“That core idea of America—that if you work hard, if you do right, if you’re responsible, that you can lead a better life and most importantly pass on a better life to your kids—that American Dream feels like it’s getting further and further out of reach.”
Who said this last week to justify his decision to run for President?
Was it Herman Cain, who pitched himself as the “American Dream” candidate? Or was it Tim Pawlenty, who kicked off his campaign last month with a promise “to keep the American Dream alive”? Or was it perhaps Mitt Romney, who blames President Obama’s policies for “smothering the American Dream”?
Actually, it wasn’t any one of them. This plea to save the American Dream wasn’t even made by a conservative. The words are President Obama’s, whose autobiography, it is worth remembering, is subtitled Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.
The American Dream—why it’s threatened and how to save it—is on everyone’s lips and minds these days (that the left and the right disagree on what needs to be done to save it goes without saying). And it’s not just because the country is switching into electoral mode. Our perilous finances do indeed threaten future generations.
But isn’t there more to America than the American Dream? Does the promise of a comfortable material existence and good career opportunities for one’s kids really exhaust the meaning of America? Does America, the greatest experiment in liberty the world has yet seen, ultimately bottom out on a big house and a college fund?
If so, then Denmark, Canada, and Singapore would appear to be more American than America itself. They do rank higher than the U.S. on the Index of Economic Freedom, after all.
Surely that can’t be the whole case. For all its importance to our way life, the American Dream of social mobility and prosperity ultimately does not do full justice to our country. America is ultimately much more than the American Dream. America is first and foremost about self-government and the character of a free people whose “vigilant and manly spirit” jealously guards their freedom.
As the Declaration of Independence explains, in America liberty is not only a right but a duty.
It’s in this spirit that we are launching this new blog series about the American character called Those Amazing Americans. As I explained in a short podcast, self-government and the American character are inextricably bound together.
America is the land of the free—that doesn’t only mean free to buy things and get ahead in life. It also means free to govern ourselves, to maintain the habits of a free people, to preserve the spirit of liberty that actuates us. The Founders sought to prove to the world that societies of men are capable of reflection and choice in establishing good government. Our task remains, as always, to prove that such a republican government can be maintained.