The American Dream has become a muddled enterprise. Tossed around in campaign rhetoric, some label it a political notion. Others connect it to financial prosperity and the equation of education plus job plus home-ownership. On a gaggle of television shows this summer, star-blinded aspirants see the dream as a forum for fame, a way to tap dance through the hurricane.
Still others declare it so confused it may be dead. At the recent Aspen Ideas Institute, on a panel with vigorous debate about the American dream, Arianna Huffington weighed in saying, "I would say the American Dream has become a game of chance."
I say the dream is now a sum of these many parts: politics, economics, escapism and skepticism.
Lately the banter about the American dream feels current and constant, from websites to reality shows, house meetings to home surveys. Perhaps it is mere distraction, a return to the ethereal, a temporary escape from bad news of scandals, joblessness, foreclosures, war, budget cuts, debt ceilings and murder trials. It just feels right to transcend the earthly and buy into the universal dreams that keep many of us afloat.
In the next few weeks, the progressive political site, MoveOn.org is cheerleading Americans into hosting their own American Dream house meetings to "launch a grassroots agenda-creation process." So far more than 1,500 hosts have signed on for such homegrown events in scores of communities of all sizes across the country.
On the commercial front, an insurance company is branding the American dream and hoping to turn believers into policy holders. American Family Mutual Insurance recently launched www.longliveourdreams.com, backed by full-page newspaper ads in major daily American newspapers and a social media campaign designed to collect the tweets and Facebook comments of those who ponder the viability of the American dream.
The company claims it will release results of the future of the American dream in mid-July; so far, 50 percent of Americans who have cast a vote on the site say they believe the dream is still alive.
And then there is the weekly TV version of dreaming.
Recently on America's Got Talent, a pole dancer with skin sprayed blue cried that she wants to make her parents proud. Each week this summer, millions weep, applaud, hiss, moan and screech for the residents of Minneapolis, Atlanta, Nashville, any and every town as they muster up the gumption to audition and plead for a moment in the sun, or a chance to hitch their wagons to a fleeting star.
If you watched The Voice this season, a singing industry search engine launching a multi-city national tour of the top finalists from the end of July into August, you would gather that the fulfillment of American dreams can arrive with the discovery of natural talent. Or the dream can skew younger in the form of the one-week contrived creation of a teeny bopper sensation on Good Morning America's gimmicky "Pop Star" series.
True, it is not new and uniquely American to be hopeful. The wish for stardom, meaningful employment, home ownership and political leadership that represents your best interests is also not uniquely American, or new.
I have an idea to bring all these disparate factions together.
What I suggest is that all the talk about American dreaming of political change and prosperity merge with the TV brand of dream fulfillment, tempered by honest trepidation. The next biggest show can center on massive job tryouts city by city with real employers holding live career fairs. No elitist Celebrity Apprentice, this show would attract ordinary job candidates to audition for makeovers by wardrobe consultants, resume experts and interview coaches.
The season grand finale of this imaginary show culminates in solid job offers to the best candidates -- also voted for live online and on Twitter and Facebook -- complete with fair wages, health benefits and vacation pay. And to properly add a dose of healthy cynicism, a business journalist host could comment on the viability of each candidate maintaining a comfortable lifestyle with that newly endowed position.
Call it The American Dream: Jobs Edition, and I bet it would be the biggest hit of the decade, a real American dream come true.