American dream invests in the future

When I saw Cory Gardner’s attack ad on TV, I decided that my last column before Election Day would cover either the depraved state of Colorado campaigning or anything other than Colorado politics.

But then I passed a towering billboard along Interstate 25 that encouraged motorists to “Vote Conservative” because “Only You Can Save the American Dream.”

Who defines the American dream, and what does it mean for the Colorado voter on Election Day?

The phrase is attributed to James Truslow Adams, an American man of letters who wrote in 1931 that “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”

At first, I found this a reassuring middle ground between squabbling conservatives and progressives. After all, everyone wants a better life.

But then I noticed how some people use the phrase, referring to the American dream as a static state; you either have it, or you don’t. That definition seems incomplete.

I can’t fault anyone for complaining about their eroding present-day wealth. Home ownership is symbolic of having achieved the American dream, but with foreclosures in Colorado at record highs, the American dream seems out of reach to many people. Growing anger is understandable, with the unemployment rate in Colorado almost 8 percent and most workers seeing either unchanged or smaller paychecks.

During these times of real economic pain, I fear that the frantic search for immediate pain relief will produce short-term changes that inflict long-term damage.

We mustn’t overlook the most important words in Adams’ definition: “better and richer and fuller.” To voters fortunate enough to be treading water in this economy and any voter with a longer view, please keep your eyes on the horizon.

The second word in the phrase American dream suggests aspiration, but so much of the conservative battle cry contains no aspiration, no looking beyond the next payday, car registration or tax deadline.

A state where a third of Coloradans lacks access to medical care is nothing to aspire to, but that’s just the future suggested by the proposed Amendment 63. Similarly, Cory Gardner, other than promising to take us backward, has offered nothing forward-thinking to deal with our health-care crisis.

How uninspired to imagine a state where infrastructure and schools are so bad that people don’t want to reside or start businesses here. But that’s the shortsightedness of Amendments 60 and 61, and Proposition 101.

Our future is not better when government is so powerful and intrusive as to dictate a woman’s individual health choices. But that’s what Amendment 62 would do.

The American dream points to a future worth investing in. It includes healthier citizens, well-educated children, a statewide infrastructure that attracts businesses, and a nation that competes and wins on the world stage. Also, in support of the words “for everyone” in Adams’ definition, the American dream foresees a better and richer and fuller society that welcomes differences among all Coloradans, not just those who fit narrow criteria for country of origin, sexual orientation and religious belief.

The way I interpret Adams’ hopeful understanding of the American dream, we can rise above our prejudices and fears, act on motivations beyond our base instincts, and invest in a future that’s better than our past. That’s a dream worth saving.

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