The American Dream vs. The American Scheme.

In “An American Tail”, Papa Mousekewitz shares with his wife the wonders and promise of America:

Papa Mousekewitz: In America, there are mouse holes in every wall.
Mama Mousekewitz: Who says?
Papa Mousekewitz: Everyone. In America, there are bread crumbs on every floor.
Mama Mousekewitz: You’re talking nonsense!
Papa Mousekewitz: In America, you can say anything you want, but most important – and this I know for a fact – in America, there are no cats.

But as we all know, there are cats in America, and the streets are not paved with cheese. However, the freedom and opportunity to pursue one’s dreams – whatever they are – remain the cornerstone of our great nation.

Unfortunately there are some in America (and always have been) who could fairly be accused of pursuing their dreams via schemes.

USA Today reported this morning that the Goldman Sachs pursuit of the American dream is raising eyebrows:

Goldman’s profits stand in sharp contrast to what the rest of the country is facing, hobbled with hundreds of thousands of job losses each month and hundreds of businesses shuttering on Main Street. Goldman also set aside $11.4 billion in the first half of this year for compensation and benefits for its employees, a 33% increase from last year. At a time when there has been intense focus on bankers’ compensation, including congressional hearings, Goldman’s decision has been hard to swallow on Main Street.

On the one hand, this seems mighty glutenous. On the other hand – and in complete fairness to Goldman – it was one of the first investment firms to reimburse the government in full, paying back the $10 billion it had borrowed, plus interest.

So, what’s really at play here? Clearly, Goldman Sachs – at least under the reign of CEO Lloyd Blankfein – is no Bailey Building & Loan Association. But neither is Blankfein Mr. Henry F. Potter. In point of fact, one might suggest that he is a poster child of the American dream; the son of a postal worker who attended public school, made good and grabbed hold of the brass ring.

Perhaps the real problem is that we are no longer living in Frank Capra’s America, whose films tout the basic goodness of human nature and show the value of unselfishness and hard work. According to one source, “His wholesome, feel-good themes have led some to call his Capra-corn, but those who hold his vision in high regard prefer the term Capraesque.”

Regardless, it is clear we’re not living in Bedford Falls any longer, and we are painfully aware the streets of America are not paved with cheese… or gold. But isn’t it possible for this story to still have a happy ending?

If Tony Mousekewitz and George Bailey can figure it out, perhaps the rest of us can too. In the words of Clarence Oddbody (Angel Second Class), “Each man’s life touches so many other lives.” Perhaps for just one day we can all set aside our goals for world domination and lend a helping hand to someone in need.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Jim Sweeney


Jim is a veteran of the agency industry and the founder of Sweeney. He is uncommonly passionate about the idea of creating and implementing insanely great marketing campaigns that achieve insanely great results. He pioneered the full-service, full-circle agency model and continues to forge new ideas in an ever-changing industry. And he is accessible to everyone about anything, seemingly all the time, serving as a mentor to all agency personnel and clients.