Because the term itself has been so systematically loaded with negative connotations, talking about government is one of the greatest challenges for American communicators who believe in policy solutions for our health, safety, security, environment, and economy.
This Flashcard is one in an occasional series meant to help NW communicators talk more effectively about government, examining, in particular, how communications experts and some of government’s natural defenders define its role.
George McGovern understood government as a key tool for building strong families, a secure American middle class, and a better future for our kids. As the New York Times related yesterday, he “never retreated from [his] ideals, insisting on a strong, ‘progressive’ federal government to protect the vulnerable and expand economic opportunity.”
McGovern passed away yesterday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He was 90.
McGovern is best known as the guy who lost to incumbent Richard Nixon in 1972, in one of the biggest presidential landslides in American history.
But that’s just one small part of his story.
McGovern was a World War II hero. He was a representative for South Dakota in the US House, a three-term senator, and a crusader against injustice in the workplace and hunger in the US and around the world. Still lecturing and making media appearances earlier this year, he had faith in the power of government to expand Americans’ freedom, dignity, opportunity, and equality.
Believing we could help fix what’s wrong with the system and unite rather than divide Americans, McGovern encouraged us to talk talking confidently about government as our most powerful tool for empowering and protecting Americans, safeguarding and growing individual freedom and opportunity, and building an economy that’s sustainable and works for everybody.
Plain-spoken and often folksy, McGovern makes the case with the simplicity and gravity of an elder statesman who represents old-fashioned, mid-western, American values—unwavering values that he has lived by.
Here’s McGovern on American government from his most recent book.
- We need a government that is strong, active, and creative to deal with our problems and plan for the future.
- Our government isn’t an enemy, but a friendly partner, a tool for investing in the stability and strength of our middle class.
- Government is our watchdog, guarding us against corporate predators who rig the system.
- We’re America! A model of freedom and democracy for the world. We want a strong American government to build a better society and support a successful middle class. Without economic stability no individual is free.
(Note: I’ve adhered to McGovern’s language almost word for word, but have done some editing and piecing together to fit the format.)
In these (understandably) cynical times, I think the third of these four bullets can be the most effective. Many people view multinational corporations as being out of control and government, for all it’s imperfections, as the only countervailing power. Unfortunately, they also see the political system as broken and that will have to change before government can be an effective watchdog.An emphasis on making government more responsive is also important. There is plenty of potential for abuse in both Big Government and Big Business, but there isn’t much we as citizens can do the protect ourselves against private sector abuse. We can however become informed and engaged citizens and insist that government play it’s watchdog role.
While it is true that a strong and creative government can do much to solve our problems, strengthen the middle class, etc., our individualistic culture and years of government bashing will make that a difficult sell.
Georgie Bright Kunkel
I wish people would stop talking about strengthening the middle class etc. We wouldn’t have a middle class or a lower class if the one percenters paid their fair share and weren’t allowed to cream off so mouch of the goodies in our economy. The one percenters scream against government while all the time having to be bailed out by government when capitalism results in depression.
Talk about having it all–they have free reign in the market place
and pay much lower percentage in taxes than I do and yet always scream about big government.
As McGovern said, our government should serve the real people not the corporate persons.
These are really good starting points for building a new philosophy of American citizenship that pushes back against the Ayn Rand fundamentalism we see today on the right.
The right was not always as deconstructionist and destructive as they are now (remember Richard Nixon before Watergate?). We’ve gone so far to the right in this country that even Nixon and Reagan (strong conservatives to say the least) are seen as soft by today
s neo-cons and tea partiers.
Hopefully the great mass of middle america begins paying attention about the national political issues that personally effect them. These talking points are a good start.