Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bill Moyers asked viewers to check out the blog and write what they thought the American dream meant. So I took a stab and posted it on the PBS blog. If you want to do the same Google Bill Moyers and give your thoughts.


The American Dream – that oft used multifaceted phrase unique to these United States. What does it REALLY mean? I believe it has a common meaning and a unique meaning. It is as amorphous as the diversity of the nation and as concrete as the people who comprise the nation. It is unique and it is diverse. It has evolved as the nation has evolved and its foundation has stayed the same as the nation’s Founders intended.


The Founders, imperfect as they may have been, created through a rather simple document – a Constitution – which bestowed upon these United States the keys to the machinery of government which form a democratic way of life no other nation ancient or modern has ever duplicated. Their gift was the mixture that created the possibility of this American dream. It combined the balance of power (executive, legislative and judicial) in the operation of government with civil libertarian freedoms through which the dream could become manifest. In addition to all of that, the Founders advocated for a free market through which the governed could use to improve the quality of life. The country added one more necessary ingredient which was the near absence of the importance of social class in determining one’s destiny. The notion of class did not cement one to his economic fate as it did in the European experience. It is the combination, I believe, of our Constitutional republic with our basic civil libertarian freedoms amid a free market economy which makes the American dream work. It inspires hope that each generation COULD do better than the one which came before it.


The Constitution provides too, I believe, the necessary flexibility that allows for the possibility of intrinsic social change. It is the mixture of these basic pillars upon which the United States stands that makes it unique among nations and which makes so many want to risk their lives to come here. Nowhere, I believe, on earth is the concept of what it means to be a free person so embraced. We may differ as to policy but we, I think, are in agreement as to this.
The hope and the dream, of course, have never been completely fulfilled. To be sure, many groups have struggled and still do to obtain the nation’s promise. The magnificence of the country, though, is the fact that it can change over time and that it does not remain stagnant by policies driven by the realities of different eras. The country can change as the times and technology dictate and yet remain true to the basic tenets the Founders initially put forth. The arc of US history, I believe, bends towards justice and the possibility of justice, fair play and advancement continue to be its hope.
The Impermissible Becomes Permissible: There are some who have vociferously and with great anger accused me of not being the liberal I profess to be in some of the letters I have written. They accuse me of playing into the hands of the right wing without allowing me the ability to enunciate a defense. I need to be clear from the beginning. I will never be a right wing apologist. I have been over decades, am now and always will consider myself progressively left of center. That does not mean, however, I must march in lock step with every viewpoint my side of the isle advocates. I am a liberal but I am a liberal with decided boundaries.

The latest media frenzy concerning the adulation of Michael Jackson as well as the outside-of-marriage sexual liaisons of South Carolina Governor Sanford, Nevada Senator Ensign, and Florida Representative Vitter have things in common. I believe we have become a nation and, indeed, a world where the formerly impermissible is now permissible. It is even permissible among elected officials whose very party creed is adamantly opposed to such immoral behavior. It apparently matters little as these elected officials, in the face of the greatest hypocrisy, seem to keep their jobs and suffer little recrimination. I have seen those who have committed the most egregious moral behavior within a party that professes to have no tolerance for such bad behavior, keep their jobs and others make excuses for them while they boldly lie to their base seemingly with little consequence.

Moreover, the elevation of Michael Jackson to near sainthood illuminates the fact that this man who paid a 20 million dollar settlement to squash one of the most egregious offenses known to man, child molestation, even in death is allowed a pass on that. Not only is he given a pass, Congress gives him a respectful moment of silence. I saw many lugubriously weep for him and I even saw, to my incredulity, a flag raised to half staff for him. Why?

The once impermissible becomes permissible as we on both sides have become inured to the most vulgar behaviors or as the great Steve Allen called it in his book we overlook and do not see the “vulgarians at our gate.” No one blinked an eye when during one of Michael Jackson’s dances he grabs his lower parts for the entire world, including young children, to see. Seemingly, not a word of condemnation was uttered. Nothing surprises us anymore. The once impermissible becomes permissible. It is so permissible that we see entire broadcasts devoted to a man whose behavior, with most especially male children, was dubious at best and illegal at worst. Well, it surprises me and when I think the emperor is not wearing any clothes even though the preponderance thinks he is, I say so. Some objectionable behaviors cross political boundaries and, worse, they tug at the glue that keeps the fabric of our nation together.