the American dream is an impressive ideology and has lured people to America and moved them around within it, and it has kept them striving in horrible conditions against impossible odds for centuries. Most Americans celebrate it unthinkingly, along with apple pie and motherhood; criticism typically is limited to imperfections in its application. But like apple pie and motherhood, the American dream turns out upon closer examination to be less than perfect. President Clinton has captured the bundle of shared, even unconsciously presumed, tenets about achieving success that make up the ideology of the American dream. Those tenets answer the questions: Who may pursue the American dream In what does the pursuit consist How does one successfully pursue the dream Why is the pursuit worthy of our deepest commitment Although describing each tenet in detail is beyond the scope of this essay, we have to look at the flaws intrinsic to the dream for a better understanding of it's validity and applicability in modern contemporary America.
The first tenet, that everyone can participate equally and can always start over, is troubling to the degree that it is not true because for most of American history, women of any race and men who were Native American, Asian, black, or poor were barred from all but a narrow range of "electable futures. This flaw has implications beyond the evident ones of racism and sexism. White men, especially European immigrants able to ride the wave of the Industrial Revolution to comfort or prosperity, are the epitomizng demonstration of America as the bountiful state of nature. Those who do not fit the model disappear from the collective self-portrait. Thus the irony is doubled: not only has the ideal of universal participation been denied to most Americans, but also the very fact of its denial as it been denied in our national self-image. This double irony creates deep misunderstandings and correspondingly deep political tensions like the fact that whites increasingly believe that racial discrimination slight and declining, and blacks increasingly believe the opposite. For example, surveys show that more women than men believe that women are discriminated against in employment and wages, in "being able to combine family and work," and in their overall chance to pursue their dreams.
The flaws of the second tenet of the American dream, the reasonable anticipation of success, stem from the close link between anticipation and expectation. That link presents little problem so long as there are enough resources and opportunities that everyone has a reasonable chance of having some expectations met. In short, the right to aspire to success works as an ideological substitute for a guarantee of success only if it begins to approach it.
Failure is made more harsh by the third premise of the American dream - the belief that success results from actions and traits under one's own control. Logically, it does not follow that if success results from individual volition, then failure results from lack of volition. All one needs in order to see the logical flaw here is the distinction between necessary and sufficient.
The Fourth tenet states that failure is unseemly because it challenges the blurring between anticipation and promise that is the emotional heart of the American