Al McCombs

Al McCombs

There’s been a lot of water under the dam since this column was written in October 1967, and reprinted in 2008. The American Dream has not changed, it has just expanded. That water is still muddy, as current events are showing. Welfare is still an issue but a scary pandemic is changing the issue, making more Americans anxious about their dream and changing views about welfare.

Here are the main portions of that column:

“If those people had any gumption, they’d get out and work, and we wouldn’t have so much welfare.”

“There’s plenty of jobs for those who really want to work.”

“That’s the trouble with people today, they'd rather get something for nothing. We ought to make them go out and get a job.”

“There’s opportunity for everyone in this country. The trouble is some people are just too lazy to go out and look for it.”

These familiar words came from men who had made their way successfully in life, mainly through hard work. They are still working hard, for at their level there is no such thing as time and a half for overtime.

Their expressions of disgust with the welfare system, and with people who make a living of it, were not new. They are the thoughts of many hard working people, including those who had not attained as high a station as these men, but who will pay taxes to support the welfare system.

“In this country, there is no excuse for anyone not getting a job--if they really want to work.” Look at the thousands of immigrants who came here without money and worked hard--nobody gave them welfare.

“So did the early pioneers--they weren’t afraid to work.”

There followed a review of the many who had started with nothing, and through their own hard work and initiative had built empires --or at least sizeable enterprises or had achieved a high place in history—Henry Ford, Herbert Hoover, Walter Knott, Albert Einstein, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Booker T. Washington, Joseph Pulitzer, Abraham Lincoln, Henry Kaiser, to name only a few.

They represent the Horatio Alger story in its greatest glory. They are lasting proof that the kid with parents of little means, or even an orphan, need not be relegated to the ranks of the poor in the United States. He can achieve whatever level his own desire and drive dictate. This is the American dream, and one we cherish, and hope to pass on to our children.

But what about those people in our country who don’t know about the American dream?

Does this sound farfetched?

It isn’t. There are large portions of our population who never heard of it. Or if they have, they have nothing to relate it to. With some of them their parents were not only poor, but had no moral strength. Perhaps they came from a hill society where bootlegging was a way of life, or an East Side gang where the symbol of success was a connection with the Mafia. (Indeed,  many a poor boy climbed his way to riches in the fashion of the American dream, but in the halls of organized crime.)

Maybe the color of their skin has closed the doors against them. Or a childhood accident or untreated illness has made employment impossible--at least in the eyes of the employer.

Or more simply, maybe no one told them about this American dream--there were no relatives who wrote home about it, or school books that could be easily interpreted. Maybe even the teachers discouraged it by neglect or by casting doubt about some of the ingredients in that dream.

On top of this we have run out of land frontiers, we encumber our youth with child labor laws, we make employers afraid to put them to work. 

We have done some funny things with the rewards, too. We make it expensive to get off welfare. We close our neighborhoods to people who  don’t fit our pattern. And we continue to stereotype people and judge them as a group, and not as individuals.

I am a great believer in the American dream. To me it has produced a great country and the best way of life yet known to man. But the dream is only as good as the number and variety of Americans who share it. And those who believe in it have a mandate to convince others that it is true. This requires education and salesmanship and setting good examples. All are hard tasks, often shunned by those who enjoy the dream the most. But this is the only way we can make believers of those who need the dream the most.

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