In former President Bill Clinton's 21st-century rendering of the American Dream presented at the 2012 Democratic Convention, prosperity comes by means of a nation of shared opportunities, shared responsibilities, shared prosperity, a shared sense of community.
That's the Democratic narrative.
Since the Civil Rights era, the essential question underlying Democratic Party governance has been the following: Is it the party of America and, by implication, that broad-based constituency we refer to as the middle class, or is it the party of the disenfranchised?
The catastrophe of President Barack Obama's administration is that he has forced the locus of the Democratic Party from the center to the far left. In doing so, he has shifted the party's focus from the universal claims of a common American identity and pursuit of economic opportunity to multicultural grievances and identity politics. This perspective demands unending governmental resources funneled to the welfare state to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged without the prospect that either their lives will be significantly improved or that they will be weaned off assistance to become America's leaders and innovators of the new economy.
The jobs stimulus program has failed. Should we fund another round, it too will fail because our economic ecosystem today is not that of the Great Depression. We are no longer a manufacturing economy that provides abundant opportunities for the unskilled and the semiskilled.
Those jobs have, for all intents and purposes, gone offshore, never to return. Thus, reporters Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher suggest that Steve Jobs told the president last year -- in response to Obama's question of how to bring Apple's manufacturing home --Those jobs aren't coming back.
The new marketplace is a global knowledge-driven economy requiring not only a college education but also increasingly technological know-how, including computer science, engineering, and mathematics. Today, many Americans struggle to read and count. Over 50 percent of women under 30 now give birth to children outside of marriage. Who of these single mothers will have the time, resources, and commitment necessary to ensure their children obtain the demanding educational and technological credentials necessary to compete in the new economy? The answer, painfully, is almost no one.
Nevertheless, in Obamaland, the answer to all persistent social woes is governmental assistance. This despite the fact that the poverty level has remained essentially unchanged since Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty and the current Obama administration (respectively, slightly below 15 percent and 15.1 percent).
The sad truth is that in our entitlement society today Americans increasingly believe that the government should meet all their essential needs while assuming that individual personal responsibility should be limited to discretionary consumer spending.
If Mitt Romney, Ann, their five sons, their wives, and their grandchildren seem, in Bill Clinton's words, to inhabit an alternative universe, one must ask why? To many dysfunctional Americans living broken lives it must seem as if the Romney clan has been transported from the 1950s. To them, the Romney family evokes a Leave It to Beaver specter of hard-working (white) adults raising responsible children who live in a squeaky-clean suburban America. Be that as it may. Romney's family is filled with functional adults, all of whom are married, pursue meaningful careers, and nearly all are now raising children of their own. Romney's family instills the values of hard work and excellence with parents committed to ensuring that their children toe the mark. The result is family success, financial success, and, yes, American success.
As our nation struggles painfully to see whether it still has the fortitude, talent, and resolute commitment to remain a superpower committed not only to our continued prosperity but also our pursuit of democracy and freedom throughout the world, the question remains: Does the responsibility of living in America today rest with the government or us?
We have come to expect that the government meet many, if not all, our needs. The painful lesson of the 21st century suggests that these needs threaten to become infinite while the resources of government remain stubbornly finite. Our future success depends on reconciling our voracious appetites with our ethical responsibilities.
Except, of course, if you inhabit Obamaland where, in Mitt Romney's words, President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet.
If you're convinced Obama will lead us to the Promised Land, vote for him. But before doing so, read Mitt Romney's book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. Then, ask yourself whether it's worth ending our 236-year-old experiment in American exceptionalism in favor of multicultural grievances and identity politics.
That's when you'll know who deserves your vote.
Dr. Diana E. Sheets, an iFoundry Fellow and Research Scholar at the University of Illinois, writes literary criticism, political commentary, and fiction. Much of it can be read on her website, www.LiteraryGulag.com.