Peggy Noonan is one of those people that when she is wrong she can be spectacularly wrong. As Dan Balz revealed on Hugh Hewitt this week, Noonan was hired to help Romney write speeches. Romney chose not to use them. Noonan went on to savage Romney in her column during the campaign. Very bad form.
But when she is right, she can also be spectacularly right. In this morning’s WSJ, she looks at Balz’ campaign book and discusses some of the Obama strategy. Discussing soem Obama campaign focus groups:
The groups revealed that the American dream meant less to younger workers than to older ones. Here a departure from the book. There is pervasive confusion about what the American dream is. We seem to have redefined it to mean the acquisition of material things—a car, a house and a pool. That was not the meaning of the American dream a few generations ago. The definition then was that in this wonderful place called America, where you can start out from nothing and become anything. It was aspirational. The limits of class and background wouldn’t and couldn’t keep you from becoming a person worthy of respect, even renown. If you wanted to turn that into houses and a pool, fine. But you didn’t have to. You could have a modest job like teacher and be the most respected woman in town.
When we turned the American dream into a dream about materialism, we disheartened our young, who now are forced to achieve what we’ve defined as success in a straitened economy. [emphasis added]
I ask you, who is the “we” she refers to in that emphasized sentence? Did the government change the perception of the American Dream? I don’t think so, that is something that flows out of the populace. From this I wish to reflect on two things.
Firstly, astute politicians may notice trends and changes like those mentioned here – but good (morally, not politically) politicians will refuse to capitalize upon them. It takes both a lot of cynicism and an amazing amount of narcissism to utilize a trend like this to get elected president. National political leaders can, in reality, do very little to stem the tide of changes in perception and attitude like this, but to capitalize on them politically is to reinforce them. To capitalize on such trends politically is to put one’s own election above the traditions and greatness of this nation. In point of fact, a morally upstanding politician would seek to change the things that he/she can control in hopes that attitudes and perceptions would shift as conditions do.
Which brings me to my second reflection. Such changes have deeply religious roots. There is something very wrong with religion in America that such an attitude can take such deep root. Most Americans claim religious affiliation of some sort; it may be loose but it is there. Religion is what can dramatically affect such perception and attitude. Religion is what has traditionally taught Americans that the American Dream was far more than material. And that answers my question about who Noonan’s “we” is.
“We” is all the churches that have pursued this trend when they should have been fighting it. “We” is all the churches that have shrugged their shoulders in response to the cultural shift and pursued answers in the things of culture instead of the things of God.
All I know is WE better get our act together or the American Dream will be unalterably shifted in the wrong direction.