Kathryn Lopez

This is how Americans tend to react. A recent Pew poll found that "being wealthy" is far from the top priority of Americans -- things like "having enough time to do things you want to do," "being successful in a career" and "having children." "Being married" rated in the top 50 percent, while "being wealthy" rates a 13 percent. Even though it's not the be-all, end-all for Americans to be rich, they are optimistic they could be and will be -- having that motivational hope, even when probably not entirely realistic. One 2000 Time magazine survey had 20 percent of Americans polled optimistic that they would someday be in the top 1 percent of American earners.

That was bad news for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, who attacked the top 1 percent. It's why McCain doesn't help himself with conservatives or the wide swath of American voters when he rails against executive pay, as he tends to. He's adapted Democratic rhetoric. While the Left tends to use "us and them" as part of their electoral strategy -- making Americans feel like victims who need to be saved by the government -- conservatives tend to try to capture the optimistic imaginations of Americans.

In this summer of high gas prices, imagine if McCain could talk about American exceptionalism, and, for example, embrace the opportunity that our discovery-spirit can present if we were to explore new drilling options in Alaska.

I don't know whether McCain will. I know he could if he wanted to. The Arizona senator and former prisoner of war has an inspiring personal story of national service and country "love," as a recent campaign commercial put it. I do know that Limbaugh inspires such things by words and example -- as one who has worked hard, fallen and gotten up again, making clear that we're all human, living in a country where the possibilities are endless. Excessive regulation, overbearing taxation, demagoguing about what Europe thinks about us -- these burdens and distractions hurt the civic morale and make the dream harder to achieve. Instead of patronizing, paternalistic governing by bureaucracy, if whoever takes the oath of office in January wants to protect and defend the Constitution, and let us otherwise live free in this great country full of citizens on the Left and Right, we'll be in good shape to keep dreaming.

Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.