Keeping the American Dream in 2010 Alive

With or without government intervention? Public Opinion and Facts

Following a pro-longed debate over health care reform, a new legislative battle over financial regulation is under the way. What remains consistent in the public discourse and in Washington is the bone of contention: the role of government.

But what is it that we really argue about it? It could be many things such as the wellbeing of the people, the financial health of the country or America's leading role in world politics. In the bigger picture, a lot of what we are arguing and fighting for are embodied in the idea of the American Dream, that "dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" (James Truslow Adams).

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Bi-Weekly Public Opinion: Do we know what our government does for us?

Low awareness of role of federal agencies and Tea Party fever With examples from widespread frustration about tax day and the census, we can get an idea as to the confusion that many Americans have regarding the role of the government agencies and actions and their benefits and roles. According to a survey by Ipsos, 65% of American adults think that the government does not do an adequate job of communicating its agencies services and benefits. When asked about particular agencies, respondents were more aware of these Federal agencies, but still unsure of their role and services. From the list of six agencies that the survey tested, the Federal Trade Commission was viewed least favorably as well as Americans being most confused over its role. However, once voters were exposed to more information about the agencies, they increasingly realized the daily influence of the agencies and viewed them more positively. These findings may yield good advice for the government. In increasing awareness about the impact of federal agencies and the benefits that they give to American citizens, support and satisfaction may increase.

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A Government that Reflects America's Values

According to a 2007 poll, Americans define human rights as the rights to equal opportunity, freedom from discrimination, a fair criminal justice system, and freedom from torture or abuse by law enforcement. Despite the current political wrangling over how to reform it, a majority of Americans even believe that access to health care is a human right.

There was a time when America’s leaders echoed those sentiments. President Franklin D. Roosevelt embraced them when he told Congress, “Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere.” And in 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the Civil Rights Act, forming the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The Commission was intended to conduct critical reviews of social needs and public policy – in essence, to be the conscience of the nation. Regardless of circumstances or leadership, the body was to operate as an independent voice for the broad range of civil rights issues facing the country.

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Looking Ahead

One year ago our nation, and much of this world, was in a state of panic and turmoil. Companies and industries were shedding jobs faster than we could count. The stock market was tanking in front of our eyes. Waking up every morning to look at the headlines of the newspaper was a daunting task in fear of what a new day could bring to the American people. We needed a lifeline.

And so President Barack Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on February 17, 2009. Critics have been very vocal at pointing out the persistently high unemployment rate as well as flagrant examples of waste and inefficiency. At the same time, supporters have ample evidence to defend the act—a couple million jobs saved or created, a depression averted, and billions of dollars supporting and aiding colleges and universities to invest in the future of our country. Both sides have valid arguments and substantial verification. Undoubtedly, there have been great benefits from the act, but inevitably there is also vast room for improvement in the second year of the two year plan. With a year behind us, we must look ahead and focus our attention and energy in avoiding past mistakes by demanding greater transparency, and demanding higher quality outcomes. As the White House begins to craft the new jobs bill, we must make sure the bill creates good jobs—jobs that offer living wages, provide benefits, and have the potential for long-term growth and advancement.

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Americans Believe in Government...When it Works

On issue after issue, President Obama is locked in a struggle for the hearts and minds of the American people.  At issue--transcending health care reform, economic stimulus, the bailout of banks and automakers, and beyond--is the role of government in our society.

The president is well aware of the terms of this struggle.  As he told NBC News in September, "It's an argument that's gone on for the history of this republic, and that is, `What's the right role of government? How do we balance freedom with our need to look out for one another?' . . . This is not a new argument, and it always evokes passions."

Most Americans carry around at least two stories of government in their heads.  One is the story of government as problem solver, as fair referee, and as investor in shared prosperity.  It is the government of first responders, of Iwo Jima, of gifted teachers, Head Start and Social Security.  The other story is of government as bloated bureaucracy, as tax-and-spender, as bungler, and as rights violator.  It is the government of the DMV, of Vietnam, of lazy teachers, of FEMA and Hurricane Katrina.  More important than ideology for these Americans is how facts on the ground seem to reaffirm one story or the other.

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