September 20, 2012
Nearly every American believes in the American Dream. It’s the platform upon which candidates of both parties run their campaigns, and it’s the dream millions of immigrants chase into America.
But the left’s perception of the American Dream directly contrasts with its true meaning.
The Heritage Foundation’s Rich Tucker summarizes the formula for the American Dream: “economic freedom + culture of work = prosperity and opportunity.” Nothing in the liberal conception of the American Dream matches this equation.
Heritage experts David Azerrad and Rea Hederman use a metaphor to illustrate the difference between the liberal vision of entitlement and the conservative view of earned success. Tucker explains:
Azerrad and Hederman provide an easy way to think about the differences between left and right. On the left, the American Dream resembles an escalator. The federal government sets it up, everyone hops on and moves up without effort. But conservatives, they write, see the American Dream as more like a ladder. Anyone can climb up, but doing so requires effort. And if one falls down, he can always start again.
And liberals, Tucker continues, also think there’s a single threat to this escalator of success: income inequality.
Azerrad and Hederman point out, though, that this misunderstands a core principle of free enterprise and economics: “Free-market economics is not about dividing up a dwindling pie, but expanding the pie to serve everyone. Those who succeed do not do so at the expense of others.”
Conservatives see different threats to the American Dream:
- The suffocating web of regulation and laws that flow from the limitless state and restrict opportunity;
- The collapse of the family and the devastating, long-lasting consequences that it has on children;
- The dependence fostered by the welfare state;
- The erosion of our culture of work and the rise of a slacker culture that disparages hard work and celebrates indolence;
- The failures of the public education system that deny countless children the rudimentary skills they need to move ahead in life; and
- The looming fiscal crisis that has already saddled the next generation with an unconscionable level of debt.
As cliché as the term American Dream has become, it is still a powerful campaign tool—and a lived reality for millions of Americans. Understanding its truth is critical.
What is your understanding of the American Dream?