Whose American Dream?

In my world the American Dream is the ability to pursue whatever personal and financial aspirations I may have with limited interference from governments, protection by our judicial system against those who intend to defraud, harm or infringe on the freedoms we are all born with (including our own governments), and eventually create a better future for my family as well as future generations of Americans.

I wasn’t born into money. I spent the first 5 years of my life in a trailer park and my entire childhood living off Hamburger Helper, clipped coupons, and food stamps. I started working at a very young age. I helped my older brothers with their paper routes for the local paper when I was 8. I aspired to have my own paper route when I turned 13. I knew there was an expanding neighborhood development nearby (within bicycle distance), and I wanted to have that new route! I got that new route! It was honest work every single weekday. Eventually I ended up working with my brother for an L.A. Time distributor. We inserted local advertisements into the Sunday edition of the paper. Again, honest work.

All that work allowed me to buy my own lunches in high school, purchase my first motorcycle, and enjoy a movie here and there. It also inspired to know that if I really put everything into what I was doing, I would succeed. After failing to become a Harley Davidson mechanic, I took training from my older brother on computer programming. I read and studied as much as I could to comprehend enough to get a job with upstart Internet companies. I worked ridiculously long hours, helped businesses succeed, and made a good/honest wage.

I moved on to working for a public company that eventually saw most of it’s top brass arrested for defrauding investors. I changed career paths and got into marketing, taking an entry level job for a product development company. Within a year I was running its catalog and direct marketing division. I started my own marketing company a few years and then was tapped by the owner of the current company I work for to come back and become a managing partner of a brand I had turned into a success. The business had completely fallen apart and was collapsing. I’ve spent the last 3 1/2 years turning it around. Again, not easy work, but I’ve always known that if I put everything into it: I’ll make it work!

So, when Obama dropped his famous line about business owners not being responsible for their company’s success, that somebody else made that happen, I was a bit baffled. Certainly, no job that I’ve had have I been the only contributor to that business (even when I had my own marketing company). My paper route required the printing of the local newspaper for me to have papers to deliver. My LA Times job required the LA Times. The computer programming jobs required computers, the Internet, other businesses, etc. The current job requires employees, customers, manufacturers, shipping companies, and so much more. Along the way, I have had the need for our judicial system to settle disputes and enforce contracts. That’s what the judicial system is there for.

I listened to the full Obama speech and that’s not what he was talking about. He was echoing the speech made by Elizabeth Warren several months earlier. Hers is about “the rest of us”. Obama’s is about “somebody else made that happen”. People claimed Obama was taken out of context, but what was taken out of context? I felt the context actually made it worse because it showed that Obama doesn’t understand the role of local government in our lives vs. federal government.

I was having a conversation with a liberal friend about the topic and explained the problems I saw with the Warren-Obama rhetoric (local/state vs federal government account for all the services they refer to). So, I asked my liberal friend (a devote Democrat) what the logic was. She was very passionate about it!

My liberal friend started talking about the American Dream and how Warren and Obama were talking about the American Dream. She even threw in a comment that “I might be too young to appreciate the American Dream” (she has 9 years on me). I was a bit taken aback. I thought *I was* living the American Dream… I was born in a trailer park. I now own my own house. I was born to an unemployed mother and a father who lost his job when I was about 9 years old. I’m now the managing partner of a small business.

Then something dawned on me… For Warren, Obama, my liberal friends, and millions of Americans who support the Warren-Obama doctrine the American Dream really is embodied in the whole “rest of us speech”. I’m still at a loss for exactly what the American Dream is in that world, but it made one thing clear to me. The Warren-Obama doctrine supporters are just as passionate as I am about the American dream. Rather than it being my ability to pursue whatever personal and financial aspirations I have with limited interference from governments so that I can succeed and make our country better for future generations, it’s something that “the rest of us built” or that “somebody else made that happen”. It’s something outside me.

In their world the American Dream is something outside of ourselves. It’s something that comes from being in a democracy where you are required to pay taxes for programs and wars that you don’t support. It’s something that comes from somewhere outside you. It comes from something that we don’t have to be accountable for as individuals or as a government when we fail (government bailouts, bankrupt social programs, unjustified wars, unemployment, social inequality, etc.) but can thank our government when we succeed.

I wasn’t going to argue with my liberal friend about this topic. This wasn’t a topic that either one of us were going to win. This wasn’t a topic that we were going to find legitimate common ground on at anytime in the near future. There is an abundant divide between these two ideas of the American Dream. The only thing connecting us is a commitment to bettering America for future generations. However, the means to the end differ so dramatically between mine of reliance on self and hard work and Warren-Obama or reliance on government and entitlement. It’s a divide of the American Dream as something that you dream for yourself or one that someone else dreams for you.

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