From Peggy Noonan, another misty watercolor memory of the way we were:
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.So "a few generations ago" the American dream wasn't about materialism? Peggy, please let me introduce you to the work of Margaret Bourke-White. Perhaps you've heard of her?
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.
The photo of the billboard (and breadline) speaks for itself. It was taken in 1937. (The billboard was part of a pro-capitalist propaganda campaign from the National Association of Manufacturers.)
Noonan's column focuses on Dan Balz's new book on the 2012 campaign -- specifically, on the bits about some focus-grouping the Obama campaign did. Yes, I'm sure you're shocked! A modern presidential campaign doing deep-dig voter research!
What followed was a "massive research effort" to help the Obama campaign develop a message....You know which other people apparently "have to do things like that to understand their own country?" The executives of every large corporation in America. Who do you think hires these market research firms between campaigns? Yes, our Galtian heroes in the Fortune 500!
The campaign asked middle-aged, middle-income Americans to keep online financial journals. Over 100 people took part, twice a week for three weeks. The Obama campaign did not reveal it was behind the effort. Participants were asked fsuch questions as whether or not they were putting off various purchases, or buying a used car rather than a new one. They were also asked: When was the last time you were treated unfairly at work? The journals yielded 1,400 pages of raw material.
I'll add here that when I told a young friend, a professional in her 20s, about this, she asked: "Do they have to do things like that to understand their own country?" Yes, they do.
Look, I don't like the fact that modern campaign techniques are indistinguishable from corporate marketing. But if you're going to accuse Barack Obama of being out of touch with people because he does this, then you should also accuse every CEO in America of the same thing.
And there's this:
A year before the election Americans weren't sure who the president was. He held himself at bay, observes Mr. Balz: "An Obama friend once suggested to me that the teleprompter was a perfect metaphor for the president, a physical symbol of how he kept the world at arm's length."Oh, for crissake.
Well, the only possible response to that is this: