Title: Re-Making the American Dream
Author: David Vaught
Reviewed By: Dan MacIntosh
Pacific Book Review
David Vaught’s Re-Making the American Dream is a biography of sorts, as it tells the story of his life; from where he grew up, to where he moved on to later in life. Moreover, though, it’s a tale of Vaught’s political awakening. He was raised in small town Burnt Prairie, IL, where he attended Liberty Baptist Church with his God-fearing parents. Although a lot of his religious upbringing stuck with him (he quotes both scripture and hymn lyrics throughout this book), many of his opinions about religion – specifically regarding religious liberty – were formulated at West Point, where he studied. It was at West Point that he and his fellow cadets led a fight against compulsory chapel, which they believed was spiritually biased, unappreciated and ineffective.
Vaught’s political awakening was also greatly influenced by the era in which he grew up in. He became an adult while the Vietnam War was raging. This combination of studying at West Point, where he served under diehard military men, such as Colonel Alexander Haig (who became famous while serving in the Reagan administration as Secretary of State), and the simultaneous burgeoning war protest movement, gave Vaught a unique perspective on his country’s various values. In his book, Vaught returns again and again in his book to the concept of the American dream, which is – although popular – an extremely subjective term. For many of the military folk Vaught met at West Point, the American dream involved God, country and conservative ideals. However, the people Vaught later hung out with post-West Point while writing for the left-leaning Village Voice publication, the American dream meant something entirely different. This publication was a hotbed for protest and social justice movements. Many in the military world wanted to conserve their idealistic values, whereas the youth of America at the time organized to move away from what they saw as restrictive values. Therefore, Vaught’s unique position was that of one who was sometimes walking in two entirely different worlds at the same time.
While working and socializing with friends at the Village Voice, Vaught was invited to write country music reviews for the paper. Vaught’s literal country upbringing was valuable to the Village Voice because many of its writers and especially its city audience didn’t ‘get’ country music, as did Vaught. Vaught’s writing career gave him the opportunity to express the impact this underappreciated musical style impacted his young life in Burnt Prairie. He tells a great story, for instance, about listening to a Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn song, while driving a tractor on the farm. Indeed, he grew up a true country boy. One is left wishing at times that Vaught would have spent more time writing about his love of music in this book because he was/is truly a music journalist pioneer.
Vaught’s experience as a music journalist is a big clue as to why Re-Making the American Dream is so well written. Vaught is not just a novice writer telling his life story through this book, but a published writer doing the same. His writing style flows nicely, and he keeps the reader engaged, even when detailing the minutia of politics toward the book’s end. Vaught clearly enjoyed his political activities with Illinois Governor Dan Walker, but unless you were there – so to speak – this history is not all that relevant for modern readers. Even so, though, Vaught’s writing skills render even these dryer biographical elements palatable.
Vaught’s difficult military experiences, combined with the bitter taste left by the Vietnam War’s negative military/social/psychological impact, could have permanently turned him against his country, and the American dream which goes along with it. The fact that Vaught chose to work within the political system, instead of ‘dropping out,’ the way many of his generation did, is a testament to his belief in the possibility of making America a better country. If a man can go from small town America, to the state halls of government power — with his beliefs and hopes still intact — perhaps his is a story of the American dream come true.