An Expression of Our Shared Aspirations

Recent polling by veteran survey researcher Stan Greenberg has confirmed some conventional wisdom, albeit from a somewhat different angle.

Unsurprisingly, Greenberg found that a large majority of Americans support popular social programs like Social Security, Medicare and even the Affordable Care Act.

An equally predictable finding: a majority of us view government with a significant amount of distrust.

Greenberg concludes that it isn’t enough for proponents of social programs (mostly Democrats these days, although the partisan divide wasn’t always so sharp) to center their candidacies around their support for these programs; they also need to emphasize a commitment to specific government reforms.

Reform of government, then, means more than just getting money out: It should involve specific, plausible reforms that would reengage citizens in the process of government, creating new ways to make all our voices matter….

Above all, it should include a positive vision of reform of the political process, and the role of money, that does more than reimpose limits on the political influence of the very wealthy, but empowers citizens as donors and participants. And, the most difficult challenge of all, there has to be an effort to restore to the public face of government, the legislative process, a sense of compromise and shared commitment to the public good, despite deep disagreements.

All of this should fit into the context of a reaffirmation of the importance of government, not as a force outside of our lives, for good or ill, but as an expression of our shared aspirations.

“Government as an expression of our shared aspirations.” That sentence struck me. How long has it been since the voting public viewed their government as a mechanism for achieving our common goals and aspirations?

The fact that such rhetoric sounds quaint, if not odd, to contemporary ears is a measure of how impoverished our political discourse has become.


  1. The recent PBS documentary “The Roosevelts” was a magnificent program. It illustrated how a few humans could make HUGE changes in our nation. For the good mostly. Their concern for the common good really stood out. I keep watching it. Over and over. It is GREAT.

  2. How could government of, by, and for we the people not be “an expression of our shared aspirations”?

    How could an oligarchy be?

  3. “Trust” is a slippery word. We need to trust that the IRS is keeping track of our estimated tax payments, and will not cheat us on a refund. When a politician says he can quickly “win the war” on ISIS, not so much.

  4. I also wonder what people have in mind when asked in surveys about “government.” Is it federal, state, or local? Is it the elected officials, or public servants, or governmental bureaus? Do people question the intentions of government bureaucrats, or just distrust the competence of government? I know the writer is addressing “political process,” and maybe the full article makes it clearer.

  5. I try to think statistically when considering bigger pictures and one thing that I get hung up on is the concept of “government competence” and from where comes any perception that that large diverse group would be any different on the average that way from any random sample.

    I’ve been told by some that it’s explained by the profit motive but my experience in business is that the vast majority of us work(ed) for relatively fixed compensation doing jobs that are quite disconnected from the profitability of the business so I have never found that explanation very satisfying.

    So if not that why would anyone expect those who work for government to be any more/less competent than from the random population?

  6. We can’t expect the government to be an “expression of our shared aspirations” when there is no political force organized around shared aspirations like for example the Social Democratic Party in Germany in the 20’s and early 30’s.

    The Democratic Party isn’t a party of shared aspirations. It’s more like the Popular Front of INCOMPATIBLES that attempted to rule in France during the mid ’30’s.

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