The People
No matter what your public policy interest, American Dream is brimming with real-world examples of the way real lives are affected by the issues that many of us only discuss in philosophical terms. From child care to domestic violence to drugs, hunger, and poverty rates, there’s something in this book for everyone. Click on the topics listed below to read passages from American Dream.

Angela Jobe
Kesha Jobe
Redd Jobe
Von Jobe
Jewell Reed
Opal Caples
Hattie Mae Crenshaw
Ken Thigpen
Michael Steinborn
Jason Turner
Bill Clinton
Newt Gingrich

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Angela Jobe

The month Bill Clinton announced that he was running for president, she stepped off a Greyhound bus in Milwaukee to start a new life. She was twenty-five years old and arrived from Chicago towing two large duffel bags and three young kids. Angie had a pretty milk-chocolate face and a fireplug build-her four-foot-eleven-inch frame carried 150 pounds-and the combination could make her look tender or tough, depending on her mood. She had never seen Milwaukee before and pronounced herself unimpressed. "Why they got all these old-ass houses!" she groused. "Where the brick at?" Irreverence was Angie's religion. She arrived in Milwaukee as she moved through the world, a short, stout fountain of exclamation points, half of them capping sentences that would peel paint from the bus station walls….

The hard face was real but also a mask. Her mother had worked two jobs to send her to parochial school, and though Angie tried to hide it, she still bore traces of the English student from Aquinas High. Lots of women came to Milwaukee looking for welfare checks. Not many then felt the need to start a poem about their efforts to discern God's will:

I'm tired
Of trying to understand
What God wants of me
(pp. 4-5)

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Kesha Jobe
At fourteen, Kesha was an open, oddly innocent girl, who alone among the kids still poured out her thoughts in letters to her dad. She also had a severe case of asthma, which compounded her problems in school. With only one functioning lung, anything from cold weather to a whiff of cologne could bring a disabling attack; it was the rare day that passed without one. Landing in Milwaukee, Kesha had responded with courage, and not just physically. Failing second grade, barely able to read, she had struggled uphill to a fourth-grade report card that had shimmered with As. Kesha "has great potential for success," her teacher had written home. But with her transition to middle school two years later (Angie's first off the rolls), Kesha's progress slowed.. (P. 187)
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Redd Jobe
Angie worried that with his streetwise airs he was trying to emulate Greg. She also worried he didn't have the mettle to pull it off. "Redd is as sweet as pie, but wanna be bad," she said. "Redd is a kitten. Redd is a baby....He's a ticking time bomb." Most of his teachers shared Angie's fears, and some just gave up on him. But at least one saw some promise, calling him "artistic," "thorough when you want to be," and praising his "sense of humor." Among the papers that survived in the bottom of his closet is a middle-school essay called "A Grimmer Mouse."
He has small pointed ears and a big round body....I found him in the woods crying in a box. I took him home and tried to feed him....
Redd suddenly stopped and looked up. Until then, he said, he hadn't realized that he had been writing about himself. "That's about my daddy," he said. "He wasn't here." (p. 316)
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Van Jobe

Von was afraid of the dogs; in that, as in most things, the brothers formed a study in contrasts. Athletic where Redd was sedentary, even-keeled where Redd was explosive, Von was the only one of Angie's kids diligent about school. "School's fun," he said. "You benefit more from going to school than not going." Every inner-city school's got a kid like Von, an unmined gem waiting for someone to discover his shine. The question was whether anyone would notice before the mudslide of living swept him away. Riding the school bus one day, Von made a crack about a classmate's hair. She taunted him back, Von looked away, and Redd rushed over and punched her. Redd got suspended, but Von was the one whom Angie whipped, for walking away. Don't ever punk out on your brother when he's fighting your fight! (p. 188)

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Jewell Reed

Since Angie and Greg were all but married, Jewell was her all but sister-in-law. She was also Angie's closest friend. On the outside, they formed a study in contrasts. While Angie groomed herself for durability, Jewell arrived in cover-girl style. She was a half foot taller, with a curl in her hair, perfect teeth, and art gallery nails; with a gleaming pair of tennis shoes, she could turn sweatpants into high couture. Still, there was nothing brittle about her beauty or soft behind her reserve. While Angie swore away her frustrations and cried after too many beers, Jewell treated pain as a weakness best locked inside. Jewell was a survivor, too. (p. 6)

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Opal Caples

Something about Opal had always set her apart. She was probably the smartest of Jewell's childhood friends and definitely the wildest. Expelled from not one but two public schools, Opal, unlike Angie and Jewell, went on to graduate and even did a semester of community college. While Jewell didn't spend much time mulling life beyond the ghetto, Opal worked worldly allusions into her conversation. Her husband was so stuck on himself "he thinks he's the Prince of Wales." When their mothers made them go job hunting as teens, Opal got all the offers. "I have a personality that attracts people to me-I do!" she said. "Lotta people tell me that." With education, experience, and a gift for making friends, Opal could leave a welfare office voted most likely to succeed. But there was something that neither her caseworkers nor cousins knew. Opal had been smoking cocaine. (p. 13)

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Hattie Mae Crenshaw

Barely sixty when I met her, Hattie Mae wasn't old. But she was old enough to remember chopping cotton to pay the plantation store. She settled into her story from a white-tiger love seat in Jewell's living room. Family history bores Jewell; she left the room to do her nails. Hattie Mae smiled as she began: "I growed up on Senator Jim Eastland's plantation in Doddsville, Mississippi. That's when black peoples was just beginning to come out of slavery." Patient with my puzzled looks, Hattie Mae talked on, pointing me toward welfare's forgotten prequel. (p. 18

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Ken Thigpen
Ken soon discovered he had the qualities a good drug dealer needs. He was smart, personable, and hardworking. He was savvy about marketing; anyone who brought him five clients got a round on the house. And since he didn't consume his product, he didn't burn up his profits. Plus, he was tough. Because of his ponytailed good looks, some people called him "Pretty Boy." But his attitude toward collecting debts brought another nickname, "Batman." "I used to beat them niggers' ass down with a baseball bat," he said. He figured a reason that he didn't have kids is that one of his victims returned and blew off one of his balls. By the time he arrived in Milwaukee, he had spent half his adult life behind bars. (p. 182)
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Michael Steinborn
A social worker! He couldn't believe he was a social worker! Six months earlier he was an unemployed jack of the building trades, drunk by noon and wondering how he and his pregnant girlfriend were going to get by. Now he was a "Financial and Employment Planner," dispensing career advice. He hated the grip of starched collars on his throat. He hated the new-carpet office smell. Above all, he hated feeling responsible for any part of ghetto life, just as he had as a kid collecting his father's rents… "I never wanted to be a sucker for a sob story," he said. Yet as a caseworker Michael was surrounded by sob stories, and just like his father he believed some of them. (P. 252)
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Jason Turner
Onto this stage rambled a curious sight: an affable, paunchy, middle-aged bureaucrat in a leaky old Mercedes-Benz, convinced that he could make work programs work even in the heart of the ghetto. Nothing about Jason Turner suggested a figure about to make welfare history. He tangled his syntax and chewed cheap cigars. His shirttails were so chronically untucked that Tommy Thompson privately nicknamed him "Scruffy." But a few months before Congress passed the new law, Turner seized control of the Milwaukee program and set off the first urban exodus. In doing so, he turned an obscure patch of Midwestern blight into a policy lab that would draw visitors from around the globe. Turner belongs to a welfare subgroup that confounds most stereotypes: the right-wing idealist. (p. 161)

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Bill Clinton

With his dodging and dashing, Clinton did himself a disservice. He left the impression he was merely playing a cynical game to win an election-an impression that still chafed him years later. "I was really steamed when everybody said, 'Oh, Bill Clinton just did this for the ninety-six election'!" he told me. "Hell, I didn't have to do this to win the election....I was going to win the election in ninety-six on the economy. I did it 'cause I thought it was right." Indeed, for all his technocratic renown, a surprising thing about Clinton's approach to welfare was that his policy preferences weren't all that strong. Block grants or entitlements, hard time limits or soft ones-he could argue it either way. The pledge to "end welfare" had let loose a storm, and Clinton was borne along like everyone else, albeit on waves of his own making.
Yet beneath the maddening evasions and elisions, he did have a more consistent vision and a less self-serving one-a vision of how welfare had poisoned the politics of poverty and race. Welfare cast poor people as shirkers. It discredited government. It aggravated the worst racial stereotypes. It left Democrats looking like the party of giveaways….. (p. 150-51)
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Newt Gingrich
On November 9, 1994, the country awoke to two words Democrats never dreamed they would hear: "Speaker Gingrich." Part emperor, part rock star, part talk-show host, he swept into town trailing spectacle and a dozen outlandish identities. He was the scorched-earth conservative who denounced his critics as "viciously hateful" and "totally sick." He was the wacky futurist who lunched with Alvin Toffler and mused about space aliens. He was a modern Moses, who delivered his flock from forty years in the minority wilderness. As he completed his rise from backbench bomb thrower to self-styled world leader, his triumph seemed absolute. Suddenly Gingrich, more than anyone else, had the power to define "ending welfare." It took Clinton seventeen months just to draft a plan; Gingrich, as leader of the Republican House, would write one and pass it in seventy-nine days. (p. 123)
   

 

 
 
  
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