Scott Stossel, Shriver's biographer, eulogizes:
I grew up in the shadow of Vietnam, Watergate, the hostage crisis, stagflation, oil crises, impeachment, and later 9/11 and the War on Terror. Public service, for my generation, often seems to be a hollow or futile thing. It can be hard even to say the words "make the world a better place" without having them stick in your throat, so hopelessly naïve and lacking in irony do they sound. For Shriver's generation, their experience of government and of public service was much different. They saw the New Deal help lift millions from Depression; they saw the Allies defeat Totalitarianism; they saw the post-War boom, the Civil Rights movement, and America put a man on the moon, just like JFK said we would. So much that he'd seen and done had instilled in him the faith that public service could be a powerful and positive force; so little that I've seen has conveyed that.
Shriver's voice, then, is a voice from a more hopeful past. But while he was in part a product of his times, his optimism and idealism and commitment to service transcend the particularities of his time and circumstance. His career is a rebuke to cynical journalist types like me who focus on what's wrong with things, what's "realistic," what can't be done. Often the things that he accomplished (starting the Peace Corps in just a few months, or getting 500,000 kids into Head Start programs its first summer when the "experts" said that 10,000 kids was the maximum feasible) were things that everyone beforehand had said were not realistic, or downright impossible. Shriver had a gift for what one of his old War on Poverty colleagues called "expanding the Horizons of the Possible." In my darkest moments of despair over my biography of him, when I had a half-written, 1,000-page pile of garbage, and I'd think to myself that I'd never be finished, and that this wasn't worth pursuing, I'd tell myself, For God's sake, Shriver ran the Peace Corps and the War on Poverty--at the same time, while raising five kids!--so you can damn well finish this book.
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