Putting the Government on Our Side

“Common existence at home starts with putting the government -- as the expression of our common will-- on the side of the consumer, the taxpayer, the individual and the community. Government must abandon those tasks that individuals, families, and neighborhoods can do for themselves. But it must protect the condition in which they can remain truly free and independent.”
Sargent Shriver | Washington, DC | September 20, 1975

Our Quote of the Week outlines a vision for government whose function is to empower people to be “truly free and independent” while staying out of affairs that can be managed at the local level.

Sargent Shriver made these remarks on September 20, 1975, when he announced his candidacy for President of the United States. He cited the country’s lack of momentum and the people’s crisis of confidence as his motivations for running. As an individual devoted to public service, he says, “I could not stand aside.”

Shriver laments what he sees as a lack of engagement and forward motion in the country. He suggests that a lack of direction can bring about change, which can be positive or negative, depending on our own actions:

“Whenever Washington lacks positive direction, it has been remarked, you may be sure that something is struggling to be born in the nation. There is a wind coming. It can be a good wind or an ill wind; it is up to us, together, to set its direction.”

He then sketches out a vision for setting a positive direction. He talks about leadership that, in international affairs, is capable of bringing together the global community around a “common existence, rooted in our common humanity, which faces worldwide problems requiring common solutions.” At home, however, he paints a picture of leadership that is supportive enough to create systems that empower individuals, while not meddling in their daily affairs. In this sense, his vision transcends both conservative and liberal ideologies.

It could be argued that we are once again lacking direction in this country. We are in the grips of a political polarization so severe that it has, most recently, brought our House of Representatives to a standstill with this week’s motion to vacate the speakership.

How can we break up this political logjam? Sargent Shriver would argue that It is up to us to set the direction for our political leaders, by setting an expectation for collaboration and service -- by demanding that government does the work that would put it “on the side of the consumer, the taxpayer, the individual, and the community” -- and nothing more.

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Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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