A Promise That Could Still Be Kept

As a rhetorical ideal, greater opportunity is hard to beat. Just about all candidates for high elected office declare their commitments to promoting opportunity – who, after all, could be against it? But opportunity is, to borrow a term from the philosopher and political theorist Isaiah Berlin, a “protean” word, with different meanings for different people at different times.

Typically, opportunity is closely entwined with an idea of upward mobility, especially between generations. The American Dream is couched in terms of a daughter or son of bartenders or farm workers becoming a lawyer, or perhaps even a U.S. senator. But even here, there are competing definitions of upward mobility.

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