Is the United States a land of limitless horizons, where hard work and big dreams enable people of humble background to scale dizzying heights of privilege and power?
Or is this a society of slammed doors and blocked opportunities, of a trapped middle class and shattered hope, where ordinary people can only provide a better life for their children with the help of an activist government and dramatic new policies?
The Denver Democrats insist that both descriptions are true, and they fail to acknowledge the obvious contradiction in the two primary messages of their convention.
On the one hand, they want Americans to believe that we live in a dark, destitute moment in our history, with no chance for prosperity or progress unless a Democrat captures the White House.
On the other hand, they celebrate dozens of inspiring rags-to-riches stories (like those of the party’s sweethearts, Barack and Michelle Obama) proving that traditional American values still bring spectacular and gratifying results.
First, they suggest that ordinary Americans can’t possibly achieve their dreams without government help.
But then, sometimes in the very same speeches, they brag about their own classic American stories in which family and faith conquer every obstacle.
Consider the way the convention celebrated Michelle Obama’s story on its opening night. Her brother, Craig Robinson, emphasized the way their parents’ values brought about their success, saying “I can see how the person she is today, was formed in the experiences we shared growing up: working hard, studying hard, having parents who wanted more for us than what they had. And always being reminded that in this country of all countries—those things are possible.”
Michelle herself similarly emphasized her father’s contribution to her success: “He and my mom poured everything they had into me and Craig. It was the greatest gift a child can receive: never doubting for a single minute that you’re loved, and cherished, and have a place in this world. And thanks to their faith and hard work, we were both able to go to college.” She never mentioned that for both herself and her big brother, that college happened to be Princeton. “So I know firsthand,” she declared to the convention, “from their lives – and mine – that the American Dream endures.”
She made similar observations about her husband, the presidential candidate: “His family was so much like mine. He was raised by grandparents who were working class folks just like my parents, and by a single mother who struggled to pay the bills just like we did. Like my family, they scrimped and saved so that he could have opportunities they never had themselves.”