If you care for polls — you know, untrained callers asking uninformed people what they think about unrelated topics — only 3% of us have a favorable view of John Edwards. The ancient Greeks would call this a classic tragedy. The high and mighty falling low because of their own character flaws. But then there’s Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” which is also considered a classic tragedy.
How so? Not only because Willy Loman falls, but because his fall represents the fall of an entire class of humanity. You’re going to be hearing a lot about this class. The Middle Class, who both presidential candidates claim to be its only savior in sight.
At one time — Willy and my time — America was not split 99:1. More like 20% at the top, 20% at the bottom, and the rest in that fabled Middle where Willy, my Father, and your Grandfather worked hard and respectably at jobs they tended to believe might someday turn into the American Dream. Unlike most other nations where the poor periodically revolted, here few people actually thought of themselves as “poor,” and therefore they could always feel they too had a chance at the Dream.
How Willy and America’s prospering post-WWII Middle Class faded from history has a lot to do with history; but also with the “flaws” inherent in their “dreams.” For generations the dream of making-it was kept alive by the many second-chances built into our national narrative. After all, we’ve been a second-chance country personified in each new wave of dreaming immigrants. Also a hundred years of wide open Western frontier continued to lure us with second-chances [the West’s favorite game of draw poker made the point every time a player could draw another three cards]. And then there’s been Hollywood’s grand second-chance movie classics from Louis B. Mayer and Frank Capra [“It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Gone With The Wind” leading the parade].
But once the waves of immigrants thinned, and the Western frontier came to an end at the Pacific, and the rich got richer while the poor got children….well, the dream shrunk and the number of dreamers like Willy did too. All of which has slowly but inexorably brought us to the social tensions of today’s 99:1. And to the tragic fall of dreamers from Bernie Madoff to John Edwards.
If there is to be a new and better American Dream for the Middle Class to dream, dreamers can now sort out the dreams of two candidates whose own dreams have been realized in very different ways. Which reminds me how Uncle Harry always cautioned me: “Kid, the biggest problems of life can’t be solved; they can only be outgrown!”
Tick, tick, tick….
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