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American Dream, Twisting

A political solicitation from the Democrats that I just got reads, “We have to do everything we can to make sure that [the] opportunity to pursue the American dream is still possible today.” The 2012 Republican platform highlighted its program for “Restoring the American Dream.” “The American Dream” seems often under threat and just out of grasp.

(Those three words, by the way, emerged as a catchphrase only in the 1930s. Now, the Library of Congress lists 900 book titles using it, the first published in 1934, Religion and the American Dream, and the last, scheduled for 2014, Between Islam and the American Dream.)

Mark Rank, Thomas A. Hirschl, and Kirk A. Foster have a book coming out next spring, Chasing the American Dream: Understanding What Shapes Our Fortunes, which helps clarify what average Americans hear when they hear the words, “The American Dream.” The book also helps clarify why so many Americans feel that the dream is drifting out of reach. Whether Americans attain that dream, Rank and colleagues say, is increasingly subject to — borrowing from Bob Dylan — a “simple twist of fate.” And finally, the forthcoming book may also help clarify why Americans are not politically mobilized to save that Dream.

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