Not long ago, Americans were vibrant, full of hopes and dreams. We told our children that if they stayed in school and worked hard, the world could be their oyster. Today, there has been a shift in our attitude toward life and the future. We talk about the American dream as if it were a distant memory. The "pursuit of happiness" has been replaced by the pursuit of mere survival.
There is no doubt that this national transformation began early in 2010. The jubilation surrounding Barack Obama's election and promise of "hope and change" disintegrated one year after his inauguration into disillusionment and fear. While there is no doubt that the country already was in a recession before Mr. Obama took office, the excitement he brought to the nation began to wane amid people's inability to keep their homes or find work. People simply began to feel helpless.
Fear and depression are powerful emotions. They also are contagious. We all know folks who have lost their homes or have been unemployed for years. We also are aware of many who are working jobs well below their skill level or who simply have dropped out of the workforce, giving up on finding a job. Their struggles are our struggles, and even though the majority of us still work, too many Americans experience sleepless nights -- fearing the loss of their job is imminent or their career has become a dead-end street. This is not a good way to live.
Shaping and fueling the negativity engulfing our nation is an out-of-touch media that refuses to expose harsh realities. The citizenry is bombarded by reports that everything is getting better. Unemployment is dwindling, and Judgment Day for the rich is fast approaching. Still, deep down we all know the truth, and denial only deepens our national depression.
Our nation's "creative" method of combating unemployment is to create a smaller workforce. The result is millions of folks giving up on finding a job. Also not mentioned is that we are becoming a part-time workforce. Between economic uncertainties, looming tax hikes and the cost increase in health insurance from full implementation of Obamacare in 2014, good full-time jobs are few and far between. These new realities do not bode well for a happy and prosperous citizenry.
Driving this outrage is a troubling disdain for success. The left in this country -- aided by the old-guard press -- is peddling the fallacy that all our economic woes are the result of the wealthy not paying their fair share of taxes. Financially successful people are vilified as the new enemy of the middle class. We were a happier people when as a nation we admired success and emulated the successful. Striving for something better was an equal-opportunity aspiration. The political right can't seem to overcome its crippling public relations deficiency and rekindle our national ethos. Merely surviving is not a way to live and certainly not the American way of life.
Those who disagree with my argument will ask why Mr. Obama was re-elected. The truth is that his re-election confirms this point: We are devolving into a nation dependent on government -- dependent on food stamps, unemployment benefits and a buffet of freebies. The ambition for success, for greatness, for personal achievement, is no longer part of our culture. On Election Day, millions of Americans voted for the food-stamp card in their wallet, not for the dream of acquiring an American Express Gold Card.
It doesn't have to be this way. For the sake of my children -- our children -- it had better change.
My family didn't come to the United States, escaping the Holocaust, in order to provide a mediocre existence for their children. This country wasn't founded on the ideals of government dependency, and the Civil War wasn't fought because freedom -- personal and economic -- was an afterthought.
In the wake of tragedy we are reminded this holiday season how precious our children truly are. We hug them longer and tell them more often than usual how much we love them. We have been reminded that our children are everything to us. Securing their health, happiness and prosperity should govern our lives. When we give up striving for the exceptional, we are giving up on our children because we no longer demand a better way of life for the next generation.
In 2013, let's renew our national commitment to a better life for our children. Let's reject mediocrity and embrace prosperity.
Paul Miller is a principal of Pauliegroup LLC, a Chicago-area new media and political consulting firm.