I didn’t grow up in the George Washington era. I did, however, grow up in the George Jefferson era. The Jeffersons was a popular sitcom in my house and many others in my neighborhood. As exemplified in that popular television show, being successful was something we aspired to. Success wasn’t vilified and people didn’t attribute success to catching a break. There was a heartfelt belief, a so-called “article of faith,” that if you finished school, kept your nose clean, and worked hard, you could make it just like George.
Now, however, too many politicians are sending a different message to our communities. Their message to a growing number of Americans is “you don’t have enough because someone else has too much.” It is a message designed to fan the flames of distrust and division for political gain. Those politicians focus on our differences rather than on that which makes us all Americans. We have to understand the problem, change the discussion, and work for real solutions.
When my father went to a familiar coffee shop the other day, he was surprised to find that the waitress who gotten a full time job elsewhere was back. She had been working 40 hours a week, but after paying for child care, gas, and the other expenses of working 30 miles from home, she was left with only $60 a week. She picked up waitressing again in town on the weekends in order to have more disposable income and continue her schooling from home and in the evenings.
What is right and wrong with this picture? What’s right is that individual initiative is alive and well; working and schooling has always been a pathway to progress. Our free enterprise system is capable of providing those able and willing to work with living wages. What’s wrong is that we don’t have a political environment that rewards individual initiative and maximizes opportunities for economic expansion within our local communities while maintaining our global competitiveness.
This approach takes hard work. It requires us to reject simple notions, such as those that come from Keith Ellison who sees income redistribution as the answer to poverty. We must craft a future of shared prosperity. The American Dream must remain forever attainable for all who seek to achieve it.
Federal bureaucracies don’t generate success; local people do. We must double down on the principles that have made us the strongest country in the world. Stale rhetoric and sound bites cannot replace real debate. Americans are people of great faith and hope. We can restore the American Dream for the many who have been under-served when we Come Together.