During Monday's town hall meeting, Ted Brassfield, a 30-year-old law school graduate who cannot find a job, told President Obama, "It feels like the American Dream is not attainable to a lot of us." Those words resounded through the echo chamber. Those words were picked up by every major publication. Ted Brassfield is getting calls from Fox News. Ted Brassfield is getting calls from the National Law Journal. Everybody wants to talk to this everyman Ted Brassfield and find out more about his American Dream and what the hell happened to it. Well, I've got a few things to say about this one.
(1) Ted Brassfield graduated from Princeton University in 2002, and earned a law degree from Indiana University in 2009. Ted Brassfield is, by all indications, a very educated guy with great credentials.
(2) Ted Brassfield went to Princeton for God's sake. You mean to tell me that a guy with a degree from Princeton can't get a decent job? Let alone any job? I say it ain't so.
(3) Let's talk perspective & re-framing the discussion. I was a high school teacher in inner-city Baltimore. Plenty of kids drop out of that system at 14 or 15, mostly illiterate, with a very limited set of career prospects. A 17 year-old black male who can barely read might work manual labor, but might just as easily wind up in jail.
(4) I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. I know plenty of folks who got laid off when factories closed, people who had very specific skill-sets for the very specific labor they did. If you do a certain kind of welding your whole adult life, and that job goes away, and you don't have any other education or training, you're in a really tough situation.
(5) So why are # 3 and 4 significant? Because its all relative. Because its all on a spectrum. And along that spectrum you have the people at 3 and the people at 4, and then somewhere much further down that line, you have people like Ted Brassfield.
(5) No, I do not know Ted Brassfield. I have never met the guy. I have no clue what he wants to do. I have no clue what he's thinking. But I can tell you this:
I grew up in rural Pennsylvania with no money. I was the first person in my family to graduate college. I taught high school in Baltimore City. Then I went to law school. From 18 to 28, I was mostly flat broke and always looking for work. I worked construction. I loaded and unloaded trucks. I waited tables. I was a summer camp counselor. I worked the graveyard shift on the assembly line in a bucket-making factory. That's right. I was a personal trainer. I was a freelance writer. I was an SAT tutor. Even after I graduated from Cornell, if I needed the money, and they were paying people to dig ditches outside, I was digging ditches.
Ted Brassfield has a degree from Princeton and a law degree from Indiana. Unlike the people on the other end of the spectrum, Ted Brassfield has options. He's an educated man, an intelligent man. He's a man with credentials. Maybe he doesn't like most of those options. Maybe those options aren't what he envisioned for himself when he went off to Princeton at 18. Maybe he thinks some of those options are beneath him:
I will not "settle," though I will be flexible - Ted Brassfield
So don't for one second think that Ted Brassfield represents the struggling masses.
Ted Brassfield lives in a nice neighborhood in NW Washington, D.C. He does well enough to have an i-Phone and take lots of trips. He takes trips out west, to San Diego, and likes eating at this nice restaurant by the bay, called Candellas. In fact, he eats at lots of good restaurants. And he takes lots of fun trips, to places like Hanoi and Tokyo.
So if you want a poster boy for a story about Third World America, and the end of the American Dream... well, I'd suggest you find someone other than Ted Brassfield. Because he doesn't have it that bad.- Jonathan Pollard