Abraham Lincoln described the American Dream as “an open field and a fair chance for your industry, enterprise and intelligence: that you may all have equal privileges in the race of life, with all its desirable human aspirations.” Lincoln called it our “inestimable jewel.”
Different circumstances have called for different approaches to preserving the American Dream. Today, the dream has become a longer reach for many of our fellow Americans. The Left, and in particular the Black Lives Matter movement, has put a spotlight on the undeniable predicament of many people of color who are trapped in a cycle of poverty.
Their solution is to revive the Marxist playbook, in the guise of “critical race theory.” They call for a massive redistribution of wealth and ideological re-education of the entire population. Their “1619 Project” brands our Declaration of Independence a cynical cover white supremacy; they mock Lincoln and they do not believe in the American Dream. They seek a totalitarian restructuring of nearly every aspect of our lives.
Is the American Dream still worthwhile? Is it attainable?
I believe it is; and that the party of Lincoln, the Republican Party, should advocate policies that will make the American Dream accessible to all our fellow citizens. For children who are born into poverty, it boils down to one profoundly simple question:
“What policies will help to equip a poor kid to escape poverty and pursue his or her dreams?”
Will toppling statues of Christopher Columbus, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln equip a young black kid to acquire the skills needed to compete for a good job?
Will defunding police and reducing patrols of inner-city neighborhoods enable children to play safely in their neighborhoods?
Will patronizing symbolic appointments of blacks to corporate boards or government posts or granting a few hundred underprepared persons admittance to Ivy League colleges improve the education and prospects of a child trapped in a terrible school?
Will branding the traditional two parent family a manifestation of white supremacy help a child in a single-parent home acquire the stability and discipline needed to succeed as an adult?
Will making a white kid feel guilty about being white help a poor black kid to read?
The answer to each of these questions, which form the core of Left’s agenda, is obviously “no.” Most of them will cause harm to poor black children. The Left is not interested in working to improve the lives of flesh and blood poor kids. Today’s progressives care more about promoting an ideology than ensuring an inner-city high schooler masters calculus.
Our program should be less grandiose, yet more ambitions and fruitful. We aim to help those kids to climb out of poverty. Period.
The key policies are few. They are supported by academic research and common sense. They are consistent with the American values of liberty and compassion.
- Good Schools. School choice improves outcomes; it empowers poor parents who cannot afford to send their child to private school or to move to a more expensive neighborhood and it does not increase costs to the taxpayer. We should allow charter schools to compete with the public school monopoly that currently holds poor kids as hostages to a third-rate education. The competition will not sink the public schools, it will force them to improve.
- Stable Families. A child growing up in a supportive home with both parents present and at least one working has a leg up in succeeding at school and a better childhood. We should revoke the marriage penalty from the tax code and restructure the welfare system so that nobody who becomes employed suffers a decline in income. This can be accomplished by replacing the current welfare system with a negative income tax, which ensures a minimum amount of income while enabling a person to increase income at any wage. We should abolish the minimum wage, which discourages employment of teens. It is vital that teens gain the experience and the discipline of productive work.
- Safe Neighborhoods. A child should not be afraid to venture into the neighborhood. No child should be pressured into gangs and criminal or antisocial activity. There is a vital need for police to patrol the neighborhoods where kids live and play. The leading academic studies show that crime is tightly interrelated with police presence. Homicide rates in black communities have skyrocketed in response to the pullback and defunding of some police departments over the past summer. Moreover, polling consistently has revealed that an overwhelming majority of black residents of poor urban neighborhoods do not support a decline in police presence. When police abuse occurs—and no doubt it has happened—local communities have the power to alter police practices. They elect the mayors who oversee police departments and the prosecutors and judges who handle police abuse cases. Policing matters are, and should remain, in local control. The policy here should be to educate people about the fact that they can set the rules for how their neighborhoods are policed.
- End the War on Drugs. Black men are over 5 times more likely to spend time in prison than white men. In many urban areas, over half of young black men are incarcerated at some time. These men have little hope of finding employment in the legal sector. They are highly unlikely to become the heads of stable households. And yet, the disproportionately high crime rate among black men is of recent origin. Before the War on Drugs criminalized possession of small quantities of drugs, the prison rate for black men was only slightly higher than for white men. The war on drugs has not been effective in reducing drug use; but it has caused inestimable injury to those—mostly poor people—who are engaged in distributing drugs to the middle class and wealthy consumers of drugs. It should be repealed.
If we implement policies consistent with these principles, we will have gone a long way to deliver the American Dream to all our fellow Americans.