Among the first words offered up by Mrs. Clinton last Thursday in Reno were the following: “I believe that in America, if you can dream it, you should be able to build it.” Perhaps there were some who, on hearing this, found themselves moved by a warm and fuzzy hopeful feeling. Others may have thought little or nothing of the words, taking them as merely an example of the sort of platitudinous remarks with which political candidates customarily begin their speeches. As for ourselves, let us be more charitable to Mrs. Clinton. Let us reflect on these words of hers on the supposition that she chose them carefully and deliberately.
Mrs. Clinton’s words imply that there is—for the time being, at least—no perfect correspondence between what Americans “can dream” and what they are in fact “able to build.” It further implies that this lack of perfect correspondence is a problem, and for that matter, that it is a specifically political problem. That we do find ourselves better able to “dream” than to “build” whatever we may chance to dream seems true enough. But is this really a problem that both admits of and demands any political solution? Is it really a problem at all? Certainly it is a disappointing thing for any of us to “let go,” or to acknowledge the impossibility, of a long-cherished dream. And perhaps we have at some time or other longed for a genie through whose powers we could “build” three of our otherwise unbuildable dreams. But disappointment in the face of certain facts of life is a good thing for us to feel; it serves to reconcile us to the insurmountable limitations of our human life on planet earth. Young lovers may well feel deep disappointment as the pleasures of romance and courtship yield to the sometimes unpleasant work of marriage. Yet what sense would it make to say that anyone who dreamed of marriage being an unending honeymoon “should be able to build” a dream like this, or that we should elect as president the candidate who seems best able to help others build such dreams?
Dreams know no limits. They should not be confused or equated with possibilities, which—again, as far as we human beings here on planet earth are concerned—are always and inevitably limited. It should therefore come as no surprise that there is no perfect correspondence between what each of us “can dream” and what each of us is “able to build.” How could there be? Nothing could stop a man from dreaming of an upside-down Empire State Building; surely, though, it does not follow from this that there must be some political means by which Mrs. Clinton could help him build it.
Now this is not to say that Mrs. Clinton would not try to help “build” dreams. On the contrary, she sounds determined to provide this help, which raises the question of just how she would go about so doing. And it would hardly be outrageous, I think, to suppose she would collect dream-building funds for some Americans, from other Americans—specifically, from ordinary, decent, law-abiding, tax-paying middle-class Americans too sober and too self-respecting to insist on any publicly funded fulfillment of their own dreams. Yes, the Americans who will foot Mrs. Clinton’s dream-building bill have learned lessons that the “millennials” whose favor the dream-building notion is presumably meant to curry have not learned and will not learn so long as candidates like Mrs. Clinton indulge and thus prolong their adolescence. Among these lessons are that some dreams are impossible; that other dreams, while possible, are not desirable; and that very few if any dreams may be subsidized by others’ livelihoods into reality with any justice.