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Because U.S. has not abandoned its ideals, American dream thrives

Posted: Thursday, May 17, 2001

The debate over education. Concern about the state of the economy. Discussion of the respective roles of government and religion in the administration of charity. Our ongoing push into space. What do all these things, the stuff of today's headlines, have in common? They are all part of the American dream -- echoes, well over 200 years later, of the shot heard 'round the world.

The American dream. Three words that roll off our tongues readily and frequently. But we less often take the time to clarify, even to ourselves, just what they mean. In the great cliche of life in this country of such great bounty and opportunity, some of us tend to "take it for granted." When we do so, though, we rob ourselves of the chance to see how our lives still move with the ideas that inspired the great American experiment.

It has been said before, but it is worth repeating, that the United States was and is truly a new thing upon this Earth. We do not trace our origins through the mists of time to some half-remembered battle fought by legendary kings. We can fix our founding in a moment -- that point on July 4, 1776, when inked quill met the Declaration of Independence. This is what we remember, first and foremost -- that original expression of freedom, rather than the day it was ultimately won. We celebrate the Fourth of July, not the 19th of October, 1781, when British General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.

We are a nation founded on ideas, and we remain a nation of idealists. And so much of what we hold dear today has its roots in the bedrock idea of freedom. The founders wrote and spoke passionately, for example, about a democracy's need for an educated citizenry. This, and our recognition that education opens the doors of opportunity, is what the education debate is still about.

From the beginning, America was a place where the circumstances of one's birth no longer dictated automatically one's future station in life; we remain, need it be said, a nation of strivers, to the degree that the Horatio Alger "rags to riches" story is seen by many as synonymous with the American dream. We are also a generous people who believe strongly in freedom from want. We are heirs to the spirit of giving that sewed a bumper crop of charitable organizations in the wake of the Revolution. We are a nation born in the spirit of discovery and relentless trailblazing -- and so we continue our push to the frontier of space.

We might not always take the time to consider all this, to see how all the tributaries of the American dream flow into a mighty river. But we feel it, strongly. I have tried, in the past couple of years and in a lifetime's fascination with the American dream, to discover how Americans from all walks of life remain connected to this nation's original ideals.

What I have found is that the American dream is still alive and well and, indeed, thriving. It might be in better shape now than ever because of the hard work we have done to bring the American reality into greater alignment with the ideals we have professed from the beginning.

We breathe life into it daily, with each new arrival to these shores, with every act of service to country and fellow citizen, with every step we take to better ourselves and our lot, even with each peaceful protest lodged against government policies -- because here, in this country, we have liberty, we have opportunity. We, the people.

Dan Rather works for CBS News.

BYLINE1:dan rather

HEAD:Because U.S. has not abandoned its ideals, American dream thrives

The debate over education. Concern about the state of the economy. Discussion of the respective roles of government and religion in the administration of charity. Our ongoing push into space. What do all these things, the stuff of today's headlines, have in common? They are all part of the American dream -- echoes, well over 200 years later, of the shot heard 'round the world.

The American dream. Three words that roll off our tongues readily and frequently. But we less often take the time to clarify, even to ourselves, just what they mean. In the great cliche of life in this country of such great bounty and opportunity, some of us tend to "take it for granted." When we do so, though, we rob ourselves of the chance to see how our lives still move with the ideas that inspired the great American experiment.

It has been said before, but it is worth repeating, that the United States was and is truly a new thing upon this Earth. We do not trace our origins through the mists of time to some half-remembered battle fought by legendary kings. We can fix our founding in a moment -- that point on July 4, 1776, when inked quill met the Declaration of Independence. This is what we remember, first and foremost -- that original expression of freedom, rather than the day it was ultimately won. We celebrate the Fourth of July, not the 19th of October, 1781, when British General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.

We are a nation founded on ideas, and we remain a nation of idealists. And so much of what we hold dear today has its roots in the bedrock idea of freedom. The founders wrote and spoke passionately, for example, about a democracy's need for an educated citizenry. This, and our recognition that education opens the doors of opportunity, is what the education debate is still about.

From the beginning, America was a place where the circumstances of one's birth no longer dictated automatically one's future station in life; we remain, need it be said, a nation of strivers, to the degree that the Horatio Alger "rags to riches" story is seen by many as synonymous with the American dream. We are also a generous people who believe strongly in freedom from want. We are heirs to the spirit of giving that sewed a bumper crop of charitable organizations in the wake of the Revolution. We are a nation born in the spirit of discovery and relentless trailblazing -- and so we continue our push to the frontier of space.

We might not always take the time to consider all this, to see how all the tributaries of the American dream flow into a mighty river. But we feel it, strongly. I have tried, in the past couple of years and in a lifetime's fascination with the American dream, to discover how Americans from all walks of life remain connected to this nation's original ideals.

What I have found is that the American dream is still alive and well and, indeed, thriving. It might be in better shape now than ever because of the hard work we have done to bring the American reality into greater alignment with the ideals we have professed from the beginning.

We breathe life into it daily, with each new arrival to these shores, with every act of service to country and fellow citizen, with every step we take to better ourselves and our lot, even with each peaceful protest lodged against government policies -- because here, in this country, we have liberty, we have opportunity. We, the people.

Dan Rather works for CBS News.



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