re-framing the American dream
I was sitting on grubby floor of Edinburgh’s student union when Ohio suddenly went blue. There was no big cheer yet, and mostly people just carried on chatting. But I suddenly found myself crying like a baby. Obama, clearly, had won. I had always had the emotional conflict between my desire to get carried away with his rhetoric, and my cynical belief that he is, essentially, still an old fashioned neo-liberal – or so hampered by other powers that he can’t deliver systemic changes anyway. But that month, I’d given in. Obamania had swept the world, and I may as well embrace it.
I soon found a way to justify myself. Though Obama may not succeed in changing policies, he had won the world’s biggest pulpit. Unlike Democrats before him, he is willing – and able – to re-build America’s national narrative. Nearly three decades before, Ronald Reagan had decreed that “the government which governs best is the government which governs least”. Americans were told that the American dream is all about individual freedoms – the right to accumulate vast wealth.
Most Democrats were unwilling to challenge this basic idea – that being American is about being selfish; that a politician ought to have earned millions in order to show that they are qualified for office – that greed is good. Obama, on the other hand, had, in his ‘Yes we Can’ speech, sold America’s dream and history as radical, and collective.
And so, tonight, as well as being pleased to see health care reforms (however watered down) pass, I was glad to see this little bit of video, where Obama says, while declaring victory: “In the end, what this day represents is another stone firmly laid in the foundation of the American Dream”. Rather than pandering to the right on the American Dream, Obama is more than happy to challenge our understanding of this idea, and use his pulpit to teach us that great things happen when people come together.