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Opinion

Opinion

The American dream is fading

November 24, 2010

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For generations, parents have told their children about “the American dream.” Basically it has meant building a life based on the foundational principles that created and have sustained America for more than 200 years. By doing so, one might reasonably expect a new generation to achieve a better life than their parents and grandparents experienced. But what defines “better”? In modern times it has been defined as achieving greater prosperity and consuming more material goods.

At least one liberal writer is channeling Jimmy Carter, implying our best days are behind us and this version of the American dream is over. Writing recently in The New York Times, columnist Bob Herbert says: “However you want to define the American dream, there is not much of it that’s left anymore. Wherever you choose to look — at the economy and jobs, the public schools, the budget deficits, the nonstop warfare overseas — you’ll see a country in sad shape. Standards of living are declining, and American parents increasingly believe that their children will inherit a very bad deal.”

Herbert does not assess blame for this, so I will. His version of the American dream — as opposed to the original dream, which remains for those who would embrace it — is over for a very good reason. Setting aside war, which was imposed on America, the eclipse of liberalism’s American dream has been largely caused by expanding, encroaching, over-taxing, over-spending and over-regulating government.

This has produced a country of government addicts with an entitlement mentality. These twin maladies have eroded self-reliance, individual initiative and personal accountability. A monopolistic government school system keeps the poor from achieving their dreams, as many remain locked (thanks to Democrats and their union supporters) in failing government schools, producing graduates (if in fact they do graduate) who lag behind other nations in subjects that matter.

Herbert claims, “We have become a hapless, can’t-do society.” He says it’s, “embarrassing.” Is it not the politicians who lead a people increasingly dependent on them who are responsible for this? The liberals among them and their policies are leading us down a path to economic and cultural insolvency.

The creation of a government that is out of control and thus out of touch, robs every citizen, preventing fulfillment of the original American dream.

Anyone who thinks dysfunctional government is going to help achieve their dreams is putting their faith in the wrong place. People who believe a politician of whatever party or persuasion can make their life better than individual initiative are doing more than dreaming; such persons are displaying cult-like faith, which can never be fulfilled.

The rules for achieving the American dream may no longer be taught in and supported by culture, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work. The rules are known to previous generations: studying and staying in school; achieving at least an undergraduate degree; avoiding drugs that harm your mind and body; getting married before you have children and working hard to stay married as an example to those children and to benefit society; saving and investing for retirement so as not to burden taxpayers and relatives; living within one’s means; demonstrating personal honesty and professional integrity, which comes from character developed in one’s youth, usually with a sense of right and wrong once imposed by parents and affirmed by culture.

“America will never get its act together until we recognize how much trouble we’re really in,” writes Herbert. That’s true, but more than acknowledging the obvious is needed. We must also understand what got us here and the path that leads upward. What got us here is unrestrained liberalism. What will get us back on the right path is ... (see above).

— Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. tmseditors@tribune.com

Comments

Tom Shewmon 3 years, 4 months ago

The Anointed One, Harry "Searchlight doesn't even like me" Reid and Nazi Pewlosi are (were) about to enter that threshold of taxation that is the signaling the end of an economy/nation is about finished. The voters were smart enough to begin to redeem themselves for the error(s) that occured in 2006 and 2008. Is it enough? Time will tell.

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George Lippencott 3 years, 4 months ago

Bea says:

“More and more taxes? How exactly is pointing out the obvious that temporary tax cuts are, you know, intended to be "temporary" intended to make people not prosperous? Or are you saying that wealthy people can't be happy if they are asked to pay taxes?”

Bea

Nice try. We pay about 40% of our income in taxes of various sorts. Our income is well below what Mr. Obama identifies as “rich”. The tax rate changes (expiration of the Bush era tax changes) will increase the tax take to about 42%. Some of the austerity measures suggested by the commission would increase our tax take to almost 50%. Just how much do you believe you have the right to claim?

Yes, we fought wars off budget - bad. Yes, we doubled non-military federal expenditures without raising taxes - bad. My answer is to live within our means. Your answer is Greece and Ireland and Spain and Portugal and France and ----.

I think you are too liberal even for a Democrat.

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scottpewenofkit 3 years, 4 months ago

The American dream is just that- a dream. Time to wake up and face reality.

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Tom Shewmon 3 years, 4 months ago

The American Dream is just coming alive for the progressive. It's died for traditionalists. I give America about 1-2 more generations, then the progressive's plan will have finished us. Thank god I'll be pushing up daisies by then.

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ksrush 3 years, 4 months ago

While driving through St Louis ( thats a town outside of Larryville ) I saw the greatest bumper sticker. " Annoy a liberal - prosper and br happy "

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ksrush 3 years, 4 months ago

Suppose you splain it to me jimmy I cant wait to hear you blame others for you shortfall

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BigPrune 3 years, 4 months ago

The American Dream already DIED in Lawrence, Kansas, (unless you work for the government). Progressives at play. Every dog has its day. Ours is no more. Time to move on to brighter and much better cities. Lots to choose from. Lawrence ain't THAT special.

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George Lippencott 3 years, 4 months ago

So, why was this not fixed in the last two years (at least in part)? Taxes could have been raised. Unemployment could have been used for retraining. A special tax could have been levied on those reaping benefits from competing our workers with low cost foreign workers. Regulations could have been measured against costs in jobs. Why is the EPA pursuing a process that will further reduce the middle class while rewarding selected elites and doing nothing to the rest of the elites (if we want to address climate change how about consumption taxes rather than control of coal before we have affordable alternatives)? Sounds to me like many of you want to bitch but offer no practical solution except to trust government to do something (usually something that makes it all worse)

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Jimo 3 years, 4 months ago

The American Dream is just fine. It just follows the money, which, as well-documented, is pooling in every greater concentrations in the hands of a very few number of Americans. It's fairly difficult for the common man to build much of a life in a country where 4/5ths of all wealth created goes to a few thousand wealthy families. (And will continue as long as we place our faith in false myth instead of seeing reality.)

Strangely, Thomas seems to admit what most wingnut commentators avoid or deny: the the U.S. has long ceased to be a society of significant class movement. In fact, we're not even in the top 10 and sinking fast.

That's because such movement requires opportunity both to succeed and to fail. Unfortunately for modern wingnut theory, the most changeable source of opportunity is government - whether a government willing to give you land in return for your own pluck and enterprise (a Republican idea), or a government willing to provide higher education to any willing and able (a Republican idea), or a government determined to set universal rules of ethical conduct (a Republican idea) or disallowing the concentration of economic power in few hands (a Republican idea). Or, on the opposite side, disallowing the establishment of quasi-aristocratic institutions to preserve familial wealth to the lazy, stupid and undeserving.

No, today, if you wish to find a society where the poor work their way to wealth or visa versa, you'd look to socialist states whether European or Chinese. A sad commentary on America.

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yourworstnightmare 3 years, 4 months ago

Ask yourselves this question: How many degrees of separation is your income from federal money?

Have you done any construction or work for any government agency or private company that has government contracts?

Dept. of Transportation? Anyone working at KU? Boeing? Raytheon? The military? Fort Riley? Do you own a restaurant frequented by any of these employees? A plumbing business? A contracting business?

Just how many degrees of separation are you from suckling off of the tax payer teat?

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jimmyjms 3 years, 4 months ago

ksrush, it's almost humorous, the degree to which you're missing the point.

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Tom Shewmon 3 years, 4 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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Tom Shewmon 3 years, 4 months ago

"I'll decide when you have spread enough for my needs." -Corky

Are you channeling The Anointed One, Pewlosi and Harry "Searchlight" Reid?

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ksrush 3 years, 4 months ago

Yeah I will reflect on your BS while driving my new car. The one I bought from the income I earned from the 2 jobs I work. Hey look you apply yourself and earn the things you want in life. Comprehend that

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jimmyjms 3 years, 4 months ago

I'm glad too, ksrush. You seem to be one of those people for whom facts are too difficult to comprehend, so instead you fall back on platitudes and ignorance. Good luck with that.

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ksrush 3 years, 4 months ago

Glad you two aren't my kids

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michaelclayton 3 years, 4 months ago

The American Dream used to be work hard and you'll get ahead. Now it's basically get a government job and put in your 20 years. The last decent jobs in this country all involve working for the government. It's sad.

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jimmyjms 3 years, 4 months ago

From the Times today (via the dept of commerce): "Corporations Have Their Best Quarter Ever"

"The nation’s workers may be struggling, but American companies just had their best quarter ever. American businesses earned profits at an annual rate of $1.659 trillion in the third quarter, according to a Commerce Department report released Tuesday. That is the highest figure recorded since the government began keeping track over 60 years ago, at least in nominal or noninflation-adjusted terms."

The American Dream is dying, and people like Cal Thomas are gleefully cheering from the sidelines.

Yep.

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ksrush 3 years, 4 months ago

Here's a thought. Stop blaming everyone and or everything for your circumstance. Take responsibility for your future and move ahead. Your future is what you make of it.

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Healthcare_Moocher 3 years, 4 months ago

These folks are right Cal. All my problems have everything to do with external things and nothing to do with how I conduct my personal affairs. You are wrong about being married and having kids, I choose to be the neighborhood dog. I dont want to work to provide a stable environment for my kids, and why should I as being on public assistance is no longer looked down upon. Again, Cal, you have no idea what I am talking about or what it is to go through life when you spend all your money on body piercings and tatoos, booze and weed, and wonder why you cant even get a job at McDonalds. Thats right, there are no jobs to be had because my parents were not rich and those that are available in my skill level are beneath me. Golly, I wish I could get a 100K/year job smoking weed, showing up 4 days a week and getting off at noon. Well Cal, I guess I will just mooch off the public as there is nothing out there for me.

Dear Santa, could you put a empT bus stop closer to the liquor store?

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BrianR 3 years, 4 months ago

No Cal, It's not the American dream that is fading, it's your eyesight.

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mom_of_three 3 years, 4 months ago

"The rules are known to previous generations: studying and staying in school; achieving at least an undergraduate degree; avoiding drugs that harm your mind and body; getting married before you have children and working hard to stay married as an example to those children and to benefit society; saving and investing for retirement so as not to burden taxpayers and relatives; living within one’s means; demonstrating personal honesty and professional integrity, which comes from character developed in one’s youth, usually with a sense of right and wrong once imposed by parents and affirmed by culture." What Cal doesn't realize is that most of those things he mentioned, the "American Dream" are right out of the 1950's, and times, they are achanging. Getting married before you have a children - is that a detriment to the American Dream. Not if you have a job and a relationship. Working hard to stay married as an example to children? Puhlease. Divorces have been going on for years and sometimes, thats best for the sake of the children, believe me. Saving and investing in retirement - well, that's nice if the company doesn't go broke and take it with them. right and wrong, imposed by parents - well, right and wrong can be imposed by anyone who takes an interest in a kid. some parents have no clue about it themselves, but blame the kid for turning out the way they do.

Cal's dream is great, if all our parents raised us in upper middle class homes, without a view of the real world.

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Enoughsaid 3 years, 4 months ago

I don't think the american dream is fading. I feel it will make the future generations work harder to achieve what their parents had. Good jobs are harder to come by and almost all retirement systems are raising the age limit to retire. With a little time, things will start to turn around.

It bothers me to drive around campus and see college students driiving expensive vehicles and when they graduate, proably couldn't afford to pay the taxes on their own. I feel that sends the wrong message to our future generation who has no idea how expensive the bare neccessities are.

I work hard, pay my bills and get discouraged when I see how much some of the salaries are for certain KU officials. Turner Gill went from $400,000 in New York to two million at KU. Chief Olin spent 37 years with the city and was making around 105K and retired now making around 110K with the Athletic Department as a Security Consultant. KU has a full service police department but KU Athletics needs a consultant.

Opportunities will turn around as long as greedy CEO's don't destroy everyones trust and faith in the american dream.

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Healthcare_Moocher 3 years, 4 months ago

I got a 6 pack and a bag of weed... let someone else pay for what my kids need.

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madameX 3 years, 4 months ago

I stopped reading at "locked in failing government schools." Really, Cal? If there were no public schools (which I assume is what you mean) then somehow the poor would be better educated? There are awesome schools availible to them but somehow the democrats and the teachers' union prevents these poor, poor kids from attending them? Is that the reasoning here? I honestly asking, because this makes no sense to me.

I know I've posted this before, and that I'm effectively contradicting myself by posting at all, but aren't there some non-sucky conservative columnists you could be giving a platform to, LJ World?

Now bring on the madameX-hates-freedom comments!!!!!!

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Fixed_Asset 3 years, 4 months ago

freedom and oppertunity(sic)

rriiiggghhhttt

panem et circenses

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jstthefacts 3 years, 4 months ago

The problem is vast and deep but one word could describe the basis of the problem. GREED

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jayhawklawrence 3 years, 4 months ago

"Herbert does not assess blame for this, so I will. His version of the American dream — as opposed to the original dream, which remains for those who would embrace it — is over for a very good reason. Setting aside war, which was imposed on America, the eclipse of liberalism’s American dream has been largely caused by expanding, encroaching, over-taxing, over-spending and over-regulating government."

My turn.

Cal just has a loser mentality.

Out economy is suffering because the Democratic and Republican models are obsolete. We are in a different world and facing competition we never faced before. It is exposing our inefficiencies big time.

For those of us who still believe the Bible holds valuable lessons about life and history, I am reminded of the history of the Jews and their historical relationship with God throughout the Old Testament and our understanding of the history of nations. Our challenge will be whether we can adapt and change before we are visited by great calamities that we bring upon ourselves.

The blame game is not going to make us a stronger country. It has just made us more vulnerable to even small problems.

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horsegirl 3 years, 4 months ago

Some of the safest societies with the best education are Socialist (think Finland, Sweden), where everything is free. I don't think big government is the problem. There is a deeper problem than that . Maybe we should try to find what the real problem is. Just sayin.

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Amy Heeter 3 years, 4 months ago

You know what the problem with Americans is? Americans are never satisfied; always wanting more. The truth is we have enough because we have freedom and oppertunity. After that it is all on you.

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bobberboy 3 years, 4 months ago

P.S. and by the way i'm not buying the overpriced housing out there. construction profits need to be cut in half. i'm tired of paying construction workers $100/hour !!

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bobberboy 3 years, 4 months ago

really - how much crap does a person need anyway. what with corporations sending jobs overseas and themselves living the highlife off the profits what do you expect ? The rich get richer and the poor poorer.

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CorkyHundley 3 years, 4 months ago

I want Getto, jafs and _another spread more of their wealth. I'll decide when you have spread enough for my needs.

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jafs 3 years, 4 months ago

I would just question the necessity of achieving more prosperity and more material goods with each generation as the foundation of the American dream.

There may be other ways to define what we want as a culture.

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Paul R Getto 3 years, 4 months ago

We can dream and should, but until we have this discussion as a nation, we are sleeping, left, right and 'center.' 1. What do we want government to do?
2. What does it cost to fund the list?
3. How do we want to pay for what is on the #1 list? [IF the answer is, 'we don't want to pay for it,' go back to number one and remove something from the list. Begin the discussion again.] Cal is, for a change, about 1/2 right, but he distorts his vision through his myopic lens.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 4 months ago

Oh, Lord, what a train wreck Cal produced today.

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Jeff Kilgore 3 years, 4 months ago

Cal Thomas is only half right and being half right is a real problem in this country. Just as there are too many who rely on the government for most of their subsistence, there are just as many who have contributed to America's demise as scott3460 notes above. When those in Thomas' camp admit that unrestrained conservativism is destructive; and when those in Pitts camp admit that the government cannot be a parent or job supplanter, then and only then will America begin to turn around.

The arrogant finger pointing is tiresome; yet the LJW and other papers continue to push the views of extremists onto their pages.

A less sensational (and more true) headline might have read: The American Dream Delayed. Those who believe in this great nation and even more in history will come to understand that this view is the correct one--less sensational, but correct.

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scott3460 3 years, 4 months ago

"What got us here is unrestrained liberalism. ... "

No. 30 years of unrestrained demonization and destruction of government by the right wing got us here. Destruction of an educated populace via the underfunding of the public education system got us here. Destruction of the middle cass via unrelenting attacks on the democracy of unions, "free" trade deals that encourage the shipment of jobs overseas and monopolistic capitalism got us here. Obliteration of a free and independent press via media consolidation and relentless propaganda in favor of right wing policies and infotainment got us here.

This country was ascendent from 1940-1980 a period which immediately followed the ascendency of liberalism's rescue of the country. Big government, big unions and big taxes on the ultra wealthy produced a stable middle class and prosperous country. The period between 1980 and now has been a period of right wing ascendency and tearing down of the New Deal liberal policies. The result so far has been a steady march, since 1980, to lower standards of living, shrinking middle class, shrinking individual liberties and constant war. If you believe the consequences of our macro political choices lag our moves in one direction or the other, then you must fear the worst of the right wing damage is yet to be experienced.

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CorkyHundley 3 years, 4 months ago

Democrats hate Kansas. Hate Kansans for that matter. They are constantly commenting on how terrible the Kansas government is. So with the Dude being half Kansan, is there any doubt that there is no hope for the country.

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cato_the_elder 3 years, 4 months ago

It started with Franklin Roosevelt's attempts to declare "rights" to various forms of guaranteed happiness that never existed in the Constitution, and was put on steroids by LBJ's "Great Society" debacle that has, after 45 years and untold billions of dollars in spending by government, cruelly imprisoned millions of our citizens in government-dependent poverty, mired in lack of individual initiative. Post-Katrina New Orleans placed the abject failure of the "Great Society" on the world stage for all to see. In the meantime, government at all levels has continued to grow, individual initiative has continued to be stifled by that growth, and our loss of individual freedom to government control over more and more aspects of our lives continues unabated.

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Tom Shewmon 3 years, 4 months ago

And O/P/R have put this trend on hyperdrive. The folks did what they could three weeks ago and very likely will remove the rest of them from power in two years.

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