It is popular for parents nowadays to tell a child, “You can be anything you want to be.” It’s one of those lines that resonates with the human spirit. It especially sounds great in a movie, where the protagonists overcome all obstacles and everything turns out well in the end. Unfortunately, real life isn’t a movie.
When I was a boy, I loved sports. I played several sports and read many sports stories, including the history of Abe Sapperstein and the Harlem Globetrotters. For a few days I dreamed of playing basketball for that famous team of black superstars – formed at a time when regular professional sports leagues were closed off to African-Americans, no matter how talented.
Of course, my dream was absurd – not just because I was the wrong ethnicity, but because I lacked the physical skills and stature. I stood about 5’9” and had nowhere near the athletic talent needed to play at that level. Had I worked day and night for years, I could never have developed such talent. I played a little basketball as a teen, but there was no possible way it could happen. Ditto for playing pro baseball, or becoming Einstein II, or various other impossible things. Was that fair? Maybe not, but I came from a family of short, fat Welshmen. We had formidable abilities, but dunking a basketball wasn’t one of them. And only Einstein could be Einstein.
Fortunately, I was raised in a way that helped me not to brood over aspirations that were truly out of reach. Others were less fortunate in that respect. Some personal acquaintances and friends wasted a great deal of their lives chasing dreams that simply could not be – either due to personal limitations or family constraints or other factors. Nearly everyone has some life-aspiration that is beyond him, but it becomes a tragedy only when a life is wasted in a fruitless quest for something that’s impossible. I could mention specific cases, but there is no need. We all know of people who have done this.
I mention the Impossible Dream scenario because it applies to national as well as personal life. As a rule, Americans are a bold, optimistic and forward-looking people who believe nothing is beyond them as a country. We dream big and we attempt great things. Ronald Reagan’s famous line resonates with our national character: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”
But big ideas often come with big price-tags attached to them. And “visionary” kinds of people often ignore the price – or do hand-waving in calculating costs. How many times have we heard a political figure spouting off about some great social need or other (according to him): “A country this rich should be able to do A, B or C.” (Don’t we have unlimited resources? What is the problem here?)
It might have been the famous economist Walter Williams who suggested that if we really want to dream big we should simply make everyone a millionaire. We could do this, of course, by printing money, but what would those dollars be worth? In fact, this has already been done in Zimbabwe, where the $100 trillion-dollar note is literally not worth the paper it is printed on. Tourists snap them up as souvenirs. Dreams always come with a cost. Sometimes it is too steep – even for Americans.
We have had some recent experience with the melancholy reality of impossible dreams, having elected an old-fashioned socialist (masquerading as a “bold visionary”) named Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008. He is now completing the final days of the first half of his term. Mr. Obama’s campaign rallying cry was “Yes, We Can!” and his mantra was “Hope and Change we Can Believe In.” A sub-mantra was “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” A standard line in his stump speech was the claim that we were just a few days away “from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”
So inspiring were his deportment and his delivery of these phrases (the meaning of which was cleverly obscured) that voters turned out in record numbers to sweep him into office in a landslide of optimism, joy, good feeling, and – how else to say it? – ecstasy. Pundits spoke of him being not only the smartest man in the country, but possibly the smartest man in the world – maybe the smartest man who ever lived. One TV talking head said a thrill ran up his leg when he heard Mr. Obama speaking. Another said Mr. Obama was above everything – almost like “God.” And some of us were saying (as Mallard Fillmore might say), “I was upchuck…”
The public – especially Big Media and academic elites – had great expectations of what President Obama would accomplish. Indeed, Mr. Obama did not discourage such expectations when he spoke of the rise of the seas ceasing from the moment of his election. Within days of his inauguration he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Certainly the advent of world concord was at hand. Our enemies would join hands in wonderful choruses of “Kum Ba Ya,” as they sat round the table of international brotherhood. Surely, all would be well with the Smartest Man in History leading the USA. What a glorious time to be alive!
Mr. Obama did actually accomplish some difficult things. These included nationalization of banks, takeover of two major automobile manufacturing companies, major bailouts of profligate local and state governments, spending hundreds of billions on “shovel-ready” projects that didn’t actually exist, and passage of a huge piece of legislation that will ultimately control all medical care in the nation – one-sixth of the economy.
Unfortunately, voters did not want these things. (Don't you just hate it when reality intrudes?) These actions were part of Mr. Obama’s dream of a socialized America. What voters did want – lower unemployment, a revitalized economy, a stabilized lending industry, a finish of the Middle East wars, and control of federal spending – he did not give them. Consequently, in November voters gave Mr. Obama’s party a “shellacking” (his word) of historic proportions. Republicans won control of the House of Representatives with a net gain of 63 seats, and reached near-parity in the Senate with a gain of 6 seats.
Mr. Obama has chosen to interpret the voters’ verdict as unhappiness about high unemployment levels (which he believes he “inherited” from George W. Bush). He rejects the notion that his agenda motivated this massive vote of “no confidence.”
He is entitled to his opinion, but I hold to an alternate view. I believe the public came to its senses after a kind of “near death experience” with Mr. Obama’s governance over the past two years. Suddenly we grew up – like a boy who realizes that his dream of a pro baseball career is not in the cards.
Millions of ordinary people who had never paid much attention to politics realized that the varlets, brigands and poltroons who had seized control were wrecking the country – not just some other guy’s stuff, but their stuff. Yes, it was “fundamental change,” as Mr. Obama had promised, but it was not really “change we can believe in.” At this writing, polls show that 71% of the people think the country is heading in the “wrong direction.”
Mr. Obama’s “dream” was just too impossible. It had become a nightmare that we wanted to wake up from. And morning had come.