The New American Dream

Don’t dream big, anymore.  Don’t reach for the stars, anymore.  Don’t even reach for the moon, much less Mars, or beyond.

Dream small.  Live small.  That’s the new American Dream, Obama style.

President Obama tells us to longer believe, for instance, our 50-year old dream “that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”  President Kennedy had gone on:

We intend to be first.  In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world’s leading space-faring nation.

No more.  Now we’re begging rides into earth orbit from our rivals.  And the viable Republican candidates for President aren’t any better than Obama in this; although Governor Romney at least would keep government out of the way of private enterprise pursuing these goals.

What President Obama says is this:

Folks don’t have unrealistic ambitions. They do believe that if they work hard they should be able to achieve that small measure of an American Dream.

“That small measure.”  Umm, yes, we do have large, even unrealistic, ambitions.  Most of us haven’t, in fact, given up.  We do still have—and work toward—large dreams.  That’s what entrepreneurialship is all about, for instance, as well as going into space.  Far out into space.  We’ve just given up on you, Mr Obama.

Your message, though, is made for the times as you would have us believe they are, permanently, with our country emerging, despite your policies and spending, from recession.   But most of us understand that it’s now three years since the end of the current recession, and you’re still telling us to think and play small.  Most of us understand that Kennedy made his articulation of the American dream just three months after the end of the 1960-1961 recession.

Vanderbilt University political science professor John Geer suggests

[Obama] can’t paint too rosy a scenario because things aren’t that rosy.  He’s got to come up with a theme that appeals to voters, especially middle-class voters, alleviates their fears and gives them reason to believe the future will be better.

And yet, Kennedy did just that—while suggesting that Americans had, and should expect to have, bigger aspirations.

No longer do our incumbent leadership inspire: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  Now they promise: “Ask not you can do for your country; ask what your government can do for you.”

Of course, there were fewer demands on our dollar or on our tax dollar in Kennedy’s day.  When he talked about our aspirations, the modern welfare state of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and Obamacare hadn’t been built yet.

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