Government with the People?

A new report from the Kettering Foundation, With the People: Making Democracy Work as It Should, offers a strategy for bridging some of the divide separating the people of the United States from their government and from the country’s major institutions. It envisions a form of collaboration that would have institutions working with citizens, not just for them. 

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address, and he spoke of an ideal of government, one that is of, by, and for the people. The report’s author, David Mathews, former secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Ford administration and now president of the Kettering Foundation, writes, “Do Americans today think our government is really ‘of’ the people? That’s debatable. ‘By’ the people? Doubtful. ‘For’ the people? Perhaps for some, sometimes.” He suggests adding another preposition—government with the people. 

Such a “with strategy” sees people as creators and producers rather than consumers or clients. It encourages collaboration through mutually reinforcing efforts between the citizenry and the government, and that could, he suggests, have a cumulative effect on the troubles that our democracy faces. The report, based on a chapter from a forthcoming book by Mathews, is available for download at, and the people at the Kettering Foundation is interested in getting feedback.  When you’ve read the article, please send your thoughts to Phil Lurie —

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