, racial, and gendered differences–differences we should celebrate and embrace–to another. We ceded our personal identity–our very selves— to a larger, more homogeneous, more restrictive, more limiting body. And we did it with smiles on our faces and songs of humility and pride in our tolerance and openness in our hearts. Doors slammed shut. Unsurprisingly. For everyone. Equally. No one can really achieve what we once knew as The American Dream, not really, not anymore.
Every step we’ve taken as a society has slammed shut door after door, limited access to a quality education, limited one’s disposable income, limited . . . who we are as Americans. Rather than standing taller, feeling bolder, speaking more assuredly, we began shuffling along, feeling guilty, whispering about how awful America is and what a blight on the world it’s long-been. We stand in lines with our hands out, waiting for the federal government to fix our problems, pay our mortgage, buy us cars, feed, clothe, and support us. This is shameful, dehumanizing, humiliating.
I am an American. I am white. I am a woman. I am a conservative. I am a Christian. I embrace every single one of these, and I will not be cowed into apologizing for any of them. Ever again. I will not accept that my skin color, my gender, my ideology, my religion are something to be ashamed of, apologetic about. And I will no longer accept any attempts to silence or marginalize me. There is no honor in handing over your identity, yourself, in the name of the very things that make you who you are, and that is the manipulation we’ve been experiencing for far too long. We are being told that our white guilt, our gynoguilt, our Christian values, our conservative tenets mean that we are to sit idly, silently, even thankfully by while our liberties, our cultural heritage, our very selves are stripped away. We are being defined, allowing ourselves to be defined by nameless, faceless, soulless others.
What do we have now? A college-level education that is so dumbed down that a college degree is all but meaningless. A tax system that penalizes those who work hard and rewards those who do nothing. A government that has grown to such insane proportions that it is regulating what we eat, what we buy, what we drive, what we think. A burgeoning poverty class, a shrinking middle class, a static wealthy class, and an alarmingly massive–and growing–political class. We are paying for outrageous retirement packages for union and public employees, yet our only prospects are a pittance from social security (and not even that before long). We are seeing our nation’s flag, our Christian beliefs, and our conservative values smeared, dragged through the mud, our citizens murdered, yet we are being told that this is okay and that we should be happy to allow these things in the name of “tolerance” and “free speech.” All while being cowed and bullied by those who are happy to see our way of life and our own values and religion destroyed.
We are a nation that prizes, or at least once prized, The American Dream. We believe, or at least once believed, that everyone should have equal access to opportunity. We know, or at least we once knew, that our path to our definition of success (be that financial, personal, spiritual, etc.) was a path we chose, a path we forged, a path on which we met triumph or defeat–but even if defeated, The American Dream meant that we got up, dusted ourselves off, and tried again. And again, if that is what it takes. We need to get back to that, and we need to get back to that while we still can. Pruning government, cutting taxes, eliminating intrusive regulations that ultimately cost us still more of our dwindling paychecks, and putting the power back in the hands of the people are necessary for the rebuilding of The American Dream. The government cannot fulfill The American Dream for the people. The very definition of The American Dream lays bare the fallacies of that stance, reveals the inherent contradiction, demonstrates more clearly than anything that big government progressives are anti-American, anti-The American Dream. The government can no more live your American Dream for you than it can get you into Heaven. But wait, this Congress and this administration think it can do both. Hubris? Insanity? Ideologues on parade? I don’t even care what their fatal flaw is, only that it indeed be fatal to their political careers.
Remember in November, and do not forget in 2012. We have our work cut out for us, but we can and will salvage not only our country but what it means to be an American and what it means to pursue The American Dream.