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And so, with three newspapers under his arm and a wee-hours celebration of a successful opening night behind him, he hailed a cab and took a long, leisurely sunrise ride back to the apartment in Brooklyn where he still lived with his parents and brother.Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge into one of the several drab tenement neighborhoods that preceded his own, Hart later recalled, “I stared through the taxi window at a pinch-faced 10-year-old hurrying down the steps on some morning errand before school, and I thought of myself hurrying down the street on so many gray mornings out of a doorway and a house much the same as this one.…“There, he said, ‘I would do my work and might get a pleasant word, but I could never sit and talk like this.There is a difference there between social grades which cannot be got over.Last year, I heard commentators say that Barack Obama achieved the American Dream by getting elected president, and that Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel achieved the American Dream by leading his team to its first World Series title since 1980.Yet there was never any promise or intimation of extreme success in the book that popularized the term, by James Truslow Adams, published by Little, Brown and Company in 1931.I would not talk to you there as man to man, but as my employer.’”Anecdotal as these examples are, they get to the crux of the American Dream as Adams saw it: that life in the United States offered personal liberties and opportunities to a degree unmatched by any other country in history—a circumstance that remains true today, some ill-considered clampdowns in the name of Homeland Security notwithstanding.This invigorating sense of possibility, though it is too often taken for granted, is the great gift of Americanness. Not above the prejudices of his time, he certainly never saw Barack Obama’s presidency coming.

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But is the American Dream really endangered, or has it simply been misplaced?

Assessing these numbers, Barack Obama, a man who normally exudes hopefulness for a living, pronounces them a “continuing disaster for America’s working families,” a disaster that amounts to no less, he says, than “the American Dream in reverse.”In reverse.

Imagine this in terms of Hart’s life: out of the taxicab, back on the subway, back to the tenements, back to cramped cohabitation with Mom and Dad, back to gray mornings and the grim smell of actual want.

The only credential the city asked was the boldness to dream.”As the boy ducked into a tailor shop, Hart recognized that this narrative was not exclusive to his “wonderful city”—it was one that could happen anywhere in, and only in, America.

“A surge of shamefaced patriotism overwhelmed me,” Hart wrote in his memoir, “I might have been watching a victory parade on a flag-draped Fifth Avenue instead of the mean streets of a city slum.

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