Barack Obama, the Lemonade Stand, and the American Dream : The New Yorker
…When Republicans spoke of the American Dream last week, they spoke sometimes of those who had achieved greatness—Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, for instance. More often, though, they spoke of the Dream in ways that brought to mind the classic image of white picket fences and suburban middle-class life. They talked about immigrant ancestors and small businesses and hard-earned success.
There is nothing wrong with this version of the American Dream, of course—it has at times sustained this country. And yet it is a vision that suddenly seems limited and narrow when put up against the man the Republicans were attacking. Rand Paul, the Senator from Kentucky, talked about Ronald Reagan—his youth as the child of a father with an alcohol problem, his rise to the Presidency—as an exemplar of the Dream. The figure held up as a contrast to Obama, however, was the son of a governor who became a governor, and who spoke of his background by idealizing the steady, loving home he came from—more American dreaminess than the American dream. How did Romney’s story come to be coupled with scorn for the man whose election made that old canard parents tell their children, that the U.S. is a place where anyone can become President, finally seem true? He is, apparently, the enemy of the Dream, not a stunning example of its promise.
That this is so is a testament to the efficacy of the right’s attacks on Obama. They have turned his background, which he’d managed, through hard work and some shameless massaging, to mold into an asset, into a weapon to be used against him. They’ve portrayed him as a product of affirmative action, undeserving of his position—not to mention foreign and anti-American. And now they’ve successfully linked that back to the dismal economy, and his failure to turn it around.
It may be too late for Obama to fully reverse that process, but it’s not too late for him to remind Americans that his life doesn’t make him a Kenyan anti-colonialist, but the rarest kind of example of the promise of America. In 2008, when he accepted the Democratic Presidential nomination, he began by saying, “Four years ago, I stood before you and told you my story, of the brief union between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas who weren’t well-off or well-known, but shared a belief that in America their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to.” It’s time for him to tell that story again.