President Barack Obama – On Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Success in America

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[David Blum]
Part of the American dream—even if you're poor, or lower-middle class—involves yearning for tangible things you can't afford. Were there things, when you were growing up, that you yearned for that you couldn't afford?

[President Barack Obama]
I think every kid has some fantasies about what they'd like to have. But I can't tell you how many people I meet in my generation who will say, "Looking back on it, we didn't have a lot, but we didn't feel poor." The reason was because the American dream involved some pretty basic stuff. A home you could call your own. A good job where you felt some security. A good education, and the ability to get a higher education if you wanted to pursue it. Health care you could count on. Retirement that you could count on. Those cornerstones of what it meant to be middle class were pretty universally held. People felt that if they worked hard they could get there. It was achievable. But I don't think people went around saying to themselves, "I need to have a 10,000 square-foot house."

If you look back on your childhood, or if I talk to my friends, all of us have that same impression when we go back home and we realize that the place where we were living was pretty small. These days people would say, "How did you live in a place that small?" Well it didn't feel that small at the time. It was secure. It was stable. We had a car. It wasn't a fancy car, but it got you around. Were there things that all of us might have liked to have? Sure. But partly, I think, there also has been a shift in culture. We weren't exposed to the things we didn't have in the same way that kids these days are. There was not that window into the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Kids weren't monitoring every day what Kim Kardashian was wearing, or where Kanye West was going on vacation, and thinking that somehow that was the mark of success.

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