State of the Union: From American Dream to American Average

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama stated that "[i]t is our generation's reignite the true engine of America's economic growth - a rising, thriving middle class." For many of us, that idea seems reasonable.

The President told us that we will not be able to promote the fortunes of that middle class without asking "more from the wealthiest and most powerful." His address continually targeted the "well-off and well-connected" and the "billionaires with high-powered accountants" who are apparently taking advantage of everyone else.

Based on my family's income and makeup, President Obama would probably place us squarely in his utopian middle class. Utility bills, a mortgage, putting food on the table and trying to save enough money for my boys to have an easier time paying for college are just some of the challenges that my family, and many Americans like us, face regularly.

As the President spoke, I began to question his ideas about the "rising" of the middle class. In fact, I developed the impression that President Obama may be fine with the middle class staying right where it is. He said, "we need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for all who are willing to climb them." But what about those of us living in the middle class? What do our dreams and aspirations look like from the President's perspective?

The President noted, "we have to make sure that America remains a place where everyone who's willing to work hard has the chance to get ahead." But that seems to mean that somebody in the middle class who works hard and improves his or her economic situation could find themselves in the upper class, attacked by none other than the President himself.

Listening to the State of the Union, I could not escape the idea that the President is offering to replace the American Dream with the American Average. The President plans to use government to move the lower-income earners up and the higher-income earners down because he truly believes that more-equal outcomes are superior to the uncertain results of opportunity, aspiration, and earned success.

As a parent, I want my boys to grow to be men who are willing to work hard, to take a chance turning a dream into a reality, and I want them to do so with integrity and a sense of personal responsibility for the outcomes. I hope they have the ability to give to those in need, to support their churches and communities, and to do so because of the quality of their character rather than government compulsion. At the same time, I do not want government programs designed to limit economic failure to come at the cost of my children being able to work their way towards success.

President Obama's American Average is not merely a problem for the upper income-earners he villianizes to score political points. It is a problem for each of us who reject the notion that others, and particularly governments, define the bounds of our aspirations. Our nation has always celebrated success, especially for those who worked hard and persevered through adversity. Why should middle and lower-income Americans have their dreams capped at the middle class? Why punish economic success?

The President won the ability to cast his vision for our nation, and he did so with his second State of the Union. As President Obama seeks the political clout to fulfill his dream for America, many of us are left wondering if our dreams are nothing more than wishful thinking.

Cameron Smith is Policy Director and General Counsel for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.