March 13, 2005

Freedom, Hard Work & Quality Education: Making The American Dream Possible For ALL Americans

My family had the privilege of visiting The Statute of Liberty in August 2004 on only the 23rd day after it had re-opened for the first time since September 11, 2001. It was there that we saw first-hand the poem penned by Emma Lazarus and etched on the pedestal of the statute, which includes these famous words:

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Immigrants came to America from places where their lives were defined forever for them before they were even born. Here is how some of them described the unique allure of America:

For them Europe meant poverty and persecution, and America meant democracy and opportunity. "Other lands," wrote the Polish emigré Henry Sienkiewicz, "grant only asylum; this land recognizes the immigrant as a son and grants him rights." When they were "sickened at last of poverty, bigotry and kings," wrote another immigrant, "there was always America!"

The land of freedom and opportunity, the land where immigrants were granted rights without any consideration of family history. That was the magnificent allure of America.

Many Americans have their own personal stories about how the American Dream became a reality for their families. There is nothing more American than having the opportunity to achieve more than your parents and then enabling your children to do even better than you.

What makes the Dream possible? At the core, it is the principle of liberty - the freedom not only to have lofty aspirations but to have the opportunity to achieve them. That unique level of freedom has its origins in our own Declaration of Independence, about which President Calvin Coolidge said:

In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignity, the rights of man - these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in religious convictions...Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish...

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful...If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final...If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people...

In all the essentials we have achieved an equality which was never possessed by any other people...The rights of the individual are held sacred and protected by constitutional guarantees, which even the government itself is bound not to violate.

It is truly unfortunate how so many of America's public leaders have forgotten the spiritual basis which empowers the freedom that is central to our lives. It is equally as unfortunate, as Andrew has written, that certain political activitists have forgotten the importance of freedom, democracy, and individual rights.

That freedom, however, only translates into realized opportunity through hard work, the second core principle that enables people to realize the American Dream.

While hard work alone can make the difference, sometimes it is not enough to make the American Dream come alive for every American citizen. That leads to the final enabling component to the American Dream: access to a quality education. Such access is the great equalizer, ensuring that all Americans have a decent starting position as they enter adulthood.

But there are problems with education in America, as I have written previously:

Education is the gateway to the American Dream for all citizens. Yet, we are failing to provide a quality gateway for our children. The performance of public education in America is absymal as we have one of the weakest performing educational systems in the industrial world. It is not for lack of spending money: We have tripled our per-pupil spending in real terms over the last 40 years...More money won't fix the structural problems...Only competition from true educational choice will solve the problems...

Nowhere is access to a quality public education more challenged than in Washington, D.C. and other disadvantaged inner city locations. That same posting continues:

I find it particularly ironic that certain liberal U.S. senators (who often have sent their own children to the most elite private schools) consistently do the bidding of the unions to block the inner city black children of Washington, D.C. - who are stuck in the worst public education system in our country - from receiving the educational vouchers which would give them educational freedom and a fair shot at living the American Dream. The unions and their cronies are willing to risk creating a permanent underclass so they can maintain their chokehold on public education in America. That is morally offensive.

It was, therefore, with great interest - thanks to a posting by KelliPundit - that I read a news report about black Americans, party politics, and the principles of freedom, opportunity, faith, and educational choice:

[Donna Brazile,] the Democrats' most-respected minority outreach tactician warned her party at the beginning of the 2004 election cycle not to "take African-American voters for granted." Polls showed an increase in younger black voters registering as independents, not as Democrats. Many were drawn to President Bush's campaign message of an "ownership society" and his faith-based initiatives to help the needy.

Ken Mehlman, who managed Mr. Bush's re-election campaign and is now the Republican national chairman, is leading a stepped-up drive to reach out to black voters, often with the help of influential black religious leaders attracted by the GOP's emphasis on religious values usually missing in the Democrats' message.

Addressing the National Black Chamber of Commerce in Trenton, N.J., last month, Mr. Mehlman told several hundred business owners that "the party of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass is not complete without more African-American support and participation."

...Black voters remain the Democrats' most loyal voting bloc, but they find a number of Republican issues appealing, and Mr. Mehlman believes if the GOP reaches out to them with a menu of choices, it can win a much larger share of their votes.

Polls show 60 percent of African-Americans support school choice vouchers to get their kids out of failing public schools. Mr. Bush's emphasis on small-business ownership also resonates very strongly among upwardly mobile blacks, as does the chance to build a bigger retirement nest egg in Social Security personal investment accounts.

Mr. Mehlman's offensive has the potential to make significant inroads into the Democrats' once largely monolithic black vote, Miss Brazile says. "The GOP is preaching a new gospel to black voters yearning for answers" to age-old problems that still afflict their community. "Once they start listening to Republicans, some may even like what they hear."

That warning from one of the party's most respected political figures sent shock waves last week through the Democratic National Committee's high command, who know that if their party loses 15 percent or so of the black vote, it will be in the minority for years to come.

At a personal level, I care little about party politics. What excites me, though, is that there is increased competition in American politics to see who has the best ideas on how to make the American Dream come true for ALL Americans. Let the debate begin in earnest. Everyone will be better off as a result. What could be more American than that!