By, or for, the People? A Meta-Analysis of Public Opinion of Government

By, or for, the People? A Meta-Analysis of Public Opinion of Government

March 25, 2005
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At the outset of the President’s second term, Congress and the White House are poised once again to debate a series of specific, pressing issues facing the country: social security, the deficit, the war against terrorism, tax cuts, environmental protection, healthcare reform, and education, among others. But behind each distinctive debate, with its unique temporal flavor, there stands an age-old meta-debate about the appropriate role and responsibility of government in resolving such issues. Indeed, these policy debates are protracted because of the unsettled view of government in the American mind. This paper argues that attending to this larger debate is of paramount importance. Unless we work to ensure that government—the principal institutional embodiment of our collective will to address shared challenges—is widely recognized and respected, we run the risk of endlessly battling isolated issues while inexorably losing the fight for shared public purposes.