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In memory: Sargent Shriver, who transformed America’s moral imagination

   /   Jan 19th, 2011Government, News

Sargent Shriver is remembered as the founding director and architect of the Peace Corps, but his contributions to American, and global history, go well beyond that distinction. As the director of the Office of Economic Opportunity — the agency that administered the war on poverty — Shriver created Head Start, VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), the Job Corps, Legal Services to the Poor, and many other programs. He pioneered Neighborhood Health Centers, Foster Grandparents and, with his wife Eunice, the Special Olympics. His ideas influenced, and elevated, how his generation viewed the roles and responsibilities of citizens.

Today, it’s all too common to hear references to the failures of the war on poverty. With a generation’s hindsight, it’s easy to critique past efforts to attack poverty. But the exercise is like critiquing the vacuum tube-filled hulks that people used to call computers in the 1960s. You forget how innovative they were at the time. Shriver had no blueprint to work from. His task was to invent social institutions that could help make the American dream a working reality, not just an ideal, for tens of millions of people. He held to his principles in the face of bitter political opposition. He created a practical model for the social innovator in public life that inspires and informs the best and the brightest today.

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One Response

  1. Leora says:

    Thanks for this, David. I really appreciate your situating innovation in its time, and the way that allows us to have more appreciation. I’m curious, too, about what a Shriver-like figure would be today, or if that really isn’t the case anymore (because we do have his blueprints, etc)…