US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The new reality of the American Dream

Liz Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

At last weekend’s Values Voters Summit, Speaker of the House John Boehner talked about the American Dream and the possibility that anything can be achieved through hard work. In light of the nation’s current economic status, Boehner’s remarks seem pretty out of touch with reality.

Boehner said the following:

It really boils down to this. There's nothing in this world that you can't accomplish, nothing you can't succeed at, if you're willing to work hard enough and if you're willing to make the sacrifices that are necessary.

And I look back over my life, look back over my career, that formula has worked pretty well. And there's not one of you here who can't look back over your own life, your own career, and realize that formula has worked pretty well for you too.

Though certainly John Boehner and many people in America have achieved personal and financial success through hard work and dedication, these stories are becoming the exception rather than the norm in America’s current economic climate. Perhaps Boehner needs to check out the “We are the 99 Percent” blog that is related to the Occupy Wall Street movements. The theme of many of these posts are similar to what is expressed in one entry from someone who went to college, owes $100,000 in student loans, has struggled to find work, and considers himself lucky to eat: the American Dream is dead. Does Boehner really consider forgoing food to pay rent to be a “necessary sacrifice” to achieve not even success, but merely an existence that is one step away from homelessness?

Boehner, a Catholic, has already come under fire this year for not adhering to Catholic principles. Perhaps Boehner (like his Catholic counterpart Rick Santorum, who recently proved to be unfamiliar with the term “preferential option for the poor”) needs to reexamine how our country is operating in light of Catholic social teaching, which provides wisdom on “building a just society and living lives of holiness amidst the challenges of modern society.” We are told through these teachings that it is our responsibility to seek the common good and well being of all. We are told that “the economy must serve people, not the other way around.” Is a person really experiencing the dignity of work when juggling multiple low-paying jobs to make ends meet? They are certainly working hard and making sacrifices.

Boehner’s comments came on the heels of similar statements made by presidential candidate Herman Cain, who, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last Wednesday, said that people should blame themselves, rather than corporations or the economy, for not having a job. “It is not a person’s fault because they succeeded, it is a person’s fault if they failed,” he said. Is this really Cain’s response to people with advanced degrees who are unable to find work, or to lifelong laborers who have lost jobs in the recession? This is your fault?

What society are Boehner and Cain looking at? How can they look past our American reality that features rising unemployment, little job growth, outsourcing of jobs, and increasing costs of health care? At the heart of the Occupy Wall Street movement lies the frustration for millions of people that despite following the formula of working hard and making sacrifices, they are still unable to achieve success. People are raising their voices to say, "I am not lazy. I have done everything I was told to do to succeed. I work hard. This is not my fault."

As many on "We are the 99 Percent" have said, maybe the American Dream is called a dream because you can only see it when you close your eyes. Open your eyes, Boehner, Cain, and all policymakers and corporations—there is a new reality out there.