A New National Narrative

Former U.S. senator David Boren tells us how America’s youth could save the day

| May-June 2008

  • American Dream 2

  • American Dream 2

This article is part of a package on the American Dream. For more, read Reimagining the American Dream, Dreaming Across Class Lines, Tear Down the White Picket Fence, and The Pursuit of Square Footage.

When David Boren retired from the U.S. Senate in 1994, he left knowing that the bipartisan collegiality he and his fellow lawmakers had enjoyed behind closed doors for most of his 15-year stay was already being subverted by a meaner, decidedly less sensible brand of brinksmanship. What the former Democratic chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence didn’t foresee was how quickly the legislative branch’s moderate center would be silenced by an increasingly polarized media, where compromise reads as retreat and demagoguery passes for patriotism. Then again, no reasonable person could have imagined that George Bush senior, with whom Boren says he still has a close relationship, would see his least talented son serve two presidential terms and systematically reject his father’s pragmatic, albeit paternalistic, foreign agenda.

Troubled by the economic instability, global hostility, and domestic cynicism that threaten to hang over—and hang up—the next administration, Boren holed up for 45 days early last summer and, in what he describes as a “fever pitch,” penned A Letter to America (University of Oklahoma Press, 2008).

Decidedly less conservative than its author’s reputation, the call to action scolds both political parties for their hardheadedness, lack of historical perspective, and wishful insistence that the United States can be both lawless bully and beloved beacon. Then, taking a cue from a new generation of engaged students at the University of Oklahoma, where he has served as president since 1994, Boren challenges all citizens to think creatively and act communally.

Utne Reader caught up with Boren in early March to find out why the writer and educator, despite all the bad news, believes it isn’t too late to reimagine America.