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The Price of Citizenship: Civic Responsibility as the Missing Dimension of Public Administration Theory

PAQ, Vol. 34 No. 2, (2010)

In his recent inaugural address, US President Barack Obama revisited a theme raised 48 years earlier in John Kennedy’s inaugural address by reminding Americans of “the price and the promise of citizenship.” This paper argues that academic public administration has focused over much on the promise of citizenship, in terms of what citizens can expect from their governments. What has been overlooked, though, is Obama’s “price” of citizenship: responsible democratic participation on the part of the public itself. Consultative, participatory processes are doomed without this responsible participation. This raises two key questions for the public administrator. The first is an indirect one, in terms of how society can encourage responsible civic participation. The second question is a more direct one, in terms of how the public administrator can challenge irresponsible civic participation without risking a populist backlash costing a job. Finally, this paper discusses how improved communication in public affairs might best prepare public managers to contribute to this responsible citizenship.

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