Voters may already be ahead of the political world in recognizing the need for a blend of public and private responses. In 1995, pollsters Robert Teeter and Peter Hart asked a national survey whether they placed primary responsibility with the government, businesses, community leaders or individuals to solve a lengthy list of social problems, from providing income assistance to the needy to improving education and moral values and controlling crime and pollution. A substantial number of those polled looked to government for solutions, but in only two instances did an absolute majority look to government. In most cases, a majority divided responsibility between government and the other elements of society--individuals, community groups and businesses.
That instinctively moderate response points toward the road not taken--toward a political debate that neither demonizes nor lionizes government but recognizes it as a means for Americans to work collectively against problems too large for them to master alone. Conservatives are right that, in the future, Americans will be less likely to look to Washington for answers. But liberals are surely correct that Americans will not want their federal government to simply throw up its hands and abandon the task of building a good society to the whims of the market. Both parties have acted with misplaced certitude--as if a single key could unlock these doors. But more than either side will admit, each is perplexed by the economic and cultural changes transforming American life and is groping for new directions. "We don't have an overall, overarching, compelling thesis for the future of the country," admits Jeffrey Eisenach, president of the Gingrich-inspired think tank, the Progress and Freedom Foundation.