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Hope and Optimism: Welcome to 2020!

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Robert Brescia
January 18, 2020

How can personal attitude or outlook affect policy? Optimist or pessimist, can one’s perspective on life and society help to shape public policy? Attitude can affect nearly every aspect of public policy. Changing one’s attitude helps to change others’ attitudes, and can eventually change societal norms and policies that affect us all.

I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve as the nation transcends, in my opinion, from a particularly fractious year full of divisiveness, polarization and social alienation. Don’t worry, this has happened before in our history and we will emerge from it stronger and more resilient. As President Lincoln said to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society in a September 1859 speech in Milwaukee after losing his Senate race the prior year, “This too shall pass.”

My West Texas city of Odessa has experienced a significant emotional event this year when an individual took his rifle and drove around the city shooting people, seemingly at random. He killed seven people and injured seventeen more, including local and state first responders. Our community is still mourning the loss of these victims, but we are convinced that we will rise this year and be stronger as a community. We have hope and many of us are optimistic about the future. This too, shall pass.

Optimism and hope are related and complementary. We can have optimistic attitudes, but it is hope that propels us to take action. We hope for a particular desired result so we create a strategy that we think will take us there. America has been and continues to be a hopeful nation—it’s one of those qualities that makes us exceptional as a people. Hope is a pillar of our American society. Almost all Americans, rich or poor, believe in the power of hope. A good example of this is the hope that immigrants have had for a better life by coming to America.  My grandparents decided to break their ties to Italy in the early 1920s to come and be great Americans; their hope spurred them into action. Crossing the ocean with many others on the U.S.S. Taormina, they arrived in New York and began the process of becoming American.

We Americans grouse most openly whenever we perceive disparity and lack of fairness in public policy. We want the government to create and promote policy that helps poorer Americans better their economic condition. Americans clearly desire optimism in those public leaders charged with formulating policy that affects us all. These leaders include people in Congress, senators, all elected and appointed officials and of course, the President of the United States.

I believe it is essential for public officials to be optimistic in their perspectives on policy. Optimism provides the canvas onto which they paint their vision and subsequently, their strategy. This doesn’t mean that they are necessarily, “Happy,” people that run around with broad grins and gushing smiles. Happiness is a personal responsibility; each one of us generates our own. No one provides happiness and of course, as we know from our Declaration of Independence, it is a God-given right to pursue happiness. It means that these officials are positive and that spirit, connected to the core of our American essence, will spill over to many others. What does one lose by being optimistic in policy? My answer is nothing at all. We tend to follow bright, optimistic people who offer hope for a better future. That’s the kind of leader that excites people to action.

Statesman John Ben Shepperd, former Texas Attorney General, often advocated for idealism—a vision of how things should be. John Ben said the following in an address given at a chamber of commerce banquet, in Levelland, Texas, February 21, 1957:

Are these old truisms too dreamy or idealistic? Will they work in 1957?

Let’s stop and take stock and see if we need idealistic dreamers who recognize the need for a knowledge, love and devotion of the past. In my humble opinion, this nation needs such idealistic dreamers today more than ever before in our history! We need them as long as there are closed doors in public office, public meetings held in secret and public files marked “confidential”. We need them as long as there are antiquated, harmful laws on the books, remaining there only because they suit somebody’s political or financial convenience, and as long as there are loopholes in the law, left there by lawyer-legislators for the benefit of their private practice.

We need idealists as long as we live under big, bloated governments feeding on the lassitude of a citizenry that wants everybody to have a benefit at everybody else’s expense. We need them as long as this nation is trying to live high on money borrowed from our children’s unborn children. We need idealistic, courageous men and women as long as we have judges who cannot or will not lay aside their politics when they put on the judicial robes.

What kind of a public servant will you be this year? I hope you will be a very optimistic one!


Author: Dr. Robert Brescia is a senior executive with service to the nation in military, business, and education sectors. He respects the wisdom of generations and promotes the thrill of learning. Bob’s latest book is Destination Greatness – Creating a New Americanism. Bob has a doctoral degree with distinction in Executive Leadership from The George Washington University. Please contact him at [email protected].

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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