Thursday Reads: The American Dream

The American Dream - post-war abundance

The American Dream – post-war abundance

Good Morning!!

What is the American Dream? Is it prosperity for everyone? Is it access to nature and a clean environment? Is it a good job, a house, a family? Is it a good education and the chance to be upwardly mobile? Is it a better future for your children and grandchildren? Is whatever it once was dead? Is it even worth talking about?

This morning there’s a Washington Post op-ed in which Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio describe their vision of “How to revive the American Dream.”

In this land of big dreams, there was never a dream bigger or more important than the one so deeply rooted in our values that it became known as the American Dream. Across generations, Americans shared the belief that hard work would bring opportunity and a better life. America wasn’t perfect, but we invested in our kids and put in place policies to build a strong middle class.

We don’t do that anymore, and the result is clear: The rich get richer, while everyone else falls behind. The game is rigged, and the people who rigged it want it to stay that way. They claim that if we act to improve the economic well-being of hard-working Americans — whether by increasing the minimum wage, reining in lawbreakers on Wall Street or doing practically anything else — we will threaten economic growth.

They are wrong.

That thinking is backward. A growing body of research — including work done by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and the Roosevelt Institute — shows clearly that an increasing disparity between rich and poor, cronyism and an economic system that works only for those at the top are bad for the middle class and bad for our economy.


Warren and de Blasio are correct that the dream went terribly wrong after Ronald Reagan became president.

When the economy works for everyone, consumers have money to spend at businesses, and when businesses have more customers, they build more factories, hire more workers and sell more products — and the economy grows. For decades, our economy was built around this core understanding. We made big investments in the things that would create opportunities for everyone: public schools and universities; roads and bridges and power grids; research that spurred new industries, technologies — and jobs — here in the United States. We supported strong unions that pushed for better wages and working conditions, seeing those unions improve lives both for their members and for workers everywhere.

And it worked. From the 1930s to the late 1970s, as gross domestic product went up, wages increased more or less across the board. As the economic pie got bigger, pretty much everyone was getting a little more. That was how the United States built a great middle class.

Then in the early 1980s, a new theory swept the country. Its disciples claimed that if government policies took care of the rich and powerful, wealth would trickle down for everyone else. Trickle-down believers cut taxes sharply for those at the top and pushed for “deregulation” that hobbled the cops on Wall Street and let the most powerful corporations far too often do as they pleased.


All very true. But how do we return to fairness and prosperity for everyone, not just the wealthy few? Warren and de Blasio offer a familiar list of government policies that could turn things around–read them at the link–but they don’t explain how to accomplish these goals in the age of Citizens United, a Republican-controlled congress, and a Supreme Court that favors the rights of corporations over those of individuals. How do we get past the hopelessness and inertia and get Americans to get out and vote for candidates who will stand up for the bottom 99%? How do we even find those candidates?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m basically an optimist and I always have hope for change. But how do we get there from here?

I do think there are some positives signs.

Hillary Clinton is beginning to convince some folks that she’s really a separate person from her husband–a more liberal candidate than he was in the 1990s. In fact Bill Clinton might be more liberal now too. Despite what the Villagers preach, people can change and grow and develop new ideas an opinions. Imagine that Chris Cillizza!

American dream Tbird

One journalist who seems to be catching on is Charles Pierce. Here’s what he had to say yesterday: One Of These Is Not Like The Others: Two Clintons, No Waiting.

For all the noise about e-mails and honoraria, and all the passive-aggressive nostalgia for the Great Penis Chase of the 1990’s, something very interesting has been going on with Rodham Clinton’s campaign since she announced its official launch….

All during her husband’s administration, HRC was considered to be the more progressive of the two. She supported the accommodations he made to get re-elected, some of which were pretty damned ghastly. She also was one of the most vocal in defense of that administration against the organized ratfking that sought to destroy it. (The only mistake she made, as Calvin Trillin pointed out at the time was that she referred to a “vast right-wing conspiracy” rather than a creepy little cabal.) I once had a long conversation with a former Clinton lawyer. He told me that, if there were 1000 people in a room, and 999 thought Bill Clinton was a direct descendant of Jesus Christ, and one of them thought he was the spawn of Satan, Clinton would seek out that one person and spend the rest of the night and all the following day trying to change that person’s mind. That is not something anyone ever has said about Ms. Rodham Clinton. The edges of her triangulations are all sharp ones.

All of this is to point out that not only is the whole “two for the price of one” trope beloved of people whose politics came of age in the 1990’s outdated and inadequate, but so is the political strategy of the first Clinton Administration. Clinton herself seems to be acknowledging this political reality. She started talking on economics like Elizabeth Warren. Her speech on criminal justice reform was aimed at excesses many of which have roots in her husband’s law-and-order compromises in the mid-1990’s. (So, it should be noted, do many of the Patriot Act’s more controversial provisions.) For the moment, I choose to believe this is not merely a bow to political expedience, but something genuine and, if progressives are smart, infinitely exploitable.


Most of them will never get it, but maybe, just maybe Hillary can get her message out to the people who count–voters–and get them fired up enough to go to the polls in November 2016.

I also think it’s a good sign that Bernie Sanders has decided to run for president. No, he has no chance in hell of getting the nomination, but he might be able to get the media to publicize some of his ideas. He could also be a foil for Hillary, giving her an opportunity to draw attention to her more innovative and liberal ideas. Some of the latest news about Bernie’s efforts:

Reuters: Why socialist Bernie Sanders may just shake up the 2016 presidential race, by Robert Borosage.

Sanders is a funhouse mirror image of Clinton. She has universal name recognition (by her first name), unlimited funds, national campaign experience and a powerhouse political operation. He has scant name recognition, paltry funds, no national campaign experience and hasn’t begun to build a campaign staff. With a net-worth ranking among the lowest in the Senate, Sanders can be an authentic populist — the real deal. As one supporter said, he is the candidate of the “12-hour filibuster and the $12 haircut.”

Sanders’s announcement was treated with respect by a press corps eager for any kind of race on the Democratic side. Pundits dismiss his chances in part because Clinton is expected to raise a billion dollars or more for her campaign. Sanders hopes to raise $50 million.

But Sanders is likely to do far more than exceed low expectations. His candidacy could have a dramatic effect in building an already growing populist movement inside and outside the Democratic Party.

As Sanders made clear in his announcement, his focus will be on the central challenges facing this country: an economy that does not work for the vast majority of its citizens and a politics corrupted by big money and entrenched interests.

Sanders refuses to take part in politicians’ usual, incessant pursuit of large donations. So he is a political rarity: Someone free to speak forcefully to the often insidious connection between the two.


Will people pay attention? I think it’s possible. So does David Horsey of the LA Times: Bernie Sanders’ ‘socialism’ may have mainstream appeal.

Finally, conservatives have a real socialist to go crazy about. Instead of concocting dark fairytales about how Barack Obama, a very conventional liberal Democrat, is a secret Marxist who wants to destroy the American way of life, they can shriek about Bernie Sanders, the independent Vermont senator who has never shied away from the socialist label.

Sanders is now the first person to challenge Hillary Rodham Clinton in the race to win the 2016 Democratic Party presidential nomination. Clinton, though, is not his real adversary, Sanders says. He refuses to make disparaging comments about Clinton and insists he has never run an attack ad in any campaign and will not do so against her. Sanders wants to take on the billionaires, not Hillary.

Nobody gives the 73-year-old Sanders a chance of stopping the Clinton political juggernaut, but some think he could make it veer to the left. If the Vermonter gets traction in debates and primaries with his unabashedly progressive positions, Clinton might be forced to match at least some of his rhetoric. Would that be a bad thing for Democrats? Not if enough beleaguered middle class voters get a chance to consider what Sanders’ version of “socialism” entails and like what they see.

Go to the LA Times link to read Horsey’s list of Sanders’ ideas that could interest voters.


Sam Stein at Huffington Post: Bernie Sanders Raises $3 Million In Four Days.

With the help of a crew of former aides to President Barack Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) campaign has raised $3 million in four days for his presidential campaign — a dramatic indication that he won’t be confined simply to a long-shot role in the Democratic primary.

Sanders, who is running for president as a Democrat, announced on Wednesday that he has retained the services of the firm Revolution Messaging to run digital ads and online fundraising. The staffers with the firm who will be working on Sanders’ campaign include Revolution Messaging’s founder, Scott Goodstein, who ran the 2008 Obama campaign’s social media and mobile programs; Arun Chaudhary, who was the first official White House videographer; Shauna Daly, who served as deputy research director on Obama’s 2008 campaign; and Walker Hamilton, who was a lead programmer for that campaign.

“Like a lot of Obama supporters, we were looking for a candidate with a track record of doing the right thing — even if it meant taking on Wall Street billionaires and other powerful interests. A candidate who could inspire a movement,” said Goodstein. “Bernie Sanders is that candidate.”

Due to his long-standing criticism of the influence of big-money interests on government, Sanders has strong online and grassroots appeal, which he hopes to leverage to raise the money needed to fund a presidential campaign. And so far, the strategy looks savvy. The campaign has received roughly 75,000 contributions, and the average amount is $43. According to a campaign adviser, 99.4 percent of the donations have been $250 or less, and 185,000 supporters have signed up on the website

Not bad.

What do you think? What does the American Dream represent for you?

As always, this is an open thread. Post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread and have a terrific Thursday!

24 Comments on “Thursday Reads: The American Dream”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Meanwhile, in Congress . . . . Republicans pass an insane “budget.”

    AP, via ABC News:

    Analysis: Republican Budget Claims Don’t Add Up

    On paper and in speeches, Republicans boast that Congress’ first budget since they won control of the Senate and House last fall will eliminate red ink within a decade.

    Actually, it will do nothing of the sort.

    That’s because the budget itself is nonbinding and, on its own, has no effect on spending.

    And also because Republicans have decided against using unique budget rules for follow-up legislation to save the trillions of dollars from food stamps, Medicaid and other benefit programs that would be needed to erase red ink. To do that would spark a pitched political battle with Democrats, a veto from President Barack Obama — and a possible backlash from the voters in 2016.

    Republican veterans and newcomers alike made no mention of this political truth in praising their own handiwork in recent days as the blueprint was ratified on party-line votes in both houses.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    I usually don’t care for Radley Balko’s work, but this is interesting.

    This isn’t 1968. Baltimore isn’t Watts. And Hillary Clinton isn’t Michael Dukakis.

    Side comment: Why won’t Richard Cohen retire?

    • bostonboomer says:

      First, this isn’t the late 1960s. By noting that Brian Moore is the fifth NYPD officer shot since December, both Cohen and Green imply that police officers today operate in an increasingly dangerous environment. That just isn’t true. I’ve made this point many times over the last few years, but the job of policing has been getting progressively safer since the mid-1990s, and today is as safe as it has ever been. About half as many cops are killed on the job today as in 1968, despite the fact that there are significantly more cops on the street. So far this year, 10 U.S. police officers have been killed by gunfire. That puts us on pace for 29 by the end of the year. That would be the lowest raw number in well more than half a century. And again, once you factor in the increase in the number of cops overall, the drop in the homicide rate among cops is even more dramatic. To put all of this into perspective, here’s a figure I pulled from the Fatal Encounters database of people killed by law enforcement: While 10 cops have been killed by gunfire across the entire country so far in 2015, police in Los Angeles County alone have killed 14 people over the exact same period.

    • RalphB says:

      Balko is a Reason style libertarian, but he good on criminal justice.

  3. Fannie says:

    Really great post this morning………I’m dreaming of a better tomorrow, we now have camera’s everywhere, showing us just how real America is. Yet these peoples life needs have been ignored for too long. Instead of standing up for changes, with these young people on the mean streets, on the reservations, in rural America, we are locking the doors, slamming them shut, and turning on the camera, in order to protect ourselves. We need to take part, not shut doors.

    Every now and then I watch Morning Snot, and was he ever going after Hillary, and her shadow, Bill. It wasn’t pretty to watch, but the attacks on her is much like it was in 2008. Just a dirty snot nose Joe. Thank God, we can see what’s happening, and speaking out, and by the way Charlie is the MAN, he makes my heart rush, he knows she is experienced (ready for job), and need not be compared to Bill.

    We should never close the dream off, doing so would mean failure for our babies and children, here and everywhere around this world.

    Have a good day Sky Dancers!

  4. RalphB says:

    Great post BB! The American Dream editorial reads just like Obama’s State of the Union speeches. If there was any new ground to be trod, they didn’t do it. While I like the list in the editorial, I’ve heard that same list in election after election. While I’m sure the pro-left will be swooning over it, if you want to excite me, tell me how you’re gonna get them accomplished.

  5. dakinikat says:

    I saw this study yesterday. It explains a lot.

    Decreased State Funding is Responsible for Nearly 80 Percent of the Rise in Public Education Tuition

    Recently, there has been much debate about the real cause of tuition increases, which have risen by nearly $3,000 at public four-year universities in the last decade alone. To meet these costs, U.S. students must take on crushing levels of debt just to access education that was readily affordable for previous generations.

    A new Demos report, Pulling Up the Higher Ed Ladder: Myth and Reality in the Crisis of College Affordability by Demos Senior Policy Analyst Robbie Hiltonsmith, finds that declining state support was responsible for nearly 80 percent of the rise in net tuition between 2001 and 2011. Examining public university revenue and spending data, he determines that rising costs for instruction and student services is responsible for much of the remainder, largely due to growing healthcare costs. Hiltonsmith also disproves the theory that colleges are spending beyond what is necessary to support their core academic functions, commonly known as administrative bloat. Increased spending on administration accounted for only six percent of tuition hikes.

    “While administrative bloat is a popular theory, the data shows otherwise,” said Hiltonsmith. “This myth is not only blatantly untrue, but takes attention away from the real problem: states aren’t investing in their students. Instead, they’re saddling them with crippling, life-long debt.”

    This is the punchline:

    As a result of this sharp decrease in state funding, more than half of education and related expenses at public universities is now paid by students’ tuition.

    “Public higher education in this country no longer exists,” said Hiltonsmith. “Because more than half of core educational expenses at ‘public’ 4-year universities are now funded through tuition, a private source of capital, they have effectively become subsidized private institutions. To eliminate the pile of debt that most students must now borrow just to finance their education, we need comprehensive policy reform that views higher education as a necessity.”

    • RalphB says:

      From your viewpoint, and mine, I’m sure no report was required to drive that point home.

      • dakinikat says:

        Yup. I live it. But, I hope it gets some attention. I believe this is what folks like the Koch’s want. Their enemies are thinking, well-informed people. Plus, if they provide endowments, they can force curriculum like at FSU. Voodoo economics is taught there.

        • RalphB says:

          In Texas it was one of the ways the state government used to keep taxes, supposedly, low while not enough people noticed the large cuts to the higher education budget. Large amounts of state oil revenue go into the PUF (Public University Fund), which is protected by the constitution. If not for that constitutional protection, it would have been robbed long ago. Now it just gathers money and management of it is parsed out to cronies for the fees. The Texas state legislature takes a back seat to nobody for being shameless bastards.

        • janicen says:

          We’ve been living it for the past four years. The cost of an education at a public university is ridiculous. Seriously, it’s getting to the point that it’s almost a misnomer to call them public universities anymore since most of their financing comes from the private sector.

    • NW Luna says:

      No surprise. Here in Washington state this has been going on for years. From a 2012 editorial in the Seattle Times:

      Twenty years ago, the state government paid 80 percent of the cost of a student’s education and a student paid 20 percent. Today, the state pays 30 percent of the cost, and the student pays 70 percent. The state has systematically disinvested in our children’s future, and we view this trend with disappointment and alarm.

      And despite corporate-backed politicians who whine about wasted public money,

      [t]he cost of educating a student at the University of Washington is about $400 less today, in inflation adjusted dollars, than it was 20 years ago.

  6. RalphB says:

    Even Chris Cillizza is forced to admit that Hillary doesn’t have a problem with any “actual voters”. The polling data all say the same thing.

    WaPo: Debunking Hillary Clinton’s liberal ‘problem’

    One of the most persistent tropes of the 2016 election is that some large number of liberals are deeply dissatisfied with the centrist approach to politics long championed by Hillary Rodham Clinton and, as a result, are actively engaged in a search for a more progressive alternative.

    Persistent — and wrong. The truth is that scant evidence exists in any poll to suggest that Clinton is anything short of beloved (or, at the very least, be-liked) by the party’s liberal base. …

  7. Well, the boys lost yesterday, so that is it. They played well. I haven’t had a chance to read the post yet BB, but this afternoon Bebe was telling me about how the admin sexualizes the girls at her school…regarding the girls dress code. I want her to write something about it…if I can get her to, I will see if she will do a comment.

  8. Fannie says:

    Maliq Hunsberger wrote this story about his life. I think he is out to change the world and the lens in which racism is seen. He’s been classified by society that surrounds him, yet in his mind, is the place of who he really is, and he has a very good grasp on myself.

    I really like him, hope he is off and writing, cause he does it well, he gives of himself to others, and verbalizes those feeling very well.

    View at

  9. NW Luna says:

    Astute and well-written and -referenced post today, BB! Sorry I had work commitments and couldn’t comment until late.

  10. joanelle says:

    BB, I love this post; it’s chock full of solid info, thanks!