September 21st, 2010
11:41 AM ET

Letters to the President: #610 'The American Dream is not dead; but different'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: Politicians like to talk about the American Dream. The thing I’m wondering in today’s letter to the White House, is precisely which version of that dream are they speaking of?

Dear Mr. President,

When I had a band in New Orleans and we botched a song (which happened with shocking regularity) the bass player, Keith, would lapse into his best John Lennon and say, “Sorry lads, the dream is over.” We would laugh, blame it on the lead guitarist, and then go back to rehearsing.

I thought of that today when you were asked in that public meeting if the American Dream is over. I agree with you that it is not. But I do wonder if it’s suffering from sleep apnea. Part of the problem, I think, is that we’ve enjoyed some pretty remarkable, crazy-from-the-heat, wild mushroom dreaming over the past couple of decades and it has substantially expanded our notion of what the American Dream should be.

In a nutshell: When I was a kid, cars did not reliably start. Sharing a bedroom with a sibling was common. Skedaddles of Americans never, never flew. Eating in a restaurant was a rare event. More than one TV was a luxury. Computers and cell phones showed up only in James Bond movies, and I knew one person on the planet with a bicycle that cost more than $200, and he was riding across the country. (Yes, I know. I’m getting older.)

Today…uh…all the opposite is true. And yet, despite the breakneck speed of progress over the past three decades (or maybe because of it) many, many of us are far from satisfied. Our expectations have risen with our acquisitions. The American Dream used to be if you worked hard, played fair, and tended to your business your family could move ahead, and your kids could enjoy an even better standard of living. But today, sometimes I fear too many of us believe the American Dream means “give me everything I can dream of.” Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous became Lifestyles of the Why Not Me?

I’m not saying that it is wrong for us to raise our sights along with our progress. But we also have to be realistic and realize that when we surge far ahead the rule of “graduation toward the mean” will haul us backward like a fat trout at some point, and at such times, it is good to remind ourselves of what our dream was in the first place.

For many working class families in this country who are struggling mightily to make ends meet in this tough economy, the dream has not changed. And the best way to keep it alive is to create a favorable environment for solid jobs, good educations, affordable homes, and responsible citizens…who, given the chance, will fulfill the American Dream for themselves.

Do you dream often? I can’t imagine what a president would dream of. I once dreamed about sitting around playing guitar with Laraine Newman. It was kind of freaky. Probably even more so for her.

Hope all is well. Call if you can. The Saints are on. Got to go.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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