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The American Dream Lives

July 8, 2009
Traer Star-Clipper


Senator Tom Harkin

The American Dream Lives

By Senator Tom Harkin

On the wall of my Washington Senate office, I have two simple framed items. One is a postcard dated July 19, 1939, inviting my unemployed coalminer father to report for work with FDR's Works Progress Administration. The other is a picture of dirt-floor house where my mother was raised in Slovenia, before she immigrated to America.

My siblings and I were brought up in very modest circumstances in Cumming, Iowa. But, as we became adults, we were each able to realize a piece of the American Dream. Sure, we all worked hard. But, let's be honest, the real key to our success was the fact that we were born in America, a land of opportunity, prosperity, and upward mobility even for kids raised poor.

On July 4 and every other day, for that matter I am deeply grateful for the opportunities I have been given as an American. I benefited from Iowa's excellent public schools. I was able to receive advanced training in the Navy. I attended an excellent public university, Iowa State, with the help of low-interest loans under the G.I. Bill. In other words, I was the beneficiary of an extraordinary ladder of opportunity.

And notice I said a ladder of opportunity. I didn't say an escalator. Americans don't believe in a free ride. We believe in people pulling themselves up by their own hard work and struggle and determination. After all, that's also part of the American Dream.

The ladder of opportunity has many rungs. It starts at an early age, with programs like Head Start. It means good public schools for every child; access to quality, affordable public universities and community colleges; and student grants and loans. It means small-business loans, job training programs, and affordable public transportation to help people get to work.

I believe that it is a cardinal responsibility of government to ensure that this ladder of opportunity stays firmly in place for each new generation of Americans. It is a great investment in our people. It is also the key to a vibrant economy and a healthy democracy.

So, this Independence Day, as we celebrate our freedoms, let's also celebrate America's success in providing amazing opportunities for hundreds of millions of people. And let's recommit ourselves to strengthening the ladder of opportunity that gives everyone a shot at the American Dream.



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