The American Dream is waking us up. Both major presidential candidates are running with it. Bill Clinton wants to keep it alive "for all who are willing to work for it." Bob Dole proclaims today's legal immigrants have "as much right to the American Dream as the direct descendants of the Founding Fathers."
But would the Founding Fathers, not to mention the Founding Mothers, recognize the American Dream today?
What is the American Dream in 1996? What is your American Dream?
The American Dream Company (its real name) raises the question in an Internet marketing pitch: "Is it Wealth? Or is it a home of your own, a nice car, a boat, nice clothes, or perhaps a 57.6 modem and 64 megs of RAM?" Answer? "American Dream Lifestyle Bonuses Including Home, Car, Boat, Shopping Spree And Retirement Cruise!"
Not only in America. Later this month (Sept. 23), the American Dream Park is set to open in China outside Shanghai. Besides the thrill rides, there'll be Main Street, Miami Beach, and the Wild West.
Dole, Clinton, and their American Dream teams aim higher than lifestyle and theme park. Both sides invoke Martin Luther King Jr. and his "I Have a Dream" speech, building on his earlier "The American Dream." These broaden the personal dream of success to a national goal of fulfilling the Declaration of Independence's "self-evident" truths: "that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."
Colin Powell, honored son of immigrants, says he has lived the American Dream "to the fullest." He helps define it by what his parents taught - integrity, kindness, godliness, hard work - and what they found here: "a compassionate land and a compassionate people ... a government that protected their labor, educated their children, and provided help to those of their fellow creatures who were in need."
But the American Dream began before the American government. It gleamed in eyes far away that saw not only the risks of a strange new world but also a vision of freedom and abundance. And pieces of the dream were already here in the feeling for community and respect for nature that chroniclers soon discerned among native Americans.
The Pilgrims came and gave thanks, despite all the rigors. They wanted liberty, and began to ensure it by agreeing on shipboard to the first steps of self-government. In the next century Crvecoeur's "Letters from an American Farmer" invited everybody in: "If thou wilt work, I have bread for thee; if thou wilt be honest, sober, and industrious, I have greater rewards to confer on thee - ease and independence.... I shall endow thee beside with the immunities of a freeman, if thou wilt carefully educate thy children, teach them gratitude to God, and reverence to that government, that philanthropic government, which has collected here so many men and made them happy."
Since then we've had periodic warnings about the loss or corruption of the dream. A historian cautions against simplistic notions that "an American dream somehow mysteriously broke down in the 19th or 20th century." America never did descend "directly from Eden." In every age it takes the sum of individual motives and actions to keep the dream from being a hallucination.
What did you say your American Dream was? Here's ours:
*Freedom for all of us to be the best each can be under God. Freedom given a heart by the Golden Rule. Freedom given a mind by learning, given energy by opportunity, given strength by spiritual conviction.
*A zeal for justice. The rule of law. The hand of generosity.
*A love of country. A love of family. A sense of home.
*Reverence for what warrants reverence. Yankee Doodle Dandy irreverence for what does not.
A smile fits the American Dream. It's a signal in the pursuit of happiness. To the founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, "Happiness consists in being and doing good...."
This is a way each of us can renew the American Dream without waiting for the 64 megs of RAM or the bonus retirement cruise. Come to think of it, you don't even have to be an American to live this kind of dream.