Meet the Press   |  August 25, 2013

Strengthening America: How we move forward

A Meet the Press roundtable discusses the 'American dream,' how that term has evolved over the years and the availability of such an ideal in today's world.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> looking back 50 years since the i have a dream speech. we wanted to have a broader conversation of the broader american dream , the state of that dream today. the president took this on when he was speaking about college education last week. here's a portion of what he said.

>> times have been tough because wages and incomes for everybody have not been going up. everybody's pretty anxious about what's happening in their lives and what might happen for their kids. and so they get worried that, well, if we're helping people in poverty, that must be hurting me somehow.

>> the zero-sum aspect of our politics. the big question is what is the state of american dream today?

>> it's become harder. i want to pick up on what cory booker said earlier, the phrase the conspiracy of love. we talk a lot about jobs and wages and all the economic policies we do well here in washington, but inequalities show up phenomenally early, the age of 2 or 3. getting the economic pieces right, it's also right to get policies and have fam sis with secure attachments, constant discipline, love, large vocabula vocabularies, lack of stress and dysfunction in the home. those are the things that leave permanent scars and make it impossible for kids to graduate from high school . we have a firm argument on economic policies . we're not good at talking about the word flov washington. if you use that word in a congressional hearing they look at you like you're oprah. but that is what we need to do.

>> we know, sheryl, that people around the world still want to come live in america . this is a country of enormous wealth and influence and opportunity. still today for all the tough stuff, but is the american dream still what it has always been?

>> look, the american dream is still available but for the well educated. so a couple of doctors coming from china or india, you know, in the middle class , they can come here and they can live the american dream . but for an inner city single mom who lives in a bad neighborhood with bad schools, that's a challenge. and that's the problem right now. so the civil rights scandal isn't jim crow laws . it's actually that a poor minority kid living in inner city chicago, you know, he has nowhere to go, whereas the, you know, rich white kid living in the suburbs with first-rate schools, you know, he's got everything. and education is the escalator out of poverty, but unfortunately that escalator is broken for kids who need it most.

>> what the president was speaking of, doris, is this idea that there's huge inequality in the country in terms of median income . we have a chart here. this isn't purely an economic discussion, but this is one of those data points that really illustrates the point. you look at the bottom 10%, it's like a straight line. it's not going up. for the top 5% it's steadily progressed as you look back to 1963 . i don't have to tell you, you look at that chasm among women, also horrible 50 years later, and the feeling that there's not as much opportunity to move out of that state of affairs .

>> i mean, the fact that studies are show noug that people born in poverty are likely to be tracked in poverty belies the whole idea of what america was founded on, the idea that if you come here, you use our talents, you work hard, you'll have a more generous life for you and your children. we have to make a national commitment again. i think the lesson of the civil rights march, there must have been doubt that you could change an entire system of segregation, but they overcame that doubt. we now have to overcome the doubt that we can change poverty. there was a national commitment to poverty under lbj. he had a multipronged approach. he had model cities, work-studies, job corps , education. the war in vietnam cut it short. there were some flaws in it. he once said we're going to crawl, walk, and run, we'll get this thing. we need to recommit to that. it's not a zero-sum game. poverty for us as a clasless supposed society one of the scourges on our system.

>> reverend, is that a blind spot for this president that he is focused maybe too much on the middle class , not large on poverty?

>> i think it's a blind spot on the congress. when you can't pass a jobs bill, when you can't deal with any of the economic inequality that the president has addressed and talked about, what we are really seeing in this present congress is they are trying to revoke any remnants of the great society that came out of the '60s with lyndon johnson . we cut head start this week. we are retreating on the very things young people need to step out of poverty. so you can't in one hand say that we want to see young people advance and have one america, but we're going to take away the things that could bring us there, and i think the other part of that is that we've got the deal with the american dream must always correspond with people being able to have the individual dreams aligned with -- so a dream for an immigrant or a dream for a woman or a dream for a gay. all of that must not be encompassed in the american dream .