Budowsky: A bipartisan American Dream summit
Ernest Hemingway advised authors to write one true sentence.
One profoundly true sentence was spoken by Ford Foundation President Darren Walker on “60 Minutes” on Easter Sunday. Emphasizing that poverty and economic inequality are not just a problem for minorities, Walker said “we have for the first time in America a generation of downwardly mobile white people. That has huge implications for our politics.”
Walker is right. While economic inequality has grown dramatically in recent decades, the problem of downward mobility of white people as well as minorities, has also been made dramatically worse by the devastating consequences of COVID-19.
Whites as well as minorities have been killed by the virus, had their small businesses destroyed or gravely harmed, lost their jobs, and had their health care expenses skyrocket because of the virus.
The politics of this gives Democrats the opportunity to govern and campaign like President Kennedy, championing an economy in which the rising tide lifts all boats of people of all races and backgrounds. It gives Republicans the opportunity to demonstrate they care about all workers and citizens, minorities as well as whites.
Most important at a time when many Americans want our politics to be more civil and less ugly, and yearn for some bipartisanship from our leaders, and often believe that our systems of government and capitalism do not reflect the interests of all of our people, the prospect of reversing the downward mobility of so many Americans, from so many backgrounds, offers an extraordinary opportunity to lift the lives and spirit of Americans.
I propose our leaders convene a national summit meeting to develop plans that will revitalize the American Dream and end the downward mobility for Americans of all races and backgrounds.
Such an American Dream summit could be hosted by President Biden, possibly in tandem with a prominent Republican such as former President George W. Bush.
It would bring together business leaders, labor leaders, leaders of our great foundations, religious leaders representing the diversity of faiths, prominent economists, leading educators and student leaders.
The purpose of this American Dream summit would be to develop ideas that transcend politics and ideology and appeal to leading Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, business leaders who believe in enlightened self-interest and religious leaders who believe that ending downward mobility, and lifting the lives of all people, embodies leading values of the great faiths.
When I exchanged emails and spoke with Darren Walker, I asked him what guiding principles describe the work he is doing at the Ford Foundation and the projects and ideas he has advanced. Walker replied he would like to develop “a love letter to America” that would “let America be America” and create a new era of “hope, opportunity and optimism.”
Walker’s vision inspired this column. As America is within reach of defeating COVID-19, workers have begun coming back to work and companies will profit from the great economic recovery that has begun. Many corporate leaders are demonstrating a renewed spirit of civic engagement and would respond with what Walker calls a generosity coupled with justice.
Shouldn’t every young person in America, from rural West Virginia to urban Detroit, be empowered with computer literacy and a basic computer or tablet to succeed in their jobs and careers? I believe leaders of technology companies would welcome this opportunity to do good for America and create new customers for their companies!
Leading entertainers could begin a visionary series of benefit concerts to help end the downward mobility of our people, and along with President Biden, civic minded Republicans and the many leaders I cite here, inaugurate a new era of patriotic philanthropy and generosity for justice.
An American Dream summit can create a fountain of ideas and projects, an oasis of patriotism and progress, and a civic spirit of hope and goodwill based on common interests of our people, enlightened self-interests of our business leaders, vision from our political leaders, and the shared spiritual aspirations of our leaders of faith.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the House of Representatives.